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Literature / Lilith's Brood
aka: Xenogenesis

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Lilith Iyapo awakens to find that most of the Earth has been destroyed by nuclear war, and the surviving humans have been kept in suspended animation by an alien race called the Oankali. The Oankali are driven to travel the universe in search of other intelligent species to breed with in order to share their genetic code, altering both species. They have reconstructed Earth in order to make it habitable for what is left of the humans, but in order to rebuild humanity, the Oankali must change it forever.
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Lilith's Brood, by Octavia Butler, previously published as Xenogenesis, is the compilation of three novels. The first in the series follows Lilith after she awakens to her new world, while the sequels are told from the point of view of her genetically altered children.


This series contains examples of:

  • Actually, I Am Him: In the second book, Lilith introduces herself to a human who had run away from the Oankali. He remarks that she has an unfortunate name, since it's the same as the woman who betrayed humanity by allying with the Oankali, before she explains she is that woman.
  • Aerith and Bob: Family names start getting strange when the Oankali aliens start having children with humans; for example, Lilith and Tino have children named Jodahs and Aaor. Lampshaded when an all-human village takes in a half-Oankali girl named Shkaht and questions what sort of name that is.
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  • After the End: The first book opens after nuclear war, which the Oankali almost interpreted as a collective suicide by humanity. It took centuries for the Oankali to repair the Earth's biosphere afterwards.
  • Benevolent Alien Invasion: The Oankali generally mean well, as they see themselves making humanity better by creating a new, unflawed race. Many of the humans, however, don't see it that way.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: The Oankali are very alien, even the ones that are specifically modeled to look more human, so much so that the humans have a hard time accepting them, and many never do.
  • Bizarre Alien Reproduction: The Oankali have an "ooloi" third sex who collect DNA from male and female parents, genetically engineer a blastocyst in a specialized organ, and implant it into the female through their skin. On their own, Oankali children are born to those three parents, but their Half-Human Hybrid children add a human father and mother to the mix.
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  • Bizarre Alien Senses: The Oankali sense of smell is acute enough to detect genetic conditions from a distance. More importantly, their sensory tentacles can extrude microfilaments that let them detect the composition of substances — down to the subatomic level in some cases — and analyze and modify any living tissue they touch.
  • Bizarre Alien Sexes: Oankali have three sexes: female, male, and ooloi. Ooloi have "sensory arms" which they use during sex (and also for microsurgery/healing/taking DNA samples).
  • Blue and Orange Morality: The Oankali are peaceful vegetarians who either don't understand or don't care what's wrong with rape.
  • Boldly Coming: The Half-Human Hybrid Akin looks almost completely human and tries to act as a diplomat to human resister communities. This generally involves sleeping with a few of the local women who hope that they'll be able to conceive a child with him. He does tell them that human sterility doesn't work that way, but hope springs eternal...
  • Brother–Sister Incest: The default and ideal mating group ("coupling" is inaccurate by 33%, as explained above) for Oankali is a brother and sister plus an ooloi from a different familynote . They tend to encourage these...family values in humans, which means that hybrid families involve TWO EACH of males and females, plus ooloi.
  • Childless Dystopia: The "resister" villages are full of long-lived, exceptionally healthy humans with no children save those they can kidnap from human-Oankali settlements.
  • Cthulhumanoid: Oankali sensory tentacles are described as making them look a bit like anthropomorphic sea slugs.
  • Cursed with Awesome: The Oankali consider humans uniquely blessed and genetically very attractive because we have... cancer. It turns out the same genes that can go so horribly wrong also can be used for regenerative abilities they've never seen before.
  • Dehumanizing Insult: The more unpleasant resisters refer to humans who reproduce with Oankali as "animals".
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: Turns out the Oankali aren't that nice after all — they're basically strip-mining Earth to make more spaceships because of their drive to genetically merge with other species, hence they can't just let a society of fertile humans alone.
  • Exposed Extraterrestrials: Oankali only wear clothes when they're deliberately trying to put humans at ease. Justified since they have sensory tentacles across their bodies, are tough enough not to need the protection, don't have (or need) genitalia, and come from a Planet Spaceship that maintains a safe environment for them.
  • Extra Digits: Oankali have sixteen fingers and two thumbs, thanks in part to their ongoing genetic manipulation of themselves as a species. Humans tend to find the arrangement creepy, but not nearly as much as their Eyeless Faces and anemone-like tentacles.
  • Extra Parent Conception: Oankali children are born to a male, female, and ooloi, the latter of whom does not contribute its own genes but combines the other parents' genes and implants the blastocyst into the female. When they start cross-breeding with humans, they add a human male and female to the mix.
  • Eyeless Face: Oankali have no eyes, ears, or noses; instead, patches of short tentacles on their scalps, foreheads, throats, and bodies provide equivalent senses. They have to learn to face humans when speaking with them, since their species' equivalent is just to point some tentacles in their conversation partner's direction.
