This one was a hard read for me, because it feels both apocalyptic and like present-day life (in some areas). Set in California, it's a future story, but much nearer to us now--2024--than when she published it in 1993. There is a spine of hope, and the teenage narrator does not shake her belief that things, though they have been awful her whole life, can change for the better. But those first hundred or so pages are wrenching.
"Do you think our world is coming to an end?" Dad asked, and with no warning at all I almost started crying. What I thought was, "No I think *your* world is coming to an end, and maybe you with it." That was terrible. I hadn't thought about it in such a personal way before. I turned and looked out a window until I felt calmer. When I faced him again, I said, "Yes. Don't you?"
Lauren Olamina eventually leaves her walled neighborhood to travel north, trying to find a place and work that paid cash. But first she must survive a road trip filled with the horrors common to the genre, but this time also with some pleasures.
I stared down the hill from our camp where just a glint of water was visible in the distance through trees and bushes. The world is full of painful stories. Sometimes it seems as though there aren't any other kind and yet I found myself thinking how beautiful that glint of water was through the trees.
-- p 263
I like Butler's strong, straightforward writing style, and especially the people she creates. Lauren's good-sized family and neighbors are distinct, as are the many people she meets along the way. Their responses and their voices feel true, even as some play a "role" in the "parable."
Lauren seeks meaning; she's studied religions and beliefs and is developing a philosophy/religion of her own. I'm not sure she's there yet when she starts sharing it with others, but I enjoyed her questioning and stretching early in the story (when she's only 15!).
"A lot of people seem to believe in a big-daddy-God or a big-cop-God or a big-king-God. They believe in a kind of superperson. A few believe God is another word for nature. And nature turns out to mean just about anything they happen not to understand.
"Some say God is a spirit, a force, an ultimate reality. Ask seven people what all of that means and you'll get seven different answers. So what is God? Just another name for whatever makes you feel special and protected?"
To me, the new-religion stuff wasn't as interesting as how she builds a community of people who despite all evidence still choose to trust one another. Unlike Cormac McCarthy's The Road, there's a better balance here between crazed terror and conscious decency.
Late in the story, a new potential member has many reasons to distrust the group, but one was a surprise to me--he distrusted the sole white guy. Then I thought, why wouldn't he? Why wouldn't they all? It's the white guys that have held and hold the power all these centuries and look what's happened.
Who will rule,
Who will lead,
Who will define,
Who will dominate.
are no more intellectual
than two rams
knocking their heads together
-- from "Earthseed" (Lauren Olamina)