Lilith’s Brood, Octavia E Butler – review

Lilith's Brood (Xenogenesis, #1-3)Lilith’s Brood by Octavia E. Butler

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I thought for a long while that I didn’t like sci-fi. I now realise that I just don’t like white-male-centric sci-fi. I love this book though.

Lilith’s Brood contains three stories. The first about a human woman called Lilith, snatched by aliens as the world is destroyed and kept in stasis while the world is repaired. The story starts as she is woken and learns to deal with her saviours/captors, and the Oankali are very much both.

It deals with huge philosophical questions in simple terms while following an intense and exciting narrative. We are shown the worst of humanity and at the same time given hope, however small, that the race can transcend their limitations.

The second and third stories are about two of Lilith’s hybrid children, part human and part Oankali, the are called construct children and the Oankali intend that these will replace humans completely, correcting the intrinsic problems of hierarchical behaviour mixed with intelligence that they claim is the human race’s fatal flaw.

It is easy to see the aliens’ point of view. After all the Earth was destroyed by humans in a huge nuclear apocalypse, but Butler’s genius is that this is not the only point of view put forward and considered.

The aliens are very different to the humans in appearance, which at first humans can barely tolerate, and behaviour. They decide everything as a group, connected as a hive mind. Their technology is also completely alien. Their space ships are living things that have also been constructed using a mix of Oankali and other DNA. We are told that this is not the first planet they have “saved” in a way that makes us wonder whether their intentions are benevolent at all, or whether they are parasitic. Read with some political and historical knowledge it is very easy to see these questions as reflections of human interactions. The connections to slavery and “free trade” which is often coerced trade are not hidden.

The book ends with a compromise and some hope, but the twists and turns towards reaching the conclusion are masterfully handled. It is a journey into and beyond the limitations of human nature and I would whole-heartedly recommend it to anyone who, like me, questions the ethics and inevitability of inequality.

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