Book Review: Parable of the Sower

(Reed’s song of the day: Pirates, by Bullets and Octane)

Hey all,

I’ll be doing a lot of book reviews in the coming few months since I stocked up on new books at the LA Times Festival of Books! I hope to be bringing you some great picks for new voices in SFF.

Today’s book, however, actually came recommended from a friend. Thanks Audrey! Let’s dive in.


Title: Parable of the Sower

Author: Octavia Butler

Genre: Postapocalyptic low sci-fi, spiritualism

Premise: A young woman lives in a near-future earth gone straight to hell. Water and food scarcity, masses of homeless and criminals roving uninhabited, dried-up California, walled communities barely kept separate from the gangs… it’s kind of like The Walking Dead except without any zombies. This woman, Lauren, chronicles her experiences first in her home town and then on the highway heading north, trying to survive while debating with herself about life, religion, and the importance of things.

So like I said, my friend recommended this one to me and I happily accepted; I’ve been wanting to read some of Octavia Butler’s work for quite a while now and never got around to it. It’s interesting because, despite being science fiction, it’s really nothing like the usual Dune or Foundation or Ender’s Game. There’s no space exploration or alien races, no ridiculous technologies and organizations. You don’t have to memorize a long list of acronyms.

It’s much more low sci-fi than that – somewhere between Book of Eli and The Walking Dead. The book is written in the fashion of a young woman’s diary, chronicling her daily experience with the various horrors greeting the post-apocalyptic teenager. But what’s more interesting than that is that a decent portion of the book is dedicated to Lauren’s thoughts on religion – her dad is a pastor, but she’s creating her own belief system named Earthseed.

Lauren travels around, gathering people up into a little group from which to form a small Earthseed community. There’s a lot of debating spirituality and philosophy interspersed with graphic murder and heart-pounding action, which makes for an interesting read. Honestly, fans of Kent Wayne’s Echo series might like this, although I find it reads very differently.

So here’s the thing about this book. It’s very slow-moving and takes quite a bit of time to build up momentum, like a lot of sci-fi. I won’t lie; I had to struggle a bit through the first eighty or so pages. But once things started to pick up, I began to get invested very quickly.

I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite novel, but the strong points in it are very strong. The spirituality is an interesting twist and evokes some sincere thought on the reader’s standpoint; the characters are engaging and relatable; and the little bits of science fiction sprinkled throughout are tantalizing, with interesting applications.

On the not-so-great side, there’s the slow, gradual pace. There’s also a lot of comma splicing that drives the grammar part of my mind nuts (petty, I know, but some people will definitely be put off by it). It’s written as a journal, but it has all the commas, of a person, speaking, and thinking, about what they’re saying, and making, those little characteristic pauses we make, when we talk, you know what I mean?

Overall, though, it was a pretty solid novel. I would recommend it for anyone who likes their genre fiction served in a dense, creamy spirituality sauce.

Reed’s Rating: 7.5/10

Yours, getting into dat vampire suspense next,

-R.R. Buck

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