Book Note: Octavia E. Butler’s “Parable of the Talents”

Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Talents (reprint. 2019; New York: Grand Central Publishing, 1998). (Amazon; Bookshop)

I’ve written about Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower already (see “Book Note: Octavia Butler’s ‘Parable of the Sower'”), so there’s not a lot I can say about Parable of the Talents without spoiling the book for future readers. So, let me say some things that are vague but hopefully cause intrigue for potential readers of a book I highly recommend:

  1. I think Lauren Oya Olamina is a fascinating character. But her narrative arch revealed something to me: I find it easy to identify with a character who is surviving and overcoming but Olamina became somewhat troublesome for me in her “successes”. All I can say is that I kept asking myself, “What’s the difference between a good religious leader and a poor one?” And do I demand that religious leaders must be far closer to St. Francis than Joel Osteen if I’m going to respect them? And are these feelings hypocritical or do they reveal my values?
  2. Like Olamina’s daughter, and some of the other characters in the book, I’m highly skeptical of a vision of salvation that includes space travel. There’s something in me that says if we can’t get it right here on earth first, there’s no way that space exploration doesn’t turn dystopic. I’m not a Trekkie but if I’m correct, the Star Trek narratives are set in a future where humanity sort of arrived at a utopia here on earth and then decided to turn to space. I’m fine with that. Otherwise, we get Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, et al., and space exploration begins to look a lot more like Don’t Look Up than Star Trek.
  3. If Sower was too dystopic to offer hope, then Talents takes us to rock bottom. But Butler ends on a hopeful note. And while I like the hopeful note, and we need the hopeful note, I wondered if her hopefulness doesn’t match the sort of hope we might need to face the crises we’re actually experiencing. In other words, hope is good but Butler’s final vision of hope may not be as on target as her dystopic “predictions”.

I hope this made you somewhat interested in this book if you weren’t already. It’s an excellent story. It’s breathed new interest in SciFi into me. And any of my discomforts with it are good because SciFi, at it’s best, functions sort of like philosophy.


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