Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Dawn / Octavia Butler

4 out of 5 stars
Lilith Iyapo awoke from a centuries-long sleep to find herself aboard the vast spaceship of the Oankali. Creatures covered in writhing tentacles, the Oankali had saved every surviving human from a dying, ruined Earth. They healed the planet, cured cancer, increased strength, and were now ready to help Lilith lead her people back to Earth--but for a price.

What an unsettling little book! I stayed up late last night to finish it and I awoke this morning with it still on my mind (and I think I dreamed about it too). Octavia Butler is skilled at making me re-examine my beliefs about humanity.

The Oankali are interesting and somewhat threatening aliens. Their evolutionary history seems to have come from the echinoderm or cnidarian branches of the tree of life and their appearance is initially terrifying to any human. Our protagonist, Lilith, has to be conditioned and altered biochemically in order to interact with them. Their motivations are very opaque and they are in no hurry to reveal them.

Once again, Butler is exploring the nature of power dynamics, with the Oankali having the upper hand in the relationship, setting all the rules. Humans are treated like lab animals, like livestock, and like pets, although by the end of the book there are complications that cannot completely be explained by those relationships. However, the new relationship still feels very exploitative.

Also examined is the matter of genetic change—how much alteration can be done to a genome before you say that a species has been altered to become a new species? Is survival worth such a transformation? How much would I be willing to endure merely to survive?

Dawn asks many more questions than it provides answers to and I will be most interested to read the second and third installments in the series.

Book 213 in my science fiction and fantasy reading project.

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