Grand Central 1987
As a lover of science-fiction, I’ve been looking forward to reading Octavia Butler for this blog and in general. I chose to start with Dawn for no particular reason, and with little idea of what to expect from it.
There’s more than one way to make a novel engaging and interesting to a reader. The intrigue found in Dawn is in the vastness of the imagination required to envision this future, and Butler’s ability to connect this strange, imagined future with the world as we know it today. I turn the page because the things Butler comes up with and the detail to which they’re thought through is fascinating. It’s fascinating and thought-provoking, but its not the type of novel I fall in love with.
With that said, Dawn is a powerful novel. It forces you to question what makes us human, what is central to our humanity. Is it what we look like, who we love, how we reproduce? Is it in part our capacity for violence? Our ability to lie and deceive and therefore distrust? The intelligent alien species in Dawn, the Oankali, say that humans are defined by two incompatible traits that lead to our destruction: we are intelligent and we are hierarchical.
Butler’s writing style is straightforward and non-emotional. I would almost be inclined to compare it to science writing in how matter-of-fact it is, but it is much more than that. She has a way of explaining things both artfully and exceptionally clearly. Phrases like “strangely gentle chaos” capture a scene perfectly. While Dawn was a book that took me awhile to get through because I never became fully absorbed in it, it is also a book I doubt I’ll ever forget. It’s creative and imaginative and powerful, and I intend to pick up another Octavia Butler novel in the future.