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I’ve never read anything by Octavia Butler, but some list or other recommended her, and Kindred was checked out of the library, so I picked up the Lilith’s Brood trilogy omnibus, in which Dawn is the first book. I figured I’d test her out, and if I liked Dawn, I’d be probably enjoy Kindred as well. Kindred is supposed to be a better book, so I have something to look forward to, because I liked Dawn quite a bit.

Butler’s style is trim without feeling spare. She writes the way I would like to, with few, well-placed modifiers, so it doesn’t feel like sterile reporting. Her characters speak well enough on their own, so she doesn’t have to constantly pepper every conversation with “he said, she said, he said, she said.”

She writes about grief and otherness in a particularly beautiful way. The way Lilith, the main character, is dramatically repulsed by her first interactions with the aliens reveals much about her character and, more importantly, the human heart. Because we aren’t likely to face a planet crippling holocaust followed by an alien invasion, but we are likely to hate our neighbor, whether because he’s different, or because he has things we want. I don’t buy the “we only hate what we don’t understand” doctrine; we hate what infringes on our ability to acquire what we desire. Which helps the planet-crippling-holocaust scenario along, but [unfortunately|fortunately] doesn’t do anything for the intrusive aliens.

Here’s an example of a particularly well written section, albeit one which breaks from her usual smoothness, rhythm, and flow. I like it too much not to include it. I’ll try not to give too much away, but an important, deeply sympathetic character has just brutally died. “It,” in the first sentence, is Nikanj, an alien who has grown close to Lilith.  Also, I didn’t add the ellipses; they’re in the text.

It gave her . . . a new color. A totally alien, unique, nameless thing, half seen, half felt or . . . tasted. A blaze of something frightening, yet overwhelmingly, compelling.


A half known mystery beautiful and complex. A deep, impossibly sensuous promise.




and later, comparing her feelings to the alien’s:

Grief was grief, she thought. It was pain and loss and despair—an abrupt end where there should have been a continuing.

Butler transmutes human pain, and lets us see it through alien eyes. It’s the same pain. As uncomfortably “other” as these creatures are, they still maintain a sympathetic human core, which enables Butler to bring the reader along with Lilith as she changes to understand them better. Lilith loves specific people, as everyone does, while maintaining a general mistrust toward the aliens as a species. That, of everything else in the novel, is profoundly insightful.

That’s enough for tonight. I’ll save reading the next book in the trilogy, Adulthood Rites, for another day.

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