Octavia Butler's Parables
Without brute force, which is never but a momentary solution, people cannot in this vein be asked to live cooperatively and to renounce the omnivorous desires of the id without some appeal to religious belief or transcendent values, something absolutely incompatible with any conceivable socialist society.
-- FREDRIC JAMESON, "COGNITIVE MAPPING" (355)
In The Parable of the Sower ( 1993) and, to a lesser extent, in The Parable of the Talents ( 1998), Octavia Butler has created a dystopian vision that equals Robinson's for its creative innovation and political engagement. 1 Like Robinson, Butler focuses on her protagonist's coming of age in an extrapolated version of contemporary U.S. society. In doing so, she expands the dystopian form by drawing on a range of textual influences to enrich the social detail and the narrative conflict of what is inherently an open-ended multivolume series. While journal entries set within the familiar sf account of new beginnings in a post-apocalypse world constitute the primary vehicle for her "parables," in her first volume she transforms that popular mode into a critical dystopia by self-reflexively spinning an intertextual web that draws on the substance and form of sources as varied as slave narratives, feminist fiction, survivalist adventure, and New Age theology along with the realism of works such as John Steinbeck Grapes of Wrath and Upton Sinclair Jungle. As a result, she situates her detailed dystopian account of societal collapse within a larger historical perspective even as she expands the purview of the developing opposition by the transcendent vision of a quite secular theology. With this performance of genre blurring, she generates a counter-narrative in which a diverse group of individuals develops through struggle into a political collective that (at least for-a-while) constitutes a historically and theologically informed utopian alternative to the economic and political power that barely controls this broken society. 2