Review: Xenogenesis Trilogy (Lilith’s Brood) by Octavia Butler

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Date Read: June 16 to September 7, 2014
Read Count: 1
Recommended by: Book Reviews Forevermore
Recommended for: anyone looking for well-written thoughtful sci-fi

What is the nature of consent? (Dawn)
What is humanity without reproduction? (Adulthood Rites)
What is life like post-humanity? (Imago)

If any of these questions pique your interest, then definitely take a look. All three books are well-written and captivating but in a very easy to read way. While each book takes on a host of difficult topics that will surely make some people uncomfortable, all three are worth your while. In the hands of a weaker writer, the execution would no doubt fail miserably, but Octavia Butler is a special kind of writer. (Was a special kind of writer. Sometimes I still can’t believe she’s gone.) Her vivid descriptions and depth of characterization bring all sorts of strange things to life–strange worlds, strange senses, strange ideas, strange peoples. Almost everything is alien, yet familiar and somehow endearing. Her descriptions are so vivid you could almost reach out and touch them.

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* * * * spoilers below * * * *

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Dawn begins with Lilith Iyapo awakening in solitary confinement. She later learns she’s on a living space ship, held as a captive by the oankali, an alien race. There had been a war several years ago on Earth that destroyed the planet and almost wiped out the human race. A few survivors were rescued and brought to the ship. All were healed but left sedated for the time being; a select few will be awoken, like Lilith, once it’s time to return to Earth and resettle the planet. There’s a catch though, several in fact, which are revealed as the story unfolds. The main one being, for humans to return to Earth, they must accept a genetic trade with the oankali. Meaning that, if they want to repopulate the planet, they will only bear human-oankali children. This will play out more fully in the next book, Adulthood Rites. Lilith, being the most resilient and trustworthy human, is handed the task of teaching and training the other humans to survive in the wilderness of new Earth. The rest of the story is about the many challenges the humans face as they first resettle new Earth and the dilemmas Lilith face alone as the others turn on her when they begin to see her as a betrayer to the human race.

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Adulthood Rites takes place several years after Dawn and shows life on new Earth as both humans and oankali have resettled some of the land. The story follows one of Lilith’s sons, Akin, a human-oankali construct, as he grows to maturity. Akin is the first construct to be born to a human mother, and because he looks more human on the outside, he’s easily accepted by other humans who have chosen to reject the oankali and the gene trade. Looks are deceiving though since Akin is much more advance and intelligent than most human adults, even as an infant. Since they can’t have children of their own, the humans who’ve rejected the oankali turn to abduction. They only choose the most human-looking children to take back to their village. Akin is abducted by a group of scavenger and then sold to a village where he lives for several years among humans. Through this experience, he’s able to learn from them and reconcile a part of his curious nature. Later on, he comes to understand why having human children born to human parents is so important to these people. He also comes to understand the weight of the knowledge of extinction these people face as they look to the future and not see themselves anywhere. When Akin is fully grown, he becomes a mediator between human and oankali since only he can understand both sides that well.

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The oankali have three sexes: female, male, and ooloi. The ooloi is a crucial part of the reproduction process as it controls and manipulates genes and is responsible for the gene trade. Up until now in the story, there have only been male and female construct children. The construction of a construct ooloi has been discussed, but not yet attempted until now. Imago tells the story of Jodahs, the first ooloi construct. This book ties the previous two together seamlessly by showing what Jodahs is and all that it can do. The best of the human and oankali gene trade is shown in Jodahs, as it has all the skills and intelligence of an oankali ooloi, with the advantage of an understanding of human-specific struggles and oankali-specific fears (of humans and human potential for destruction). Through Jodahs, we come to better understand the oankali and see that what used to seem alien in the previous two books is just the way life has to be, from here on out.

These are only brief summaries, and I’ve only just scratched the surface of these story arcs. There’s so much more underneath that I don’t even know where to begin. They’re all huge spoilers, of course, and too important to give away.

All three books are amazing in their own way but better when read together as a trilogy. I never hesitate to recommend a solid 5-star series; this one is an exception though because I can definitely see that it’s not for everyone. If you like uncertainty, if you like being challenged, if you like to shuffle and reevaluate your world views, then definitely give these books a try. You’ll need time set aside and some more time set aside to think once you’re through with each book. It may not feel heavy while you’re reading because the writing is just so good, but just wait until you get through Dawn. It made me take a long break just to resettle my thoughts, and a long time afterward, it haunted me, just as Carol (from Book Reviews Forevermore) said. Every spare moment I had, I thought about it. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, as a matter of fact, or about Lilith or the new Earth or construct children. These things stay with you as they’re meant to; only great books can do that.

And of course

aliens

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6 thoughts on “Review: Xenogenesis Trilogy (Lilith’s Brood) by Octavia Butler

  1. stephswint September 24, 2014 / 1:27 pm

    Very interested, very curious. I’ve been very interested in picking something up by Octavia Butler.

    Like

    • 1stavenue September 24, 2014 / 1:56 pm

      You can’t go wrong with anything by Octavia Butler. She has a collection of award-winning short stories that I just found, Bloodchild and Other Stories. Maybe you could start here.

      Like

      • stephswint September 24, 2014 / 1:59 pm

        I need to dive into a solid book. I get frustrated at how short stories are. …go ahead laugh at me.

        Like

        • 1stavenue September 24, 2014 / 2:15 pm

          Totally understand. I’m like that too. I only read short stories if I really really like the author, otherwise there’s no sense in trying a collection.

          As for a good place to start Butler, I’d recommend Wild Seed if you’re in the mood for historical fiction/sci-fi and Dawn if you want hard sci-fi. But since her writing is consistently good, any book would do.

          Like

          • stephswint September 24, 2014 / 2:18 pm

            Good call. I do like both but I think I might start with Wild Seed. Thank you for your advice.

            Like

            • 1stavenue September 24, 2014 / 2:26 pm

              Glad I could help. Looking forward to reading your thoughts on Butler’s writing.

              Liked by 1 person

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