If “God is Change,” as the fictitious religion of Earthseed intones, then
Parable of the Talents is a divine sequel. Its evolution is more drastic even
that of The Fall of Hyperion (now, only the second-most distinctive sequel
From the very first page, it’s clear that at least the narrative context is
more complex. The same woman’s journal entries tell both stories, but where
Parable of the Sower is presented simply as her
diary, Talents introduces a new
character who curates the subsequent entries, inserts writing from others, and
provides commentary of her own. It also spans a far longer period, making much
larger leaps in time between entries.
The change in theme is perhaps less dramatic but no softer. Sower, with its
wanton gangs of fire-obsessed addicts and totally decadent societal structure,
paints a pretty bleak picture of the future. Talents, despite describing a
slightly less chaotic time, is even darker. Like, “I can’t take this right now”
dark. The sequel feels still more relevant than its predecessor because its
atrocities more strongly evoke sins past (e.g. chattel slavery, the genocide of
native Americans, and the internment of Japanese immigrants) and present (e.g.
the exploitation of the incarcerated and the inhumane treatment of
asylum-seekers), tempering modern rhetoric about social progress.
The novel’s characters occasionally offer somewhat heavy-handed commentary, but
I’m inclined to chalk that up to it’s disturbingly-prophetic nature. Readers in
1998 probably needed a little more help recognizing the plausibility than they
do today. For crying out loud, Parable of the Talents describes Christian
fundamentalist paramilitary groups supporting a demagogic President–a man
elected using the slogan “make America great again!” Aside from a handful of
inconsequential pieces of technology, the novel could have just as well been
set in ‘23 rather than ‘32.
Against all this, we watch Olamina (formerly Lauren) continue to change, and
not necessarily for the better. I’m no writer, but I can’t help but marvel at
the craftsmanship in dispassionately chronicling how such a sincere, innocent,
and lifelike character is compromised (particularly years after introducing her
to the world with critical acclaim). Butler portrays ambiguity in Olamina’s
development, impartially offering the embittered (yet emotionally distant) Asha
as a foil to the bias in Olamina’s memoir. Reconciling Olamina’s self-image
with Asha’s judgement is an uncomfortable yet enthralling process, and I’m not
sure I’ll ever complete it. So while Parable of the Talents is not for the
faint of heart, it’s a gift for those who can witness it.