Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Talents was as masterfully written as Parable of the Sower. Her ability to write a plausible heart-wrenching story about an unlivable not so distant future is a rare talent. To write a story, no two book series about, “Earthseed,” a religion pushed by Lauren, a black woman and the series’ protagonist about, “God is change,” and keep my attention is remarkable. The story is much more than sprinkled poems throughout each chapter in reference to its philosophy. The series gives a personal journal view of Lauren’s struggle and savior like rise in Los Angeles in 2024.
Lauren was a sharer. Someone who had a mutated sense of empathy making her able to feel the pleasure and pain of anyone she personally witnessed. A powerful concept. One it didn’t create more sympathy in the world but made it worse. Sharers hid their ability as much as possible. And enslavers made use of sharers to control groups. In a world full of greed and selfishness could someone who was forced to feel humane exist?
Going into the second Earthseed novel, I was curious how Octavia would find a way to continue what seemed a completed story. In the end of book one, Lauren managed to find and create Acorn, a community based on Earthseed principles to grow and prosper. But Parable of the Talents throws that fairy tale ending into complete chaos when a radical Christian group enslaved her and her Earthseed followers for almost two years.
This novel is more Asha Vere’s story, Lauren and Bankole’s daughter during the years 2032-2035. The reader has Lauren, Asha Vere, Bankole and Lauren’s brother Marcus give their perspectives of the circumstances surrounding their lives. Asha has collected most of their journal entries to better understand her mother’s life and choices.
Parable of the Talents isn’t the kind of Science Fiction novel to speed read. Octavia has built a world revving up religion, technology, and humanity to their catalysts. Three-dimensional characters—from different hues and sexual orientation—that tug at the reader’s emotions. I found myself reading only a few chapters a day. Then taking the time to decompress the information.
The power relationship between Lauren and Marcus was as important as their sibling kinship. Lauren on a quest to buy an Earthseed’s sibling from an enslaver ends up buying her brother, whoever since the beginning of book one the reader and Lauren believed is dead. Now we can stay here for a moment. The idea of enslavers being able to attach a technology advanced collar with the ability to give pleasure or pain from a button on another human being is frightening.
Marcus had been a sex worker for his enslaver. We find out later that he is gay. The ironic twist is he is a strict believer and preacher of Christianity for a radical group of Christians that would never accept him if they knew. But after Lauren buys his freedom, he is given a home at Acorn, but is unhappy. He attempts to preach for the Acorn community but failed. Years later he becomes a world renown preacher whose inaction keeps Lauren’s daughter from her. An unchristian and inhumane move.
Despite how terrible the world became under Jarrett’s “Make America Great Again,” slogan and reviving Earthseed after Acorn had been physically demolished what caused Lauren the most pain is Marcus. Lauren’s temporary enslavement where she was forced to work from sun up and sun down then get raped by radicals was horrible. But the broken bond Marcus orchestrated between Lauren and her daughter lasted a lifetime. It doesn’t matter that Marcus made sure Asha had a safe secure life and received a college education. Marcus took the choice of Lauren and Asha having a relationship away. He found Asha when she was three or four years old and held this secret for over twenty years.
Asha sides with Marcus because she doesn’t like how Lauren treats her uncle after discovering the truth. Lauren by the time she meets her daughter is well off and Earthseed is a major religion in the world. But Lauren and her daughter never have the mother daughter relationship one would hope. For some writers this part of the story would be a gold mine mined to its last drop. But for Octavia, it is one of many plots.
Parable of the Talents is a modern day classic that writers would be foolish to skip over. It is enlightening and entertaining enough to be a good addition to any syllabus to teach style or narrative. A reader can read Parabale of the Talents without first reading Parable of the Sower but it is more rewarding to read both. This is the third book of Octavia Butler’s I’ve read and none thus far has left me unsatisfied.
Rashaun J. Allen (@rashaunjallen) received his MFA in Creative Writing and Literature from SUNY Stony Brook. He’s eyeing agents to help publish his coming of age story, Christine’s Dream – A Memoir of Love, Loss & Life. He is the author of A Walk Through Brooklyn & In The Moment and has been published in TSR: The South Hampton Review, Rigorous, Tishman Review and is forthcoming in Fourth GenreT. When not writing he runs for the thrill of crossing the finish line. Find more of his work at www.rashaunjallen.com.
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