I just finished the Xenogenesis Trilogy by Octavia E. Butler, and am somewhat shocked that I’ve not heard of her before now. After reaching the last page and hearing the narrator say ‘first published in 1989’ I was even more startled. How have I gone most of my life without hearing about this series or author, and could some part of it be because she’s a she?
The story centers on a woman, Lilith, who wakes one day to find herself captive on an alien ship. We soon come to learn that the Earth has been mostly destroyed by a nuclear war. Aliens arrived some time afterward, and took what remaining humans they could find aboard their ship.
This is not your regular alien invasion story. The aliens are traders, but what they trade in are not material goods, but instead, genes. Every species they meet, they take a piece of to add to themselves in some way, adapting and changing themselves, then moving on.
There is much more to it than this, of course. The idea is very in depth and well thought out and intriguing. The one thing that continuously stood out to me though, was the lack of constant ‘fight, kill, destroy, win’ that is in so much sci-fi these days. Instead, in this series anyone who tries to solve a problem with violence is looked down on, and treated like one might treat a child throwing a fit. Those who resist and fight instead of compromise and adapt are portrayed as weak and foolish. I found it quite refreshing.
The series as a whole had a lot to say about the human condition, and how it handicaps us with a tendency to destroy ourselves. Our hierarchical ways combined with our intelligence, the books argue, are an inescapable disease waiting to kill us. The only cure is to change, genetically, in a way that most of the characters saw as losing their humanity.
In the end, there was no burst of violence to fight back and stay human, there was no brilliant solution that someone discovered and rushed to save the day. There was only a slow, peaceful acclimation and adaption to the new way of things.
I’ve never read a story quite like this, and it makes me wonder if the ever-prevalent ‘fight for what you believe in and never change or stop and somehow you’ll win’ is a male thing, and maybe I need to read more woman sci-fi writers. It seems in most adventure stories, the hero is glorified for never changing their opinion, never even considering any other ideas than what they began the story believing, and always holding true to their ideals, even to the death. Compromise is never smiled on, adaption and change is never given the credit it deserves, and is instead seen as a weakness. I never thought much of this before and took it kind of for granted. Now I bet it will irritate me in future novels I read.
I highly recommend this series, and look forward to reading more of Butler’s work.