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Periodically, the Book Jam turns over our platform to guest reviewers. We love this tradition as it means we hear about great books and it expands and diversifies the voices of the Book Jam. Today, we are thrilled to have Charlotte Cadow, Colorado College graduate, Educator, outdoor enthusiastic, and daughter of the Book Jam's Lisa Cadow. Thank you Charlotte.
This past fall, I left Wyoming to caretake at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Mizpah Hut. Located 2.5 miles and 2000 vertical feet from the nearest trailhead, books, food, clothes, and sleeping bags all have to be hauled in by packboard. So, when my co-caretaker offered to share, Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler, I was more than eager. Butler, having broken into a largely white, male dominated genre in the 1970s, brought a refreshing, and critical new lens to science fiction writing, and I’d heard a lot about her work in the preceding year. So, during a lull in the fall hiking traffic, I crinkled open the pages of Parable of the Sower.
Parable of the Sower (1994). Butler derived inspiration for the Parable books by forecasting what would happen if social injustice, climate change, and the inadequacies of governmental support for citizens were to intensify. Set in California, Parable of the Sower unfolds between 2020 and 2024, where everything is burning – the hills, the homes, any sense of harmony. Lauren, the protagonist, is fortunate – her family lives in a walled-in community. This banding together of households, who have strung barbed wire along the top of the fence, posted armed nightly watches, and have monthly target practice in the hills, is the new definition of normal - these protective measures are necessary to avoid the escalating chaos outside the walls. As the story unfolds, the stability of Lauren’s world dissolves. She journeys north towards land, a semblance of safety, and a future, all while navigating the power of religion, hyper-empathy, love, and loss as a young black woman in a dystopian world.
The first time I read Parable of the Sower, I was alone in the mountains, in a rumored-to-be haunted hut, in the middle of a pandemic. One morning, I awoke to a strange man standing on the fire escape outside of my unlocked door. When he twisted the knob and opened the door, I calmly told him that had the wrong entrance. With a pounding heart, I was immensely grateful of this reminder that in 2020, not all of the Parable had become a reality. In this prophetic novel, Butler questions what it means to be fundamentally human, dives into the potential implications of 1994 America, and ultimately leaves the reader with a sense of hope. ~ Charlotte Cadow
Kindred (1979). Dana is a young Black woman living in California in the 1970’s. Throughout the book, she is unexpectedly and involuntarily drawn back in time to antebellum Maryland. As the plot develops, Dana becomes increasingly intertwined in the survival of Rufus, the son of a white plantation owner, and Dana’s many-times-removed great grandfather. Through this narrative, Butler guides the reader through the implications of slavery, particularly the utter lack of autonomy possessed by enslaved people. While Dana possesses a 1970’s awareness and education, she is still subjected to the inescapable realities of slavery. She is helpless to stop Rufus from raping her many-time-removed great grandmother, to prevent beatings, or to decide when she will return to present day.
After fifteen different publishers turned down the novel manuscript, Butler successfully sent Kindred off to the press. 42 years later, I read Kindred from our cozy and comfy couch. Yet, from the moment I cracked the cover, I was transported into an expertly crafted harsh reality. I have never felt so keenly aware of how slavery operated, or the power that white plantation owners had after dehumanizing the Black population. While Butler wasn’t alive in antebellum times, she had a vision and the brilliance to remind us why understanding history is important, and that the impacts of the past perpetuate into the present. ~ Charlotte Cadow
Fledgling (2005). I’d consider this book to be more of an adult fantasy novel than a “science fiction;” perhaps a vampire book for adults. Shori awakes in a forest den after having lost most of her memory to an unknown trauma. With time, Shori’s body and mind begin to recover, and she seeks out solace in human companionship. As her social network broadens, she becomes aware of the impliations of her skin color, gender, and unique genetic identity. Butler builds on elements of the traditional vampire myths and legends, yet supplements with refreshing and provocative new characteristics, and the reader has the joy of discovering these traits are Shori herself rediscovers what it means to be “Ina.” This tantalizing tale explores themes of racism, sexism, polyamory, and fierce power dynamics.
Once again, Butler defied the perceived boundaries of science fiction. I found her prose to be imbued with a thought-provoking light from which to observe the social implications of racial relations. Her mastery of language, plot, and character development was evident as I devoured the 360 pages of text in under 24 hours. If you’re looking for a read to suck you in, tumble you around in a sea of misconceptions, and then spit you out with fresh perspectives, you should try Fledgling. ~ Charlotte Cadow
If you’re looking to learn more about Octavia Butler and her writing, check out the THROUGHLINE podcast from last month!