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Pet Sins July 2010

Octavia E. Butler's 'Parable of the Sower' and 'Parable of the Talents'

In Octavia E. Butler's 2-novel "Earthseed" series "Parable of the Sower" and "Parable of the Talents," the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning African American author spins a gripping tale of a young woman who survives the social breakdown and violent chaos of a fictional 21st century America to become founder of a new faith.

The protagonist of "Parable of the Sower" is young Lauren Olamina who lives with her African American father, Mexican stepmother and four half-brothers in a racially diverse Southern California community. Butler presents this diversity without limiting herself to "stereotypical" interracial combinations. She mentions Lauren's neighbors, the Hsu family, who are "Chinese and Hispanic, and the older Chinese generation is still Buddhist." These few simple words imply that the Hsu family was formed by a marriage between a Chinese male and a Hispanic female, a coupling that bucks the trend in fiction written by Westerners, most of whom seeem to prefer that the Asian party in an interracial union should be female. Even with the minor characters who provide the backdrop of Olamina's world, Butler chooses to take the road less taken by including demographics that other writers ignore.

When Lauren's community is destroyed, she and her two young neighbors Zahra (black female) and Harry (white male) decide to head north together. On their difficult and dangerous journey, they rescue a black-man-and-Hispanic-woman family comprising of Travis Douglas, Gloria Natividad Douglas and their son Domingo. As the group travels, they acquire more followers, including Emery Tanaka Solis, daughter of a Japanese man and a black woman. Solis' Mexican husband had passed away, leaving Emery and her daughter Tori to fend for themselves in a brutal world. Emery eventually pairs up with Grayson Mora, a "black Latino."

In "Parable of the Talents", Lauren Olamina has established a closely knit community of followers who work hard at self-sufficiency and self-defense in a world still plagued by lawlessness. In addition to familiar characters from its prequel Parable of the Sower, there are new multicultural characters and interracial couples surrounding Olamina. Jorge Cho and his siblings are ethnically Korean but speak Spanish as their first language, having grown up in a mostly Latino neighborhood. Jorge Cho's fiancee Diamond Scott is black. Another interracial couple in Olamina's community is Lucio Figueroa and Teresa Lin.

Adoptive families, both good and bad, also appear in Earthseed's universe. Olamina's long-lost half brother Marc, who is of Mexican and African American descent, was adopted by a kindly Mexican couple.

Through this ethnically diverse cast of characters, we see how Butler ensures that black women and Asian men, groups most ignored by mainstream media, have a presence. Asian-man-black-woman unions, ignored by media and at times discouraged by 'mainstream' society, are mentioned twice in Butler's Earthseed universe. Black-Latino and Latino-Asian families have a role in the story. Asian women in the Earthseed world have strong, active personalities, contrary to the popular media stereotype of a passive Asian female in need of rescue by a white male. When Olamina's faith community is violently captured and subdued by religious right extremists, it is the impulsive Teresa Lin, among all the women in Olamina's community, who takes the iniative to test the boundaries of their captors' power. And it is Emery Tanaka, the Asian-looking daughter of a Japanese man and a black woman, who made the first successful act of violent resistance against their sadistic captors.