Dragons and Parables

Most of the time, I am compiling books faster than I can read or blog about them. This may be the first time that I am reading them faster than I am writing about them. In January, I read five books from the my women’s library (plus two bonus poetry books), and I’ve only blogged about one thus far – The Third Life of Grange Copeland.

So what else did I finish? A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid (a little nonfiction book that is worthy of its own blogpost!), Parable of the Sower (we’ll be getting to that in a minute) by Octavia Butler, Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey, and My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin.

That last book manages to fulfill one of my New Year’s Book Resolutions, so, hooray for that! It’s also worthy of its own blogpost, so we will visit Possum Gully and “Syb” Melvyn in another post soon (but I will tell you now that My Brilliant Career was splendid and I can’t wait to talk about it in more detail!).

For now, I want to talk about science fiction. Or do I want to talk about fantasy? Dragonflight and Parable of the Sower each seem to have elements of both. And they are both books where a LOT of plot happens – usually this would scare me away, but McCaffrey and Butler are too masterful for that. They are both experts at building tension and drama, and the reader’s curiosity to want to know What Will Happen Next.

Dragonflight first. McCaffrey was the first woman to win the Hugo and the Nebula awards. My friend Carole told me that, the first time she read Dragonflight, she started it right over again. That made perfect sense to me once I had finished it myself. I can imagine there’s probably a lot I had missed or would see with new eyes now that I know the ending of the novel. It’s definitely a book that lends itself to multiple readings!

As you’ve probably gathered by now, I’m not great at book summaries, and I’m even worse when the plot is complex! And this one certainly is. What’s more, it’s such a great balancing act that McCaffrey strikes, I’ll probably just ruin something if I try to explain it, and it would be much better if you just picked up the book and started reading it yourself. Suffice it to say, there are wonderful telepathic dragons and it seems like George R.R. Martin might owe McCaffrey’s estate some money.

BUT PARABLE OF THE SOWER. Oh my goodness. So, I have to explain a little. A few weeks ago, I was over my boyfriend Brian’s apartment for the afternoon, and I had forgotten to bring a book. Tragedy. So, I was wandering helplessly around on his Kindle trying to find something to read, and I couldn’t get it to give me anything I wanted to read, until finally I asked this infernal thing if it had any Octavia Butler, and it did – Parable of the Sower.

So I started reading. And holy pajamas, this book. I know that science fiction writers are not predicting the future, they are commenting on our present (or their present, at whatever time they are writing – she was writing in 1993), but the book takes place in 2025, and…there are some things going on that made me whistle under my breath and talk to myself, or to Octavia.

The book is a first-person narrative told from the perspective of a teenage girl named Lauren living in a Mad Max-style America where water is expensive, everyone has guns, the only safe place to live is a gated community, there’s a drug epidemic, climate change is causing widespread damage and death, and there are closed borders between states.

There’s a lot of technological hardware (virtual reality, TVs, and things), but only really rich people can afford them. People in gated communities are growing most of their own food. Everything I’d read, I’d think “well, it’s not that bad. I mean, water is expensive but it’s not like that. I mean…not really…well…” OCTAVIA WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO MY BRAIN.

I got about 90 pages in that day at Brian’s, and I didn’t even want to stop reading for dinner (which was rude of my since he cooked). But then I had to go back home and leave his Kindle behind! Oh dear. I ended up purchasing and emergency copy from eBay so that I could finish the rest of it at my apartment at my leisure.

The rest of the book was as amazing as the setup, although I was a bit disappointed in the poor quality of the first edition. There were a significant number of errors in the printing – several typos, not just one or two. I was very surprised and saddened that such a great book did not have a higher quality first edition run. But the quality of the work itself more than made up for it! And I am now officially an Octavia Butler fangirl. There are definitely worse things to be in this life.

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