God is change. That is the central truth of the Earthseed movement, whose unlikely prophet is 18-year-old Lauren Olamina. The young woman's diary entries tell the story of her life amid a violent 21st-century hell of walled neighborhoods and drug-crazed pyromaniacs - and reveal her evolving Earthseed philosophy. Against a backdrop of horror emerges a message of hope: if we are willing to embrace divine change, we will survive to fulfill our destiny among the stars.
For her elegant, literate works of science fiction, Octavia E. Butler has been compared to Toni Morrison and Ursula K. LeGuin. Narrator Lynne Thigpen's melodious voice will hold you spellbound throughout this compelling parable of modern society.
©1993 Octavia E. Butler; (P)2000 Recorded Books, LLC
Lauren Olamina, a minister's daughter, lives in a gated community that falls prey to the violence and anarchy that's been eating away at the edges of civilization for years. It's a brutal novel, as everyone Lauren loves dies, and the deaths are often gruesome. Lauren herself suffers from a condition called hyper-empathy, which causes her to feel what people around her feel... a very bad thing when people around her are being attacked, raped, and killed.
But Lauren is anything but a fragile helpless character. She carries the seeds of a new religion, and she's been planning for the collapse since she was a child. This novel has a lot in common with similarly-themed SF where the protagonist is a "chosen one" destined to lead his or her people out of chaos and barbarism, except that no one has "chosen" Lauren. She's decided for herself that this is something she has to do.
The story takes us on Lauren's journey up the coast of California, as its highways are flooded with refugees and its cities burn (thanks in large part to a drug which turns people into psychotic pyromaniacs). What is most interesting is not Lauren's "adventures" (which are mostly just a series of tense encounters fraught with dangers, as she constantly has to weigh the need for allies against the hazards of trusting unknown people on the road) but the brutal laying bare of certain truths beneath our capitalist society. Lauren's father foresaw the coming collapse and tried to keep his family from being lured into company towns that were economic traps, but even he didn't foresee how bad things would really become. Lauren discovers that slavery is real, and has been real and common, right here in the U.S., for quite some time.
It's a cynical and pessimistic view of the future, but it's not far from how many people live today. Ultimately, the book gives some hope for the future, but there is certainly going to be more blood and tears along the way.
Love, love narrator Lynne Thigpen. LOVE HER. While hers is plainly the voice of a mature woman and not a teenager, she perfectly channels Lauren’s “old soul” persona. A few reviewers have complained that she’s too slow, but poetry is not improved by speeding it up, and Thigpen’s reading is just that—pure poetry. Her voice is raw silk, and her pacing and inflections are perfection, adding layers of meaning to a single word of dialog. I hung on every sentence, every word, and was happy to be carried along at the story’s natural pace. Hungry for more of her work, I looked her up. It’s clear that she has been pigeonholed into only reading audiobooks with black protagonists, and a small number of those, which I think is a gross under-appreciation of her talents.
On its face, there’s nothing that extraordinary about the plot—it’s a classic dystopian/post-apocalyptic future story, in which a band of survivors travels a ruined country, fending off bandits and natural disasters, searching for a safe haven in which to build a secure new home. If any of it seems clichéd, bear in mind it was first published in 1993, before dystopia became trendy and the genre became so glutted.
Butler first sets the scene, in a grim near-future that’s all too easy to imagine- America’s (and perhaps the world’s--that is left purposely vague) economy and government have become moribund, leaving thousands unemployed, homeless and desperate. While familiar institutions like police and fire departments and federal and state governments still exist, they are ineffectual, and violence and vigilante justice have become the law of the land in most places. Lauren Olamina is one of the relatively lucky ones—a member of a shrinking middle class, living in an armed, walled neighborhood in the outskirts of Los Angeles, drifting closer to poverty every year as the times grow leaner, the climate grows drier, and the thieves outside grow more desperate. Blessed with a dream and a gift for oratory, Lauren leaves the smoking ruins of her home and sets forth with a gun, a few hundred dollars, two traveling companions, and little else but her own determination to survive. Adventure ensues.
It’s Lauren’s philosophical ideas, not the plot, that captivated me. Lauren, a young woman of passing vision and resolve, daughter of the neighborhood’s Baptist minister, has been observing the decline of society her whole life, and concluded at the tender age of 15 that the religion of her father has no place in this tempestuous new world. The idea of God as a sort of super-person in the sky who cares individually about every soul and patiently waits to hear and answer humanity’s prayers is patently false to her… and more importantly, of no real use in this world. Her parents’ generation are doggedly waiting and praying for the good old days to return, but Lauren knows praying to the old gods won’t help – any good times which may lie ahead will have to be seized and built anew by those of her own generation. She invents—or discovers, depending on your point of view—a new religion for the new world she is determined to build, and calls it EarthSeed.
The principles of EarthSeed are simple, but profound. Its most basic, most often repeated tenet is,
“All that you touch, you Change.
All that you Change, Changes you.
The only lasting truth is Change.
God is Change.”
