Tag Archives: sci-fi

Parable of the Sower

Parable of the SowerTITLE: Parable of the Sower
AUTHOR: Octavia E. Butler
PUBLISHER: Aspect/Warner Books
PUB DATE: 1993 (Trade)
DISASTER: Climate change, economic disaster

It’s 2024 and Lauren Olamina is 15 years old. She lives in a walled and gated suburb of Los Angeles. Water, food, and money are in short supply, and outside the wall people are waiting, trying to break in and steal the little they have.

Lauren’s father, the local minister, does his best to keep the community safe and together, but Lauren knows their shaky security isn’t going to last forever, and that she’s going to have to learn  everything she can to help her survive on the other side of the wall.

This book details the brutal, stark, reality of a world on the precipice of anarchy and violence, but unlike many in the genre, it’s about far more than terror and loss. It explores subtleties of race and gender, and the slender threads that separate the middle class from the poor, and the poor from the destitute, and the wide gap that separate them all from the rich. It calls out corporate greed, takes a searching look at religion, and asks questions about the morality and necessity of funding space programs while people are starving. But it is also about empathy and maintaining our humanity under the worst of circumstances.

Octavia Butler has received multiple Hugo and Nebula Awards, a James Tiptree, Jr. Award, a Lifetime Achievement Award in Writing from the PEN American Center, a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant, and has been inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.



Remembering Freedom

Today, one of my personal literary heroes summed up perfectly something I have been struggling to articulate–about this blog, about science fiction, and in particular apocalypse fiction, about writers and artists in general. About why we are the ones that will save the world.

I think that hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom.

Ursula K. LeGuin

I can’t remember the first time I read Le Guin’s work. Perhaps it was college, in a sci-fi lit class–The Left Hand of Darkness–the only book written by a woman that we read. What I do remember, distinctly, viscerally, was what that book did to me. Beyond the writing, which was stunning, beyond the setting, which was amazing, beyond completely changed the way I looked at gender. And it was this: it opened a door that I didn’t even know had been closed–a door through which I might some day become not just a writer, but a science fiction writer.

She was the first in my triumvirate of strong women sci-fi warriors: Le Guin, Butler, Atwood. In each case, it still astonishes me that it took me so long to find them. In each case, I am incredibly grateful that I did. Within each, I found not just a universe of amazing stories, but dreamers, teachers, activists, and more. And so, of course I was overjoyed to learn that yesterday, author Neil Gaiman presented Ursula Le Guin with a National Book Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award:

In recognition of her transformative impact on American literature, Ursula K. Le Guin is the 2014 recipient of the Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. She is the Foundation’s twenty-seventh award recipient.For more than forty years, Le Guin has defied conventions of narrative, language, character, and genre, as well as transcended the boundaries between fantasy and realism, to forge new paths for literary fiction.

Among the nation’s most revered writers of science fiction and fantasy, Le Guin’s fully imagined worlds challenge readers to consider profound philosophical and existential questions about gender, race, the environment, and society. Her boldly experimental and critically acclaimed novels, short stories, and children’s books, written in elegant prose, are popular with millions of readers around the world.

National Book Foundation press release

LeGuin is one of 9 women and only two science fiction authors to win this award which began in 1988. The other was Ray Bradbury (2000).*

Here is her acceptance speech.

* I also want to give a nod to Stephen King who, though he is considered a horror writer, has made forays into the realm of apocalypse fiction and therefore walks the borderlands adjacent to science fiction. He won the award in 2003.

The History of the Future

Dreaming the future, imagining the past, that’s what writers do. And apocalypse stories? They’ve been penned since early recorded history. Gilgamesh, Noah and his ark, the Dharmasastra. But what about science fiction, which has become a sort of parent category for modern-day apocalypse fiction?

According to a recent article on BBC’s iWonder:

Science fiction emerged nearly 300 years ago during a time of great advances in science. Since then authors have tried to make sense of their world by imagining what the future will look like.

Post-apocalyptic societies, alien invasions, robots and environmental catastrophes have all played out in this genre which is still popular today.

Dr. Caroline Edwards, “Writing the Future,” BBC.co.uk

The first example cited? Gulliver’s Travels, written in 1726 by Jonathan Swift, which includes a section feature a flying island populated by scientists.

The complete list features 20 sci-fi luminaries including three of my favorite: Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler, and Margaret Atwood. The Left Hand of Darkness. The Parable of the Sower. The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s not just a history lesson, it’s a kick-ass reading list.