Book Review: ‘Parable of the Sower’

Front cover of Parable of the Sower. There is an illustration of a Black woman wearing a pink and orange dress. Around her are small shapes, like seeds.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

If you like dystopian fiction, I highly recommend this novel. 

The state of the union of America is chaos. Like Cormac McCarthy in The Road, Ms. Butler doesn’t dwell long on reasons why American society collapsed. Although, climate change and expanding wealth gap are mentioned here and there in this powerful novel. Unlike McCarthy’s novel, Parable of the Sower includes much information about the effects of that collapse.

Life is dangerous in unprotected places. People are apt to rob, kidnap, rape, and/or kill those who are seen as easy targets. When called, police might not show up. If they do, it could be the next day. You’ll need to pay a fee to the police for them to look into a crime. And there’s no guarantee they will follow through with an investigation.

The book’s main character, Lauren Olamina, lives in a walled community with her family—along with several neighbors—in a suburb of Los Angeles. Their life is safer than outside the wall, yet danger can arrive. Sometimes, thieves scale the wall and steal items the houses. And they steal vegetables from gardens and fruits from trees. In this future, food is scarce—unless you grow your own. Drinkable water is scarce, too.

Lauren’s father is a Baptist minister who who gives sermons in their house. And he teaches his children about guns and takes them for regular target practice. I mention this because of Lauren’s actions. She fires a gun several times in the hostile world to survive and protect people around her.

Also, Lauren develops her own religion: Earthseed. The overall book is comprised of Lauren’s journal entries. Before each chapter is an excerpt of the book within the book—Eathseed: The Books of the Living. One of those excerpts:

All that you touch
You Change.

All that you Change
Changes you.

The only lasting truth
Is Change.

God
Is Change.

— Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Sower

Another of Lauren’s inheritances: “hyper-empathy” because her mother used a drug during pregnancy. With this condition, Lauren acutely feels pain and pleasure of other people.

Lauren Olamina makes for an intriguing main character. The book’s beginning has Lauren as a teenager and drama with her neighbors inside the walled community. Then Lauren takes a journey, and she navigates the lawless landscape of California. 

This is a gripping book, for the wildness of its near-future world. The story begins in July 2024, a mere three years from when I’m writing this review. The world in the story is very different than now. Much of society has regressed: slavery, purchase of people, company towns. There’s a new drug called pyro, which makes people stare at fires in fascination, and addicts go on killing rampages.

Octavia Butler has crafted a scary world here. Yet there’s light. That’s a lot of weight on Lauren’s shoulders. Thankfully, she has strong shoulders.

Author Interview: Megan Hinde

3 book covers: The Complete Collection, A Second Helping, and Pieces Fall Together

Fellow writer Megan Hinde offered to interview me, and I gladly accepted (posted here). I suggested that I interview her as well, as I was curious about her background as a writer. Let’s learn a bit about her…


1. What caused you to get started in writing?

Midlife crisis…I turned 40. Honestly it just evolved, I wrote quite a bit in high school and college, I worked on my high school newspaper and my college paper. Once upon a time I was a Journalism Major with a concentration in print media. But then life happens. In 2015 I found underlying creativity that had been lying dormant for a good while. Grace Summers who was a character from a piece of dialogue exercise came out to play.     

2. You’ve published a variety of story types in your books — such as flash fiction, detective, and thriller. What inspires you to write these different types of stories?

Variety is the spice of life. Over the last six years writing short stories has also led to reading more variety. I got into more Agatha Christie and odd short story anthologies. Then the Where, What and Who of Writing came to be and immersed me into Flash Fiction. Which was a style I hadn’t really ever written. 

‘Inspired by Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and Clue, is my version of Where, What, And Who. I think of these as writing prompts to help get the writing juices flowing. I thank everyone for playing along, and invite you to be inspired by the prompts. Also feel free to suggest a place, an item and a name/occupation.’ 

The Detective Stories are just fun, I may have a slight obsession with classic crime, pulp fiction and serial killers. Which all make for good storytelling. Sometimes inspiration just happens, be it things you over hear, read or watch.

3 book covers: Welcome to Edna's Kitchen, Edna's Kitchen: Holiday Collection, and Edna's Kitchen Presents The Best of Bacon

3. You’ve also published several cookbooks, all coming from “Edna’s Kitchen.” Who is Edna? Is there a story behind why you chose that name?

If you read the introduction to Welcome to Edna’s Kitchen you would know. That being said, yes Edna became a creation out of a short story I wrote about my grandparents called After the Glory

‘Mrs. Rachel Darling sat in front of her typewriter working on her next column for The Daily Star, the local newspaper for the area. Her column Ask Edna had recipes, gardening advice and household tips and tricks.’

It has also evolved into its own breathing entity with 16 ebook cookbooks and a recipe blog on WordPress.  

