Book Review: Lilith’s Brood (Octavia Butler 2000)

There are no spoilers in this review beyond what you’d find in the first few chapters or the cover blurb.

 Rating: 4.5/5

Lilith’s Brood is a collection of three novels by Octavia Butler published from 1987 to 1989, gathered together in 2000. The set of three books, also called the Xenogenesis trilogy, is about 750 pages long. They were published as three novels, but I would highly recommend reading them back to back as I did. The world that Butler builds over the three novels is complex. I would have had trouble trying to read the second or third novels after a long gap.

Lilith’s Brood was my first book by Octavia Butler. The writing is incredibly readable; I easily covered 50 pages an hour.  Some science fiction novels dump world-building at the beginning;  it can be something the reader has to fight through. Butler does not do this; she develops the main character first and then the environment from the eyes of the main character. The world she eventually develops is intricate and explained in detail, but by the time she got to it, I was engaged.

The trilogy opens with Lilith, a woman who survived World War III on a now ravaged Earth. She is held alone by aliens called the Oankali. Without going into spoiling detail, the Oankali are extremely alien. All three books develop the Oankali, and they are as much of the world Butler builds as anything. The Oakali want something from Lilith, though she is unsure what. Lilith finds them physically frightening, and is uncertain about her future.

Butler approaches situations from the character’s emotional response, rather than from a technical aspect. The book explores themes of gender, sex, humanity, and community–some pretty hefty topics that sci-fi sometimes skirts, especially at the time of its writing. I rate the book as a 4.5/5 partially because of this novelty and distinctiveness. In many stories, I enjoy rooting for a protagonist or a certain course of events. In this story, I didn’t know what I wanted, which was odd, but not bad. My only real criticism of the story is that, while certain aspects of the world were highly developed, it was hard to imagine living in this world. While I enjoyed reading about this world, I think I would find it profoundly dull. Still, I highly recommend reading this, especially if you haven’t read Butler before.

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