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Literature of the Drought: Dry, Hot, and Compelling

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

This magnificent novel set in a not-too-distant California future beset by climactic cataclysm, rampant drug use and concomitant violent crime grabbed me and has never let go. Though I read it several years ago, I still find myself recommending it, especially now that more than 80 percent of the West is in the midst of severe to exceptional drought. It’s just too bad that the author, science fiction’s first celebrated African-American woman, is already gone. Octavia Butler, the Macarthur Fellowship-winning writer, died in 2006 from complications due to a fall in front of her home.  

Parable of the Sower is part of the two-book Earthseed series; I always wonder if I have to read all of the books in a series to fully appreciate and understand any sole volume. In this case, Parable of the Sower stands on its own.  The novel will delight any reader with its lonely, car-less Interstate 5 and Highway 101 and the adjacent oak tree-studded Central Valley outposts abandoned by citizens. The gargantuan but useless infrastructure of water aqueducts, reservoirs and siphons as well as the natural beauty of the coastal mountain range landscape form a backdrop of despair as well as optimism.

The book follows a young girl, Lauren, whose Southern California neighborhood, walled against drugged pyromaniac invaders who are so high they burn everything in their path, is destroyed. Water is a precious resource, as are fruits and vegetables. The heroine must forge a new beginning after her family and way of life come to a tragic end. The girl’s resourcefulness, natural leadership and empathic abilities, as well as her capacity to continue to love in a time of dryness (no water, no compassion) propel the plot and deepen the reader’s enjoyment. But this book achieves much more than entertainment. The reader finishes the last succulent page left with little doubt as to how science fiction can direct our attention at the worst possibilities in front of us, while shining a light on the eternal pluck and passion incarnate within us all.

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