Completed 1/20/2019, Reviewed 1/21/2019
Octavia Butler was an amazing writer. In this book, she created amazing, well-thought out aliens and writes riveting dialogue. This is the first book of the Xenogensis series. It is about consent and resentment and what it means to be human. The aliens do everything under the belief that they are doing it for the good of humanity. But the humans view them as jailors. It doesn’t help that the aliens are hideous to look at. It creates a conflict that makes the book an uncomfortable but profound read.
Aliens called the Oankali save the remnant population of the Earth after global nuclear war with the intent of repopulating it when it is safe again. During that time, they study all aspects of humanity by awaking them basically one by one and trying to interact with them. Lillith is a human who was saved and put into suspended animation for two hundred and fifty years. As with all humans though, she doesn’t know who saved her until the aliens reveal themselves to her after Awakening. She is repulsed by the Oankali, bipedal beings with masses of sensory feelers that make them look sort of Cthulu-esque. As her initial fear and loathing wane, the Oankali reveal that they want her to lead the first team of humans to resettle the Earth. But all this philanthropy on the aliens’ part comes with a price: they will merge genetically with humans to create a new race that is supposedly beneficial to all.
The majority of the book is Lilith Awakening and coming to grips with her captors. Through her, we learn about the aliens: who they are, what they’ve done, and what they are trying to do. Most interestingly, they have three sexes: male, female, and oolai. All three are needed to procreate. An oolai is assigned to Lilith to learn all it can from her, and vice versa. Lilith becomes part of the oolai’s family. They are good to her but she feels treated like a pet. All she wants is to be free. And of course, she doesn’t want the Oankali to create a race of hybrid babies which would wipe out the remnants of the human race. Lilith is great character. She’s very complicated, as evidenced by her love-hate relationship with the Oankali, as well as her interactions with the other humans she awakens to be part of the first team to resettle the earth.
The last part of the book is Lilith Awakening over forty other humans who have been asleep, but they are people who the Oankali have Awakened once to study and see if they could be the leaders of the resettlement team. This part deals with the conflicts between Lilith and the humans, amongst each other, and between the humans and the Oankali. What makes this book such riveting reading is that nothing is easy. The humans resent their captivity and plight. They devolve into everything that’s bad about the human race.
Butler’s writing really shines in this book. The prose is not flowery and poetic. Most of the writing is dialogue or Lilith thinking. It’s basically told third person through her eyes. It’s gritty and realistic. And the plot, which I thought was pretty complex, was easy to follow. I give this book four stars out of five. It has a terrific premise, excellent execution and Butler’s imagination is in full force. I’m really looking forward to the rest of the series.