4. What are your favorite meals to cook?

Stroganoff, Spaghetti and Meatballs and Lasagna. Runner ups would be Pot Roast with Potatoes and Carrots, and Slow Cooked Pulled Pork with Katsu Sauce.

3 book covers: Detective Stories, Descending the Spiral Staircase, and No Rest for the Wicked

5. Do your story ideas start with a character, a scenario, or something else?

Usually scenario, which is why I like the Where, What and Who writing prompts. Some of the combinations just write themselves. Like this one: Airport, Winter Jacket, Martha.

‘Winter Jacket 

Martha stood at the arrival gate in the Kansas City International Airport, clutching John’s dark blue winter jacket to her chest. John had been deployed overseas, it had been the longest six months of Martha’s life. She watched, shivering in anticipation as the crowd of people exited the jetway, waiting to see his familiar face among the crowd. Her breath caught in her throat when she saw him, he immediately pulled her into his arms, the winter jacket being crushed between them. She never felt safer or more at peace.’ 

There is also a little truth in all my fiction, details or characters that come from my experiences in life. A lot of them are inside jokes or references for my entertainment.  

6. Do you have a writing routine? If so, what is it?

Not really, if the inspiration is there things get written. Coffee is always involved. 

7. Do you ever experience “writer’s block?” If so, what do you do to help ease out of it?

Not so much ‘writer’s block’ as lack of inspiration. Over the last two years the inspiration to write fiction is just not there. Hence the growing number of book recommendations and articles about other writers. Been reading more and writing less. 

3 covers of flash fiction books: Haunted Hydrangeas, Down the Rabbit Hole, and Hat Trick

8. What kinds of fiction do you enjoy reading? Do you have favorite authors?

I’ll read just about anything, if it doesn’t hold my attention I just stop reading it. I go through phases. I used to read  a lot of Stephen King, Edgar Allan Poe, Henry Miller, and James Joyce. Recently it’s been Agatha Christie, and Rex Stout.     

9. What is one work of fiction that moved you deeply? Why did it have that effect on you?

Here’s the thing I read for pure enjoyment. I don’t put a whole lot of thought into what I’m reading usually at night to fall asleep. This is why I was never an English Lit major. Put it this way, in high school I asked my friend how ‘Catcher In the Rye’ was rather than actually read it. 

10. What project(s) are you working on now?

There are always ideas floating around in the back of my mind: Things like do we need another Holiday Treats From Edna’s Kitchen? Does Detective James Andrews need a back story or a continuation of his Detective Stories? Or is it time to walk away and take a break? I don’t have any answers, I figure if inspiration occurs then more words will be written. 


Links!

Megan’s books are available on Amazon.

You can read some of her stories on her blog — along with recipes and photos.

Her Goodreads page is here.

Question of the Hour Presents: Author Dave Williams — cch217

Many thanks to Megan Hinde for interviewing me. The Q&A is now up on her blog…

A twisted, haunting and enjoyable read that dives deep into the shadowy depths of one man’s mind… ‘Don’t Lose Your Head’ is a literal, metaphorical and symbolic title for a unique story that takes readers down the rabbit hole of conscience and repercussion. -Review By Lee Hall It is time once again for an author […]

Question of the Hour Presents: Author Dave Williams — cch217

Children book authors wanted for an underwater themed book — Emotion Doodles

I’m sharing this blog post from Emotion Doodles, in case any one out there would like to take a shot at writing a children’s book with underwater creatures. These drawings are very cute…

In my post Children book authors wanted I announced I was looking to collaborate with people. Your story and my drawings are ready to take of the world, or something ambitious like that 😉 I was lucky enough to had people responding to my post and we are achieving great results, but I am always […]

Children book authors wanted for an underwater themed book — Emotion Doodles

August Morning in Rehoboth Beach

Wave after wave arrives, recedes, arrives — neverending music of liquid tapping the sand — a pattern copied by my memories of growing up in Rehoboth Beach with my brother, how the wave music was more in the background than under the spotlight on center stage (which happens on family beach vacations), while us kids walked or cycled the boardwalk, went to school, worked in the bookstore, ran around the streets. Called this home. How echoes of those times live in my head and heart. This summer, my daughters are living and working in Rehoboth. Other echoes. Different experiences from mine. My pride of seeing them in this transition of different growth than they’re used to. They are more waves arriving on this beach, bringing their own distinctive music, adding to the concert.

A video from that morning walk (to watch on YouTube, click here)…

Excerpt: ‘Other Lives of the Boothbys’

Yesterday, I promised (warned?) that an excerpt would arrived today, from my novella Other Lives of the Boothbys.

And now here’s the section where Bradley Boothby calls the writer George Foulkes to chat about a character in one of George’s stories…


Excerpt

Dialing the phone number on the screen, Bradley hoped George Foulkes wouldn’t ignore the call. If George had caller ID (and didn’t most people?), he wouldn’t recognize this number and might assume it was a telemarketer. George could let the call go to voicemail.

