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Literature / Parable of the Sower

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Parable of the Sower (1993) and its sequel, Parable of the Talents (1998), by Octavia E. Butler, take place in a near-future Earth devastated by economic collapse. Lauren Oya Olamina lives in a walled community with her family until the day it is attacked and burned to the ground. Along with a few survivors and the revelation that "God is change", Lauren must search for a safe place to live and eventually discover the means to fulfill the destiny of a new religion.

A third book was planned, Parable of the Trickster, but the author passed away before it was completed.

These novels contain examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Asha Vere's adoptive parents beat her, sexually harass her, and abuse her emotionally and spiritually in line with their extremist Christian views.
  • Adoption Angst: Asha's adoptive parents are abusive and she knows she was taken against her mother's will, leaving her longing for her biological family. However, the longer it takes, the more she's convinced that her biological family gave up on her. She never forgives Lauren for moving on to found Earthseed rather than spending more time looking for her, and while they meet often they never fully forge a bond as mother and daughter.
  • Age-Gap Romance: Lauren and Bankole, who is old enough to be her father. Because Lauren is Wise Beyond Her Years and rather tall and broad, Bankole is actually shocked to learn that she's only 18 and almost backs out of the relationship entirely.
  • Bizarre Baby Boom: A drug designed to cure Alzheimer's has the unintended result of afflicting the children of users with "hyperempathy syndrome", which causes them to hallucinate feeling the pain of others.
  • Blessed with Suck: Those afflicted with hyperempathy syndrome. The problems with uncontrollable empathy are shown most strongly when discussing combat - shooting someone to wound can disable the empathic shooter with pain, making just killing people safer, and when Lauren is being raped and has to feel her pain along with her rapist's pleasure.
  • Characters Dropping Like Flies: As part of the apocalyptic setting, people die suddenly and easily. Only three characters survive Parable of the Sower from start to finish, and they need to keep picking up new characters as others die along the way.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Lauren's half brother Marcus turns up in the Talents, having survived the events that should have killed him in Sower. Unfortunately, he's become a pastor of Christian America and keeps Asha and Lauren apart, lying to Asha that her mother is dead and to Lauren that she never found her daughter. Once Lauren learns the truth, she disowns him entirely.
  • Children Are Innocent: When traveling, Lauren quickly realizes that the best way to get people to stay in her group is to win their children over first and the adults will then fall in line.
  • Company Town: They start popping up once President Donner loosens the laws, foreign corporations taking over cities and offering a safe place to stay in return for work. All of the characters know where it ends, but some are desperate enough to take the chance anyway. Emery and her daughter Tori are introduced fleeing one, having run for it after the town sold off her sons to pay her debt.
  • Corrupt Church: The dominant religion post-"Pox"; the Church of Christian America.
  • Crapsack World: The United States suffers from catastrophic economic collapse, gang violence and child prostitution is at an all-time high, and it's dangerous to even go outside.
  • Cult: Lauren's religion Earthseed, based on the belief that change is God, though it later is considered a religion.
  • Cult Colony: The Parable of the Talents ends with a group of Earthseed believers heading into space to establish the first human colony in outer space. Trickster would have picked up with those colonists and shown how they adapted, but the author passed away before it could be written.
  • Cyberspace: Lauren meets a girl whose mother spends all her time in virtual reality.
  • Deadly Distant Finale: Parable of the Talents ends with Asha telling about Lauren's death and her last diary entry.
  • Death of a Child: Young teenagers, children, and babies die at an alarming clip.
  • Disaster Scavengers: The poor people who grab at everyone's belongings after Lauren's neighborhood burns. Also true for the "street poor" more generally throughout the books.
  • Doomed Hometown: Lauren figures out early on that Robledo will be eventually overrun, and starts preparing early in spite of her father's wishes. Sadly, when the time comes, she isn't able to save any of her family.
  • The Empath: Lauren and others who suffer from hyperempathy syndrome. The twist is that it's a neurological condition, not a psychic power. They feel only what they perceive others to be feeling; they can't feel pain they're ignorant of, and you can trick them into feeling pain by, for example, smearing yourself in red ink and screaming that you're bleeding.
  • Fantastic Drug: In addition to the drug that causes hyperempathy in pregnant users' children, gangs also use a street drug dubbed "Pyro" because it causes a fascination with fire that is said to be more enjoyable than sex, and creates a desire to set things on fire in the user.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Lauren's search for her lost daughter in the second book is intercut with stories from that daughter talking about growing up in her adoptive home. So it's already completely obvious that the search will fail.
