Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
Someone mentioned recently that this is the book for the present times, even more so than 1984 or the Handmaid’s Tale. I can see why. This book gave me nightmares.
The book is set in California in the near future (2024). Climate change has made food too expensive even for the well off. There isn’t really a middle class, only the destitute, and the working poor. Small towns have turned into corporations where people are paid less than the price to get ahead, and are forced into indentured servitude by the debts this presents. Government policies have made it impossible for anyone to get ahead, and outside gated communities there’s a good chance you’ll be murdered by either the desperate or the drug addled. Nowhere is safe.
It follows Lauren as she grows up in one of those gated communities, struggling to make sense of the world as it fractures around her. To make sense of it, she creates her own religion that worships ‘god as change’.
This word is Lauren’s normal, everything she has always known, even though she knows it’s only going to get worse. The result is a strange disconnect between Lauren’s calm and measured view of the world and all the terrible things that happen. The pace is at times excruciatingly slow, and the story spans years of Lauren’s life. This removes a feeling of immediacy to the horrors to come. Combined, these two techniques created an eerie effect as I read the book.
If this were made into a movie it could be shot as a zombie film, complete with gun fights, severed limbs, and cannibals. It is a survival story at its core, as much as it is Lauren’s origin story.
This novel feels scarily plausible given the trajectory of world politics today, and this was published in 2000. It’s not that bad yet, but it could be. I can’t get it out of my head, but I sometimes wish I could.