“Hello?”

“Hi. Is this George Foulkes?”

“That’s me. Who’s this?”

Bradley didn’t have a flair for the dramatic. If he did, he could’ve deepened his voice, wishing to sound like a theatrical voice from beyond. Bradley said his own name in his normal voice.

Silence that could’ve lasted an hour but was merely a handful of seconds.

“Is this the editor again?” George asked. “No, I guess not. The number’s different. So’s the voice. Who is this, really?”

“I’m really Bradley Boothby. The editor called you because I went to his office this morning. I asked him to look up my name in his company’s books, and he discovered it in yours.”

“But my book isn’t published by his company,” George said. “I’m sending it around.”

“Okay, so that part’s wrong. But the book was at his company. And my name’s in your book.”

“Oh my God.” The writer’s caution dropped its luggage and jumped into excitement. “My own character is calling me. Do you have a quest for me? Or do you want me to chronicle more of your adventures?”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“Is this like in The Dark Tower?”

“Dark what?”

“A book series by Stephen King,” George said. “The characters visit King, and they convince him to continue writing the series. Well, they hypnotize him to keep going. He was afraid of being killed by the Crimson King. And with good reason. It’s a fantastic series. King’s a master of his craft, and I like stories about parallel realities.”

Bradley pinched the bridge of his nose, and the pressure helped to center his thoughts. “I’m wondering if I’m in a parallel reality.”

“Is it like ours? Or is it a post-apocalyptic wasteland?”

“It’s not a wasteland. Not yet.”

“Too bad,” George said. “It would’ve had more opportunities for characters to act like savages. But you calling me is huge. Never in a million years did I think one of my characters would call me.”

“I’m not your character,” Bradley said.

“Oh yeah? Do you own a storage facility?”

“No, and I didn’t find a time machine.”

“Then how do you know about the time machine?” George asked.

“Jack Schneider told me. We just had drinks, and he told me about your novel, how you got the idea for the name of the characters.”

“I know you’re not the people from the booth. They’re not my characters.”

“And I’m not, either!” Bradley’s volume was louder than he had meant.

Danielle looked worried at her husband, leaning against the kitchen counter, growing more agitated, his arm held across his chest propping up his other arm holding the phone at his ear. The past couple weeks had put a strain on Bradley, and today’s revelations made it worse. They should’ve improved the situation, by providing answers. However, not all answers gave relief, instead causing troubles of their own.

“This is disappointing,” George said. “Especially since you don’t have a time machine. That’d be more incredible than incredible.”

“Believe me, if I owned a time machine, I’d be rich,” Bradley said. “I’d go back in time and buy the stocks that would make me rich. And I’d live in a much bigger place.”

Bradley didn’t have to look around the kitchen to remember its dimensions and middle-of-the-line appliances. He and Danielle fantasized about owning a rowhouse, rather than renting this apartment. They were saving money for that dream.

“Okay, okay,” George said, enthusiasm drained from his voice. “So you’re not my character. It would be cool if you were, though.”

“Gosh, thanks for acknowledging me as a real person.”

“I deserve the sarcasm,” the writer said. “Why’d you ask the editor to look up your name?”

As Bradley gave the background of the persistent déjà vu outside of Randolph-Turley, it was easier to talk about. Growing accustomed to it with practice. George asked if the feeling was one that Bradley often had, and Bradley said he rarely felt it before the recent happening with the publishing company. Before, the feeling was minor, going to a place and having the sense he had been there but was unable remember the specific memory.

Bradley pictured George sitting cross-legged on a rug, peering through eyeglasses, a notepad resting on his lap, pen jotting down nuggets of information. The writer turned into therapist. Wanting to delve into the inner workings of this situation, discover what made it tick.

“We find ourselves in a fascinating place, don’t we?” George asked. “Here’s how I see it. You could hang up, and this whole thing is over. You found your answer about my character. You can chalk it up to random shit in a random world.”

“Sounds about right,” Bradley said.

“But this doesn’t have to end here. We can keep going.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning the universe aligned to put us together,” George said. “I don’t know why, but it did. We should get together in person.”

“You want to come to New York and meet up?”

“Or you could come here. I’ve got it.” Excitement returned to the writer’s voice. “How about we meet the people in the booth? My wife and I are regulars at the diner. We’ve seen those people there before. Wouldn’t that blow your mind? Boothby could meet the Boothbys.”

Bradley pondered such a meeting. “I think it would blow your mind more than it would blow mine. They’re just regular people to me.”

“You’re sort of connected to them. Think it over. It would be a shame to end things with this phone call.”

Bradley said he would consider the idea, then he hung up and told Danielle about George’s invitation. She didn’t share the writer’s thrill about meeting strangers who happened to be eating in the booth behind George Foulkes and his wife on a particular night. Kansas City, Missouri wasn’t a subway ride from Brooklyn.

***