This may seem strange to those who are used to thinking of God as a person, or at least a consciousness. But if one defines God as simply that ultimate, most pervasive truth in the universe over which no higher power or truth can be found to hold sway, it makes perfect sense. When Lauren was questioned by her traveling companions, she answered simply, “Then show me another force that is more pervasive than change.” Everything changes, even the universe itself. Nothing is immune.
Like some of the characters in the book, I question whether Lauren’s ideas are truly a religion—after all, her philosophy doesn’t attempt to answer any of those fundamentally unanswerable questions that are the unique province of religion, such as, “Where do we come from?” “Where are we going?” or “Why are we here?” And it doesn’t appear to facially impose a moral code of behavior, at least not as it’s developed in this book. However, at least one verse from the Book of the Living hints at a moral code:
“Any Change may bear seeds of benefit. Seek them out.
Any Change may bear seeds of harm. Beware.
God is infinitely malleable. God is Change.”
Lauren’s character and ideas appeal to me on many levels. At the age of 15, she had the strength of will to challenge and reject as false and useless the religion practiced by the person she loved and respected most in the world. That’s not an easy thing, and it takes some very deep convictions. Her religion, such as it is, appeals to me as an atheist because it doesn’t require belief in or worship of anything supernatural or mystical—it is quite simply an acknowledgment of and respect for a natural truth of the universe. It is immanent rather than transcendent. Most importantly, it’s useful and helpful both in Lauren’s world and ours. It recognizes the spark of divinity in each of us—we can all be agents of Change. We can all be mini-deities and alter reality to create better or worse outcomes for ourselves and those around us. And we are all subject to the power of Change, and we must be prepared to face the consequences of our behavior and our environment. In EarthSeed’s credo, to plan, build, work, support your community and be supported by it, prepare for change and be ready for it, are sacred acts, or as close to sacred as Lauren is willing to offer. I suspect I’ll be thinking about these ideas for a long time to come and pondering how they apply to everyday life in this world rather than Lauren’s.
If it weren't for Audible I'd never get any reading done.
I can't decide if the author intends us to take seriously the religion developed by the main character. It's pretty lightweight stuff. But the tale of survival in 2025 California is entertaining. It's not America in the post-apocalypse, exactly, but in the middle of new Great Depression as it is becoming a corrupt violent dangerous capitalist country like Brazil or India.
Some of the dialogue is embarrassingly stilted--audio books bring that out, and the reader is very, very slow--I listened on my iPhone in 2x speed, and I do believe that helped the pace.
I greatly enjoyed this audio adaptation of Octavia Butlers book. Thigpen did a fine job reading paying sincere attention to Olaminas character. At one point the word 'yes' was all it took to move me. A fantastic listen and an intriguing work of literature, accessible to fans of future fantasy, amateur philosophers, survivalists and those who struggle with spirituality and its' emotional fight with science. Never too preachy, but instead encouraging, this book makes amends for much of the God heavy literature of this same type. The comparison of God to Entropy was notable and thought provoking. The conversations were believable and situations easily within mental grasp. Totally worthwhile food for thought and entertainment with some real literary meat. Moments of subtle cutting sexuality dug in and gave even greater depth to what could have been left simply to a story of disconnected pain and struggle to survive. This book all in all had me wishing everyone had a little "hyperempathy". A good read for sure.
Much of what Butler says about the world in this book, you can clearly see coming towards us in our times now. This book may, border on prophetic. LOL
Probably one of the best, if not THE best reading I've heard.
Perfect presentation of the story.
I wanted to listen to it all at once but, spread it out to make it last longer.
This storyline was so enchanting and hypnotizing. I couldn't stop until I reached the end, and then grew upset because I wanted more, I went through every emotion, my eyes swelled up with tears more than once and despite the horrid conditions, there were moments I smiled in joy for Laura. This book makes you go into deep thought of social and environmental problems of today and what our future will look like if we continue. Amazing, amazing book. I must read more by Octavia Butler.
A lovely book and performance. Duskilly read and occasionally soft and tough to hear on a drive, but entrancing and worth stretching to listen.
I now want to read a Book Of The Living, and this book is responsible for that.
A bleak and so very plausible vision of what our future might hold. Yet, hope is never lost. we can change. Change is everything. Wonderfully read.
I loved the pacing of the performance, the narrator seemed to embody the character of Lauren Olamina. The imagery was engaging, and the geography tested my mental map of California (I've lived in both L.A. and the Bay Area). The theology of Earth Seed had me thinking of the Process Theology I've studied in classes.
Highly recommended Spec Fic!
This is the first half of Octavia Butler's Earthseed series. It is a coming of age story of a young girl surviving in a rapidly deteriorating world ravaged by unchecked corporate greed, open government corruption, and rampant crime. Rape, torture, and mutilation fairly common outside of walled communities. But not content to simply survive, our heroine grows a new religion, known as "Earthseed," to give hope to an almost hopeless world. Fair warning, this is the grimmest vision of the future I've read since The Road and this actually might be worse.
Also, special praise must be reserved for Lynne Thigpen. She is absolutely flawless in this production and I can't wait to listen to her again. Very highly recommended!
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