  • Face Full of Alien Wing-Wong: The Oankali solution to humanity's "flaw".note 
  • Generation Ships: The Oankali travel on colossal Living Ships as they travel the galaxy in search of genetic trade.
  • Genius Loci: Oankali villages on earth are grown from the same type of organism as their ships, making them sentient and able to respond to chemical signals. They can also awaken to full sapience when the occasion calls for it.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: The children of Lilith and the other humans who breed with the Oankali.
  • Healing Factor: Oankali can use their abilities on themselves to regenerate their injuries. Simple healing happens subconsciously, but some injuries are severe enough to require their conscious attention.
  • Hidden Elf Village: It turns out that the Oankali's sterilization of humanity wasn't entirely perfect; by the time of the third book, there's one settlement that's inhabited by the (extremely inbred) descendants of the two remaining fertile humans.
  • Humans Are Bastards: see below
  • Humans Are Flawed: According to the Oankali, the "Human Contradiction" is that they possess both advanced intelligence and an animalistic drive to form social hierarchies, which will inevitably lead humanity to destroy itself again.
  • Hypocrisy Nod: Akin gets the Oankali to acknowledge the hypocrisy of retaining an Oankali faction that won't interbreed with humans while denying humans the same option. He convinces them to relent and allow a pure human colony to be founded on Mars.
  • Incest Is Relative: The Oankali's preferred family grouping is between brothers and sisters, and they encourage humans to do the same. Also, the Hidden Elf Village of fertile humans is incredibly inbred as a result of this. All its inhabitants are descendents of a single woman and a random man who raped her and was never seen again.
  • In Your Nature to Destroy Yourselves: The Oankali believe that humanity is doomed to destroy itself because of its contradictory traits — intelligence and hierarchical social structures.note  The only solution is to correct it by breeding with the Oankali, removing the hierarchical instincts by genetic manipulation of the next generation.
  • Intimate Healing:
    • The ooloi use their sensory arms both for healing (by transmitting commands to the body) and for the Oankali version of sex (by transmitting pure pleasure), and like to add a bit of the latter to the former.
    • In an intimate but starkly non-sexual instance, Lilith helps Nikanj heal the loss of a sensory arm with some naked spooning, so he can use all of his sensory tentacles to copy helpful genetic information from her. He's in no condition to make it pleasant, so she has to endure the feeling of being perforated by hundreds of needles.
  • Interspecies Romance: The Oankali really seem to genuinely love humanity.
  • It's What I Do: The Oankali in regard to interbreeding, genetic manipulation, and space travel. It's just something they're as compelled to do as humans are to breathing.
  • LEGO Genetics: The Oankali have been collecting genetic information from species across the galaxy for untold millions of years and have a truly amazing ability to mix-and-match various traits.
  • Living Ship: Oankali ships are living organisms grown for the purpose.
  • Malevolent Mutilation: When a human village acquires two young half-Oankali girls, Neci is very persistent in wanting to cut off the small sensory tentacles that indicate their non-human ancestry — and that help them breathe, see, hear, and taste. She's prevented from doing so, but it's presented as a sign that she's even more prejudiced against Oankali than the others, and dim-witted and vicious besides.
  • Meaningful Name: Lilith occasionally references her Biblical namesake, and how fitting it is that she should have it, given that she's demonized for "betraying" humanity.
  • Metamorphosis: The Half-Human Hybrids shift into a final form upon reaching adulthood, which generally makes them look less like their birth mother's species. Akin is annoyed when he shifts from looking almost entirely human to entirely Oankali, since it will make his diplomatic work harder.
  • Mind Rape: Of a sort. Lilith mentions in a later book that if someone goes through the transformation stages of an Ooloi with them, they can't choose to leave them afterward.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Lilith Iyapo is the source of the name's ominous in-universe connotations, thanks to human "resisters" calling her the betrayer of humanity for being the first to cooperate with the Oankali's crossbreeding strategy.
  • Non-Humans Lack Attributes: Oankali have no breasts or genitals, which confuses one human who makes several attempts at a Groin Attack before realizing she's not kicking anything. Justified since they create and implant fetuses without any need for gametes, then grow a temporary orifice to give birth; also, their digestive systems only produce trace amounts of dust as waste, which they secrete through their skin.
  • "Not If They Enjoyed It" Rationalization: Since the Oankali read body language, pheremones, and other physiological things, they can "understand" what humans "want" even though said humans have not actually explained what they want — or even if they're explicitly saying they don't want something.
  • Only You Can Repopulate My Race: The human race, in this case. One hidden community is willing to take desperate measures to keep "pure" humans reproducing.
  • Organic Technology: Practically everything the Oankali make is alive, from their suspended animation pods (which were engineered from carnivorous plants) to their villages on Earth.
  • Our Humans Are Different: By Adulthood Rites, the human race is Long-Lived on the order of centuries, resistant to disease, and sterile, thanks to genetic manipulation by the Oankali. All children that are born are human-Oankali hybrids.
