Octavia E. Butler: Lilith’s Brood (Xenogenesis Trilogy)

Here I was thinking I’d only missed one week, but looking at my stats, it’s been 21 days since I posted about Kindred. So sorry. Between job applications, writing a book, and starting my own homemade bath products, time just kind of zooms by. Anyway, let’s talk about one of my favorite Butler books: Lilith’s Brood.

Originally, the three separate books—Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago—were published as The Xenogenesis Trilogy, but the series was republished as Lilith’s Brood in 2000. The definition of the word Xenogenesis, according to dictionary.com, is “the supposed generation of offspring completely and permanently different from the parent.” Think about that for a second before you read on, and see if you can guess the plot of this series.

The first book, Dawn, introduces Lilith as she wakes from stasis on an alien ship. The United States and the Soviet Union had engaged in a nuclear war that all but obliterated the planet, and the few remaining humans were rescued by the Oankali and put into stasis while the aliens work to make Earth habitable again. Lilith is repulsed by the creatures she finds upon waking. The Oankali have three sexes: male, female, and ooloi (they are born “unsexed”, and develop an affinity for what they will become after a few years); they have no eyes, ears, or noses, only sensory tentacles that cover their bodies. They can sense the world to this most minute level. Not only can the ooloi manipulate genetic material, but they have the ability to evolve other living things, as well as create offspring gene by gene.

The Oankali want Lilith to help train the other surviving humans to live on the remade Earth without their previous dependence on technology. The Oankali are fascinated by the human cellular structure, and they want to convince the humans to interbreed with them to create a new hybrid Human-Oankali race. Despite being appalled by their alien captors, the ooloi are sexually enticing to humans. Lilith struggles between wanting to please them to survive, and trying to maintain her humanity.

The second book, Adulthood Rites, chronicles the conflict between the Oankali, the humans who have accepted their lives with them, and the resister villages—groups of humans who do not accept the Oankali. The Oankali have made all humans sterile in order to prevent any children who are not hybrid (called ‘constructs’). The main character in this book is Akin—Lilith’s hybrid son, and the only male construct born to a human mother. He is taken by a resister group as an infant, and instead of forcing his return, the Oankali allow him to remain with the group to better understand his human nature. Unfortunately, Akin and his closest paired sibling, Oankali-born Tiikuchahk, had not been bonded properly because of his absence, and they are sent to Chkahichdahk—the main ship (but more of a living creature)—to see what healing could be done before each of them reached metamorphosis.

There is so much nuance, and I get a little frustrated that I cannot communicate the complicated beauty of this series. Anyway, during his time on the ship, Akin realizes that human needs are greater than the Oankali give credit for, and convince them to give the resister colonies a new planet to live on. The Oankali agree, even though they are sure that the new colony will destroy itself the way humans destroyed Earth, and a modify Mars to give the bare minimum support for human life. This book ends as the group of resisters head towards Lo (city) to board their transfer ships to Mars.

Before I tell you about the last book, I just wanted to mention that each of the books have multiple sections with multiple chapters in each section. The development of which is so difficult to summarize.

The last book, Imago, is the shortest of the three and follows Jodahs, the first ooloi construct. Imago shows manifestation of what the Oankali hoped for in their Human-Oankali hybrid race. Jodahs, by its nature, unlocks the complete genetic potential of both humans and Oankali. There isn’t much to summarize in this book, as it is better experienced. (I know, I talk about it like it is the greatest work of all time even thought it’s about aliens). This book shows more of the nature of the Oankali and what they want for their own future.

I’m thinking about reading this one again. Just skimming through the pages to write this post yanked on me to dive back in. I had to keep myself from starting at the beginning and reading the whole thing through.

If you end up acquiring a copy and reading it, tell me what you think!

In my next post I will introduce you to the incomplete Parables series. Butler was working on the third book just after the passing of her mother, and had six or seven more planned, but she scrapped the series after becoming exhausted with the work of writing the third book. So we have Parable of the Talents and Parable of the Sower, and we’ll never know what she had planned for those characters. It’s kind of sad, actually.

I will try not to let another three weeks pass by before getting the next post out to you guys. Thanks for sticking with me!

Happy Reading!!