Twenty-seven years after it was first published (and I first read it), but only five years away from the start of the narrative, Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower is more prescient and more frightening than ever. In this dystopian future, society as we know it has succumbed to violence, corruption, and the disintegration of community, as the trajectory of the human race advances to its sadly inevitable collapse. Laws are ignored, or enforced by a corrupt and violent police force, and humanity either live in poorly-secured, walled enclaves, tightly-controlled, violent cities where slavery has re-emerged, or riskiest of all, out in the wilderness, where the weak are preyed upon by the desperate.
Lauren is a teenager living in a small, walled community in California. Her father is the local preacher, and her mother teaches the handful of children in the community. Her younger brothers are wild and reckless. Yet Lauren possesses a maturity and wisdom that set her up as different from the start. For one thing, she is a sharer, afflicted with a condition that forces her to feel the pain of others around her if she witnesses them. This can be a disability if she is trying to defend herself from predatory aggressors, but Lauren is prepared. She knows that the time will come when the encroaching dangers will overrun her community and she carefully plans her escape.
Despite the intellectual rejection of religion, even her father's, Lauren applies her intelligence and her thoughtfulness in the creation of a new religion, one that espouses God as Change, and she calls it Earthseed. When the inevitable happens, and Lauren's community is overrun, Lauren finds herself fleeing for her life with other refugees - wandering the dangerous, largely abandoned roads to head north, where there is a belief the life might be better. Along the way, Lauren finds other essential decent people among the cast-offs, and all the while, quietly and reasonably shares the philosophy of Earthseed. Can Lauren create a movement that will help set humanity back on a redemptive path? Or will this tiny, emerging movement be crushed by the inevitable crush of chaos.
Now as an adult, with years of life experience, Parable of the Sower resonates with me so much more. Butler's uncanny way of seeing a possible and plausible outcome of the trajectory of present-day society (even back in the early 90's) is frightening, as this violent, self-destructive society, where racism, addiction, environmental collapse, corruption and violence have become the norm to the extreme.. There are so few dots to connect to see our own world becoming Lauren's. Butler's novel is a classic, and I'm looking forward to rereading the sequel, Parable of the Talents.