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Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler

Parable of the Talents (original 1998; edition 1998)

by Octavia E. Butler

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1,535384,784 (4.04)83
Title:Parable of the Talents
Authors:Octavia E. Butler
Info:Aspect (2000), Trade paperback
Collections:Your library, Favorites
Tags:Dystopian, California, Earthseed, 1990s, Clarke Award, sci-fi, read in 2006

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Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler (1998)


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There has not been a novel that caused such discomfort, challenge my assumptions, or made me defensive while reading like Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler. It is the sequel to Parable of the Sower and continues Lauren Olamina’s quest to create a new religion, Earthseed, in a believable and frightening post-apocalyptic America reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or the movie, Book of Eli starring Denzel Washington.

If the novel’s title sounds familiar, then you would recognize it as one of Jesus’ most popular parables from the New Testament Book of Matthew, Chapter 25:14-30. The parable deals with a master giving out talents to his servants and those who received multiple talents could add more from what they were given. While, the servant who only received one talent could not multiply his portion and got punished by his master because of it.

With that parable as the novel’s backdrop, Butler continues with Lauren’s story in an epistolary format through the eyes of her daughter, Larkin. She discovers her mother’s writings and is determined to learn about this woman who create this strange religion that came between their relationship.

Lauren’s writings revealed a bleak and terrifying America where an alt-right Texan Senator Andrew Jarrett becomes president. Jarrett’s campaign slogan was the same one that a certain presidential candidate has adopted. Butler’s prescience appeared throughout the novel and made it the most challenging parts for me as a reader.

However, I felt Butler went into caricature with Jarrett and the alt-right’s version Christian America as the antagonist of the novel. I believed in some of the scenarios of wanting America to return to its Christian heritage (not historically accurate) being believable. Butler did not provide enough motivation or depth to the antagonist that would have made the story even better. It seemed as the author through Lauren’s letters wanted to unload on right-wing ideology. That wanting to unload on a ideology is less effective in a work of fiction.

Despite that objection, Butler wrote a blunt and powerful novel. Also, she is an excellent storyteller and regardless of my discomfort I kept turning the pages until the end. Butler has deserved her reputation as a giant in science fiction and the Parable books cemented her legacy.

I highly recommend Parable of the Talents. But, I would suggest that you read Parable of the Sower first. They are two halves of a whole work of art and you will get the full effect of Lauren’s attempt in trying to create Earthseed. ( )
  Kammbia1 | Oct 2, 2016 |
This was a good book although I liked Parable of the sower better. I hated the narrator of this book she was extremely selfish and didn't try to see her mother's perspective so it made me not enjoy the book as much as parable of the sower. ( )
  LaBla | Feb 6, 2016 |
“We learn more and more about the physical universe, more about our own bodies, more technology, but somehow, down through history, we go on building empires of one kind or another, then destroying them in one way or another. We go on having stupid wars that we justify and get passionate about, but in the end, all they do is kill huge numbers of people, maim others, impoverish still more, spread disease and hunger”

The above passage is the essence of what Octavia Butler wanted to communicate with her Earthseed duology — of which Parable of the Talents is the concluding volume — I think. The previous book Parable of the Sower sets the dystopian — almost post-apocalyptic — scene for the two books; it depicts the decline of civilization and the heroine Lauren Oya Olamina’s struggle to survive and find a safe place to settle down and build a community that will help revive human civilization and also move it forward. At the end of [b: Parable of the Sower|52397|Parable of the Sower (Earthseed, #1)|Octavia E. Butler|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1442169447s/52397.jpg|59258] Lauren has founded a community called Acorn, which she intends to form the foundation of her “Earthseed” project with an ultimate goal of space colonization for mankind. Parable of the Talents continues directly with this state of affairs. The year is now 2032 and the Acorn community continues to grow with new hungry and homeless travelers drifting in, and the community has begun trading with nearby communities. The Earthseed project is beginning to take root with Lauren’s leadership and business acumen when it is suddenly invaded by government sponsored religious fanatics called “The Crusaders”, a tacitly approved faction of “The Church of Christian America” ruling the US.

