When I was in the fifth grade, my English teacher assigned Dawn by Octavia E. Butler as assigned reading material for our class. Dawn was the first science fiction book I had ever read. The first book by an African American author I had ever read, and I was completely enamored with the book. I ended up getting the additional books and reading the entire series.
That was more than 20 years ago. Since then, I have read everything written by Butler that I could get my hands on and have NEVER, EVER been disappointed. Needless to say, after over twenty years, I had no real memory of the contents of the book; for the most part, I’m not much of a re-reader. There are too many books to read and not enough time.
Recently I decided to get the series on audio. I was feeling nostalgic and disappointed that my memory of the books had faded so thoroughly. I listened to the audiobook and wondered how my ten-year-old mind was able to comprehend what I was reading all those years ago. I concluded that there was no way I had. I’m sure most things went over my head; however, my memory of loving the series has never gone away, so I was obviously able to enjoy the series even with my limited understanding of the social, psychological nuances.
The series as a whole consists of three books, and together they are called the Xenogenesis series. The books are also sold as a compilation known as Lilith’s Brood. The series is Science Fiction, but can also be categorized as dystopian in my opinion. So what is Xenogenesis? Xeno can mean other, strange, or different, and genesis, as we all know, is the beginning. Xenogenesis = Different Beginning.
The series starts with:
- Dawn (the beginning of a phenomenon or period of time)
- Adulthood Rites (a ritual or ceremony signifying a transition from adolescence to adulthood
- Imago, (unconscious idealized mental image of someone, especially a parent, which influences a person’s behavior)
I’ve defined the titles because they were well thought out and have significant meaning to each story in the trilogy. Even the name of the protagonist of book one has meaning. Lilith, according to Jewish mythology, was a demon as well as the first wife of Adam.
It is amazing how much just these three books tell me about the author, she either researched or studied religion, mythology, and psychology either in college or as a prelude to writing these books. She seemed concerned about humanity’s inherent hierarchical nature. The Human “flaw”, the need for humans to subvert others, to be above one another. Which often leads to division, violence, slavery, war, and other destructive atrocities.
Butler has a practical matter of fact style of writing. Her world-building technique is magnificently stealthy. The first book Dawn begins with the protagonist Lilith Iyapo, awakened after a long sleep, rescued from the dying earth confined, scared, alone, ignorant of her situation. Butler builds the world for the reader as she creates it for Lilith, a steady, consistent flow of new stimuli and information experienced for the first time through our protagonist.
In the second and third books, the world is already clearly defined. We are instead introduced to the new characters at the beginning of the story and learn to see the world as they view it; we are privy to their thoughts and feelings as they arise. Books two and three follow Lilith’s children, one from infancy to adulthood and the other from adolescence to adulthood. They experience some very trying times.
As I listened, I felt as they felt. I’m not ashamed to admit I cried when it was confirmed that Akin would have to mature without his paired sibling. Butler writes stories that you get invested in. As I listened, I was utterly engrossed in each book, and I was bereft when the third book ended. For me, this was a highly successful re-read, as it was a beautiful reminder of why I fell in love with Butlers books all those years ago.