I spent most of the weekend reading Parable of the Talents, by Octavia Butler, for a book club early this afternoon. It’s so good—better even than the first in the two-part arc, I think, Parable of the Sower.
The book continues the first’s apocalyptic premise: take the societal trends of the 1990s, when the book was written, project them to the 2020s and 2030s, and see what happens. Climate change is a major force, though not the only one—Butler also projected forward the effects of increasingly dirty drug supplies, virtual reality technology, and politics trending toward demagoguery, among other changes.
In the story, the United States has, in many ways, collapsed. Though some federal institutions remain, life on the ground is largely privatized—there are few public schools; fire and police services demand exorbitant fees; people are enslaved and traded, without legal consequences.
Canada, on the other hand, is portrayed as a safe, stable, prosperous haven. Indeed, it’s even suggested that climate change has made Canada more hospitable. I suppose, in a sense, that that’s a possible outcome. But the clear extremes in our weather lately have me wondering just how accurate that portion of Butler’s forecast was. Consider, for example, that we’re developing more nuanced scales for heat alerts, because extreme heat is becoming more common.
Another theme from the Parable books is that of family: family by birth, by choice, by circumstance. My fellow readers and I discussed today why people might choose to bring children into the world when they know it to be so terrible. It’s a question I’ve heard discussed by many folks my age. Butler, I think, portrays the main character’s decision to do so as a sort of vote of confidence in the future: yes, the present is terrible, but having kids gives yet more reason to fight for a better future, to shape a world where it’s possible for your kids to grow up more safely than you did. I’m not so sure that’s how it holds in reality, but it was a nice concept.
Next, I’m looking forward to digging into Emergent Strategy, by adrienne maree brown, which quite literally treats Butler’s Parable series as gospel, drawing practical lessons and tactics from it. (I found Emergent Strategy through Mandy Brown’s reflections on it, which I highly recommend.)
All the best for the week ahead!
Note: This newsletter is coming out rather late due to a lovely afternoon of chats with friends and Civilization VI. Apologies for any nonsense I wrote as a result of the hour!