Apocalypse anyone? Totally! So it’s a good time for Apocalypse fiction like Octavia Butler’s. Another shout out to the “Octavia Tried to Tell Us” Webinar Series that Tananarive Due and I are hosting. Check out this insightful article on Slate.
Earlier this month, Octavia Butler’s novel Parable of the Sower made it onto the New York Times’ bestseller lists 27 years after its original publication. The book, one of two in a planned trilogy that was never completed, follows Lauren Oya Olamina, a Black teenager who lives in an environmentally decayed and socially chaotic California in the 2020s—at the time, still a distant, futuristic decade. In Parable of the Sower and Butler’s 1998 follow-up, Parable of the Talents, Olamina leaves the gated compound where she grew up, goes on the road, starts (and loses) her own community, and becomes a leader of people, spreading a set of ideas she calls “Earthseed.”
Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents contain many plot elements that seem to have “predicted” our current circumstances. But because Olamina’s story is also the story of a prophet—and because Butler is interested in how people might retain their humanity and direction through conditions of extreme chaos and change—the Earthseed books are instructional in a way that other apocalypse fictions are not. They are not prepper fiction, though reading them will teach you a thing or two about go bags and the importance of posting a night watch. According to people who love the books, myself included, they offer something beyond practical preparations: a blueprint for adjusting to uncertainty.
During this isolated, anxious spring and summer, projects centered on the Earthseed books have sprung up across the internet. Scholar and minister Monica Coleman and Afrofuturist author Tananarive Due have been hosting monthly webinars called Octavia Tried to Tell Us. (There’s a hashtag, applying the motto to everything from the California wildfires to the president’s many failures in leadership; you can also buy merch with this slogan on it.) There’s another group reading Butler’s entire body of work, starting this month with plans to continue through November 2022, that can be found at the Twitter handle @OebRead. And a graphic novel adaptation of Parable of the Sower, illustrated by Damian Duffy and John Jennings, came out in January—a fortuitous publication date for work that was clearly in motion before the pandemic changed everything.