  • Parental Incest: One remote human village is populated by the descendants of a woman who wasn't made sterile and was able to have a child. The father ran off, so the villagers bred the woman with her own son.
  • Planet Spaceship: Oankali bio-engineer titanic, intelligent living "great ships" that transport entire planetary populations from world to world. Since they host entire ecosystems within their mass, including Arboreal Abodes for the Oankali, visitors often need to be convinced that they're not still on a planet. Growing a new one consumes enough mass to strip a planet to its core.
  • Polyamory: Oankali relationships involve a human male and female, an Oankali male and female, and an ooloi, a third Oankali gender.
  • Power Incontinence: Jodahs is the first human-Oankali hybrid to be born an "ooloi" and inherit the Oankali's full ability to control DNA and living tissue. For a while, he's stuck inflicting random mutations on himself and everything he touches, including the buildings of the Organic Technology village he lives in. His abilities stabilize once he finds mates.
  • Puny Earthlings: Compared to humans, the Oankali are stronger, tougher, and longer-lived; have superior senses and vastly more efficient metabolisms; are more mentally stable; and are much more technologically advanced; to say nothing of their ability to Heal, kill, or perform comprehensive genetic engineering with a touch.
  • Race Lift: The cover of the first paperback edition of vol. 1 (Dawn) depicted Lilith as white (but the other character in the scene exactly as described).
  • Rape as Drama: The Oankali are essentially raping humanity, and a lot of the humans don't take kindly to this.
  • Ruins of the Modern Age: : Defied by the Oankali. Before returning them to Earth, they deliberately raze and bury any old human settlement that survived the final nuclear war, in order to discourage them from repeating their predecessors' mistakes and force them to form a new social order.
  • Screw You, Elves!: The Oankali are very certain of themselves and extremely frustrating to argue with, which makes it something of a relief when they're proved wrong, even if that being wrong has horrible consequences, and more of a relief when they at last agree to let a small amount of humanity survive untouched to find their own fates.
  • Sex by Proxy: When Oankali mate with each other and/or with humans, the ooloi sex acts as intermediary, linking their nervous systems and transmitting pleasurable sensations to everyone involved. The other parties never touch each other and, in fact, are altered to experience profound disgust if they ever try to.
  • Shapeshifter Swan Song: The profoundly depressed ooloi Aaor loses control over its ability to manipulate its own DNA, causing it to shift into ever more biologically simple forms over several weeks. It regresses to a sluglike creature by the time it's rescued, and restoring its original form is an uphill battle against its body's urge to dissolve into single-celled organisms. They succeed in healing it.
  • Speculative Fiction LGBT: When the Oankali start interbreeding with humans, they form Polyamorous family units with two males, two females, and one ooloi. This proves to be a source of tension, since even well-disposed humans are weirded out at first by the idea of sleeping with an ooloi, and the less-well disposed accuse the Oankali of "making women of human men" by derailing stereotypical gender roles.
  • Shooting Superman: The Oankali have a Healing Factor that leaves them Nigh Invulnerable in most circumstances, which doesn't stop certain humans from trying to shoot them. Repeatedly. Downplayed since they can get brought down after taking enough punishment, but this is not seen.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: Nikanj manages to save the sperm of Lilith's first mate from the ship after he is killed, and impregnates her with it years afterward, despite originally telling her it would only last a few weeks. It's mentioned that another Ooloi figured out how to make it last indefinitely.
  • Squick: In-universe version. Even the Oankali who are specifically engineered to look as human as possible look so alien that Lilith can't help but recoil in horror from them initially.
  • Starfish Aliens: The Onakali are sort of humanoid in their current incarnation, but have had much more exotic forms in the past. One side character appears as a giant caterpillar-like being; it's also mentioned that they existed as Hive Minded schools of aquatic creatures for a while.
  • Sufficiently Advanced Bamboo Technology: Oankali Organic Technology tends to look as little like technology as possible. One human visitor needs to be clued in that a village of primitive-looking huts is actually one living, intelligent organism that handles all utilities and long-distance communication and can grow into a spaceship if the need arises.
  • Superior Species: The series has quite a lot to say about how Oankali are better than the Puny Earthlings. In addition to their physical advantages, they can use their semi-telepathic abilities to participate in conversations involving thousands of them at once, with little confusion; coming to a consensus this way produces better solutions than electing a single leader.
  • Transhuman: The Oankali modify the human species to be Long-Lived and resistant to disease; a few, like Lilith, also get Super Strength, a Healing Factor, and a limited ability to interface with their Organic Technology. Terms and conditions apply.
  • Unusual User Interface: Oankali can interface with any of their Organic Technology by touch alone, thanks to the same sensory filaments that let them perform microsurgery and genetic modification on living organisms through skin-to-skin contact. Allied humans need to be modified so they can do such minor things as signal a door to open, and are unable to use the technology in more sophisticated ways.

Alternative Title(s): Xenogenesis

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