OCTAVIA E. BUTLER
SERIES: XENOGENESIS, #1
GENRES/ SUBJECTS: SCIENCE-FICTION
Trigger warnings: coerced sex, rape, attempted rape
Lilith Iyapo has just lost her husband and son when atomic fire consumes Earth—the last stage of the planet’s final war. Hundreds of years later Lilith awakes, deep in the hold of a massive alien spacecraft piloted by the Oankali—who arrived just in time to save humanity from extinction. They have kept Lilith and other survivors asleep for centuries, as they learned whatever they could about Earth. Now it is time for Lilith to lead them back to her home world, but life among the Oankali on the newly resettled planet will be nothing like it was before.
The Oankali survive by genetically merging with primitive civilizations—whether their new hosts like it or not. For the first time since the nuclear holocaust, Earth will be inhabited. Grass will grow, animals will run, and people will learn to survive the planet’s untamed wilderness. But their children will not be human. Not exactly.
I picked up this book for two reasons:
- There’s a tv adaption in the works by Ava DuVernay.
- Utopia State of Mind loves it.
I really didn’t know anything else about the story going in.
My favourite things about Dawn can be boiled down to things: the Oankali and Lilith.
I loved how truly alien the Oankali are. None of this human but for a pair of contacts and hair dye malarky. The Oankali not only look completely different — with their head tentacles and sensory organs — they have different abilities (healing, eidetic memories) and an entirely different way of thinking about things.
Lilith Iyapo is such a wonderful protagonist. She’s brave yes, but she’s also incredibly practical. She doesn’t risk everything in futile escape attempts as protagonists might in other books. She listens and she learns. She accepts the way things have to be in order to survive. She doesn’t waste energy in what might have been or in rose-tinted pictures of the past as the other humans in the story do. She’s believably recalcitrant around the Oankali of course, and a little pig-headed at the start but that just adds to her character. I loved that Butler let her be angry. I completely felt her frustration with the other humans in the training room who just refused to listen to reason. I wanted to march in there and bang heads together myself. To be honest, I was on the Oankali’s side a lot of the time.
There’s a lot of really interesting commentary about gender role and dynamics, as well as the question: If our own human actions pushed us to the point of extinction, would we really be worth saving? The only things that made me drop off a half-star are that the story dragged a little in the training room and the way that the male-female human pair ups happened bothered me. There was never any thought that members of the group might be queer (apart from the use of a slur as an insult) or even that they might just not be interested in each other. I know the Oolai played a part in this, but even before they showed up, many couples had formed. This felt awfully fast to me.