Octavia Butler’s Earthseed duology was written in the ‘90s, but is an extremely 2020 series. For one thing, they start in the 2020s, but for another, they’re describing a sort of broken-down dystopic society.

But so, back in the ‘90s, there were lots of “the future will be a broken-down dystopia” works, right. Like, almost any movie from that period that looks ahead to the near future pictures the nation as being overtaken by inner-city gangs and urban decay. What sets Butler apart from that crowd is the sophistication and eerie plausibility of her dystopia. Like, it’s not a full-on apocalypse, but climate change has wrought havoc and made areas unlivable, and large-scale forced migration has caused rising social tensions, and a breakdown in the effectiveness of government institutions has basically made it so large parts of the country are outside of any actual government control even while the laws nominally still exist and the US is still a thing and all that.

Butler had an eye for how societies fail, is what I’m saying, and it’s rare for a near-future book from decades ago to hold up as well as this one does. Even if it’s not—fingers crossed—our 2020s, there are a lot of familiar elements in this.

But beyond the setting, it’s also a fascinating character portrait, as we see the protagonist first as a girl, and then as a woman (and through the eyes of others in her life). In watching how Lauren Olamina goes through her life, the things she does deliberately for their effect on other people, and the things she can’t help but do because it’s who she is, we get a portrait of a leader in a mold that’s notable even today and must have felt revolutionary then.

These books are deservedly classics, compellingly readable and with a lot to say about society, religion, community, law, and purpose. Highly recommended.


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