This happens around the middle of the book and begins the second phase of the storyline where the Acorn residents are captured, enslaved, and tortured by the Crusaders zealots. This section of the book is a harrowing read due to the vivid depiction of the Acorn people being violently abused by the Crusaders, they are forced to wear which can cause tremendous pain at the touch of a button on a remote control. All the women — including Lauren — are raped by their captors. How Lauren and her friends end their imprisonment will have readers cheering. Then we move on to the final section of the book which I won't elaborate on at all. Suffice it to say that the book ends very well and should leave most readers fully satisfied.

I really want to rate parable of talents 5 stars because it is an excellent novel and a well deserved the Nebula Award winner, but I can't do that in good conscience as I do have one minor issue with it. Lauren’s Earthseed religion is fine as an idea, it differs from most religions in that it has no supernatural elements in its teaching, a sort of atheistic religion if that is not an oxymoron. Still it does require a lot of faith from its followers with its long-term goal of interstellar emigration. The issue I have with this book is with the frequent litany of “God is Change” and several less than convincing passages from Lauren’s “Earthseed: The Books Of The Living” which is basically their bible. My issue probably has more to do with my aversion to litanies than any misstep on Butler's part. Her prose is as powerful as ever.

Octavia Butler’s ability to develop believable characters in just a few paragraph is as impressive as ever. For example:

“Len is a likable person to work with. She learns fast, complains endlessly, and does an excellent job, however long it takes. Most of the time, she enjoys herself. The complaining was just one of her quirks.”

In just a few lines this Len is made to seem like a real living and breathing person. Lauren is, of course, badass, even without any martial arts skills, her indomitable will practically jump off the page. With her baby daughter stolen by The Crusaders and being beaten and raped:

“It was all I could do not to fold up among the rows of plants and just lie there and moan and cry. But I stayed upright”.

Curiously I tend to picture Lauren Oya Olamina as looking rather like Octavia Butler herself — based on the author's photos — with her strong features, intelligent and kind face.

Parable of the Talents is a riveting, thought-provoking, and at times harrowing read, it should be read after [b: Parable of the Sower|52397|Parable of the Sower (Earthseed, #1)|Octavia E. Butler|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1442169447s/52397.jpg|59258], though if you insist on reading this second volume first you should have no problem following it but it's a bit like reading [b:The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn|2956|The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn, #2)|Mark Twain|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1405973850s/2956.jpg|1835605] before [b:The Adventures of Tom Sawyer|24583|The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn, #1)|Mark Twain|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1404811979s/24583.jpg|41326609] you just won't get the full effect. If you have already read [b: Parable of the Sower|52397|Parable of the Sower (Earthseed, #1)|Octavia E. Butler|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1442169447s/52397.jpg|59258] — and like it — I would recommend that you don't leave too long a gap before starting on Parable of the Talents, not more than, say, 3-4 months. This is so you don't lose your familiarity with the characters and the emotional investment you may have made in their story. Whatever you do, read them both. Come to think of it read all the [a: Octavia Butler|29535|Octavia E. Butler|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1242244143p2/29535.jpg] books you can get your mitts on because there are only a few of them and she is no longer with us. Her soul was too beautiful for this world :'(

4.5 stars rating then, half a star knocked off for the litany. I still rounded it up to 5 graphical stars though because Octavia Butler is my sci-fi queen!

Butler planned quite a few more volumes for this series which would have dealt with space colonization — and no doubt a lot of heartaches. Unfortunately she never got around to it :_(

In this interview with Amazon Ms. Butler talks about the two Earthseed books and her other works.

