Book cover
The Parable of the Sower
Octavia Butler

I’ve had a story idea rattling around in my head for years about a character with a supernatural degree of empathy. I was talking to a friend about this idea and he mentioned Octavia Butler’s Parable series. If you haven’t read them, they revolve around a young woman with a “hyper-empathy” condition – she feels acutely the pleasure and pain of those around her. This is not the central driver of the plot, but it is an interesting characterization, and an idea I’ve been fascinated by for years.

This post-apocalyptic story is strangely prescient, a novel written in the 80s that you would swear is about a near-future post-Trump America. But that also isn’t the central driver of the plot.

Rather, this story is driven by Earthseed, a quasi-religion that seems to be loosely influenced by Buddhism, but with an evangelical flavor. I really admired Butler’s frank and self-assured portrayal of her protagonist and the movement she builds. It is refreshingly unpretentious and beautifully hopeful. This is all set against real tragedy, which makes the novel itself an embodiment of the faith its fictional world presupposes.

Butler writes elegantly about privilege and power, again in a way that feels very modern. If you’re a plot-first person you may find it a a little underwhelming. But what the book lacks in plotting it makes up for in wisdom and compassion.