  • Glorious Leader: In Talents, the elected president of the United States is a radical preacher whose solution to the economic disaster is to persecute all non-Christians and anyone else he can use as a scapegoat.
  • Good Is Not Soft: Quite a lot of people assume that as a sharer and the founder of a religion based on humanity uniting and the end of violence, Lauren would be pacifist and naive. However, Lauren is perfectly willing to kill to defend her family and congregation, even if she has to feel the pain of their deaths.
  • Hell Hole Prison: The Camp Christian "reeducation facility". Lauren and her fellow inmates are regularly tortured and raped by the guards.
  • Hope Springs Eternal: Why Lauren decides to make humanity's future journey to the stars part of the Earthseed religion. No matter how hopeless it seems, having something concrete to work towards keeps them pushing onward even with the odds against them.
  • Indentured Servitude: The default for the company towns is to underpay everyone just enough for them to remain permanently in debt, and those in debt are company property as well as workers. Emery had to run after her husband died and the company town started selling her children to pay his debt.
  • Just Before the End: The USA is still an entity, money still counts for something, and cities still have people in them, but it's clearly all just the last few embers before it all crumbles, and anyone with sense is just waiting for the rest to fall down. Unlike most examples, by the end of Talents humanity has actually managed to turn it around and avert total collapse.
  • Literary Allusion Title: Both book titles are Biblical parables, Parable of the Sower is in Matthew 13:1-23 and Parable of the Talents is in Matthew 25:14-30.
  • Long-Lost Relative: Lauren's daughter Larkin is taken away and given to a Christian family, and is renamed Asha Vere.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: The state of the world has caused social progress to roll backwards, and interracial romances and even friendships are stigmatized. Even in the gated community, Lauren's father is often sneered at for marrying her Hispanic stepmother, and when Lauren, Zahra, and Harry decide to travel together, Lauren decides to disguise herself as a man and pretend to be a couple with Zahra since either of them being with the white Harry could attract trouble.
  • Mama Bear: Allie set her father's home on fire when he killed her son, and once she becomes attached to Justin there isn't anything she won't do for him.
  • Meaningful Name: Lauren's middle name is Oya, after the Yoruban goddess of fire and wind, who is associated with chaos, transition, and great changes.
  • Meanwhile, in the Future…: In Parable of the Talents, Lauren's storyline and Larkin/Asha Vere's storyline are told at the same time.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: The Fundamentalist Christian America sect often puts "heathens" in concentration camps and allow rape to go unnoticed because they aren't seen as people.
  • Never Found the Body:
    • Deconstructed. Given the setting, people often vanish and are never recovered. The viciousness of not having closure for someone's death as well as the need to move on are a recurring theme in the book. Notably, only one person left for dead ever turns up again: Lauren's brother Marcus.
    • In Parable of The Talents, this is the key piece of conflict between Asha (originally Larkin) and her mother Lauren. Asha feels betrayed and abandoned that her mother eventually moved on without her, while her mother has lost so many people this way that even spending a year searching for her was more than she'd ever done.
  • Never Learned to Read: Literacy is at an all-time low and the ability to read and write is precious. Keith gets in with a vicious gang because he can read and write, and Lauren runs regular classes for kids and illiterate adults.
  • Pervert Dad:
    • Asha Vere's adoptive father is one.
    • Allie and Jill's father raped and used them, with the last straw being him killing Allie's (and his) son for crying too much. They finally set them ablaze.
  • Post-Apocalyptic Dog: Since no one can afford to waste meat on dogs, they've become roving packs of wild, sometimes rabid scavengers and a recurring threat to human communities. Lauren can hardly imagine they were ever kept as pets.
  • Pyromaniac: Addicts of the drug Pyro will set fires just for the quasi-sexual pleasure it brings.
  • Robbing the Dead: No matter how sheltered a person is, no one bats an eye at stripping a corpse.
  • Scavenger World: Lauren and her followers must scavenge through the remains of California to survive and rebuild a community.
  • Shock Collar: Slavers use these to keep their prisoners in line. In the second book, Lauren and the survivors of Acorn have these put on them after their community is raided.
  • Solar Punk: The Earthseed ideology employs a lot of garden metaphors along with actually encouraging its adherents to garden. (When you consider that Earthseed was born in part out of resource scarcity, both of the above make sense.)
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Lauren notes that she can pass for a man easily due to being tall and broad, and disguises herself when traveling alone.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: Takes place in the early to mid 21st century, and Lauren was in fact born in 2009.
  • Wise Beyond Her Years: Lauren starts Earthseed as a teenager and is among the first to realize that her home community will eventually be run over, and to create an ideology that will let people survive and rebuild in the apocalyptic conditions.

Alternative Title(s): Parable Of The Talents