YA Dystopian fiction is — for some reasons — all the rage these days, but for me a great dystopian novel should be about more than good looking teens hacking and slashing. In all fairness [b: The Hunger Games|2767052|The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1)|Suzanne Collins|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1447303603s/2767052.jpg|2792775] probably has more depth than what I have gleaned from the first book (I haven't read the others) but this is all that have taken from it. The nuances — if they are there — did not reverberate with me. As for the numerous Hunger Games knock-offs I have no time for them. The two Earthseed books are much more substantial, the adventures, slicing and dicing are there, but there is so much more to it, and it even rings true. ( )
  apatt | Dec 26, 2015 |
Here, I think, Butler works out the fraught mother/daughter dynamic that she failed to do convincingly in Mind of My Mind with Mary and Emma/Anyanwu. There, Anyanwu's character no longer made sense in a narrative attempt to make the sympathetic to Mary and the end result was a flat characterization of Mary and an incomprehensible one for Anyanwu. But here, I am deeply sympathetic to Asha but because I love Lauren so much, I can't in the very end, feel for her more deeply. Marcus I just hate.

The deep criticism here of fanatic evangelical Christianity reminded me a little of The Handmaid's Tale, not for any imaginative similarity, but in that both authors identify similar terrorizing aspects of Evangelicalism and similar political strategies.

I can't help wondering if there was a length constraint behind the rushed feeling at the end. In fact, it was the only thing I disliked--that things come together so easily and neatly so quickly. Especially because of the pervasiveness of the world building--the crisis climate change has brought the world to in terms of resources, poverty, disease--the quick reversal of and now humanity flourishes feels really hollow. How, all of a sudden, is there enough food and how, all of a sudden, do we have fossil fuels etc. etc.? ( )
  endlesserror | Feb 5, 2015 |
Just stop after the first one. This is terribly written and unnecessary. The first book stands alone. ( )
  RobinWebster | Nov 28, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Octavia E. Butlerprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Palencar, John JudeCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Here we are-- Energy, Mass, Life, Shaping life, Mind, Shaping Mind, God, Shaping God. Consider-- We are born Not with purpose, But with potential. From EARTHSEED: THE BOOKS OF THE LIVING by Lauren Oya Olamina
To my aunts Irma Harris and Hazel Ruth Walker, and in memory of my mother Octavia Margaret Butler
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They'll make a god of her.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
Parable of the Talents (the sequel to Parable of the Sower) tells the story of how, as the U.S. continues to fall apart, the protagonist's community is attacked and taken over by a bloc of religious fanatics who inflict brutal atrocities.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0446675784, Paperback)

Octavia Butler tackles the creation of a new religion, the making of a god, and the ultimate fate of humanity in her Earthseed series, which began with Parable of the Sower, and now continues with Parable of the Talents. The saga began with the near-future dystopian tale of Sower, in which young Lauren Olamina began to realize her destiny as a leader of people dispossessed and destroyed by the crumbling of society. The basic principles of Lauren's faith, Earthseed, were contained in a collection of deceptively simple proverbs that Lauren used to recruit followers. She teaches that "God is change" and that humanity's ultimate destiny is among the stars.

In Parable of the Talents, the seeds of change that Lauren planted begin to bear fruit, but in unpredictable and brutal ways. Her small community is destroyed, her child is kidnapped, and she is imprisoned by sadistic zealots. She must find a way to escape and begin again, without family or friends. Her single-mindedness in teaching Earthseed may be her only chance to survive, but paradoxically, may cause the ultimate estrangement of her beloved daughter. Parable of the Talents is told from both mother's and daughter's perspectives, but it is the narrative of Lauren's grown daughter, who has seen her mother made into a deity of sorts, that is the most compelling. Butler's writing is simple and elegant, and her storytelling skills are superb, as usual. Fans will be eagerly awaiting the next installment in what promises to be a moving and adventurous saga. --Therese Littleton

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:51 -0400)

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Laura Olamina's daughter, Larkin, describes the broken and alienated world of 2032, as war racks the North American continent and an ultra-conservative religious crusader becomes president.

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