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Love, love narrator Lynne Thigpen. LOVE HER. While hers is plainly the voice of a mature woman and not a teenager, she perfectly channels Lauren’s “old soul” persona. A few reviewers have complained that she’s too slow, but poetry is not improved by speeding it up, and Thigpen’s reading is just that—pure poetry. Her voice is raw silk, and her pacing and inflections are perfection, adding layers of meaning to a single word of dialog. I hung on every sentence, every word, and was happy to be carried along at the story’s natural pace. Hungry for more of her work, I looked her up. It’s clear that she has been pigeonholed into only reading audiobooks with black protagonists, and a small number of those, which I think is a gross under-appreciation of her talents.
On its face, there’s nothing that extraordinary about the plot—it’s a classic dystopian/post-apocalyptic future story, in which a band of survivors travels a ruined country, fending off bandits and natural disasters, searching for a safe haven in which to build a secure new home. If any of it seems clichéd, bear in mind it was first published in 1993, before dystopia became trendy and the genre became so glutted.
Butler first sets the scene, in a grim near-future that’s all too easy to imagine- America’s (and perhaps the world’s--that is left purposely vague) economy and government have become moribund, leaving thousands unemployed, homeless and desperate. While familiar institutions like police and fire departments and federal and state governments still exist, they are ineffectual, and violence and vigilante justice have become the law of the land in most places. Lauren Olamina is one of the relatively lucky ones—a member of a shrinking middle class, living in an armed, walled neighborhood in the outskirts of Los Angeles, drifting closer to poverty every year as the times grow leaner, the climate grows drier, and the thieves outside grow more desperate. Blessed with a dream and a gift for oratory, Lauren leaves the smoking ruins of her home and sets forth with a gun, a few hundred dollars, two traveling companions, and little else but her own determination to survive. Adventure ensues.
It’s Lauren’s philosophical ideas, not the plot, that captivated me. Lauren, a young woman of passing vision and resolve, daughter of the neighborhood’s Baptist minister, has been observing the decline of society her whole life, and concluded at the tender age of 15 that the religion of her father has no place in this tempestuous new world. The idea of God as a sort of super-person in the sky who cares individually about every soul and patiently waits to hear and answer humanity’s prayers is patently false to her… and more importantly, of no real use in this world. Her parents’ generation are doggedly waiting and praying for the good old days to return, but Lauren knows praying to the old gods won’t help – any good times which may lie ahead will have to be seized and built anew by those of her own generation. She invents—or discovers, depending on your point of view—a new religion for the new world she is determined to build, and calls it EarthSeed.
The principles of EarthSeed are simple, but profound. Its most basic, most often repeated tenet is,
“All that you touch, you Change.
All that you Change, Changes you.
The only lasting truth is Change.
God is Change.”
This may seem strange to those who are used to thinking of God as a person, or at least a consciousness. But if one defines God as simply that ultimate, most pervasive truth in the universe over which no higher power or truth can be found to hold sway, it makes perfect sense. When Lauren was questioned by her traveling companions, she answered simply, “Then show me another force that is more pervasive than change.” Everything changes, even the universe itself. Nothing is immune.
Like some of the characters in the book, I question whether Lauren’s ideas are truly a religion—after all, her philosophy doesn’t attempt to answer any of those fundamentally unanswerable questions that are the unique province of religion, such as, “Where do we come from?” “Where are we going?” or “Why are we here?” And it doesn’t appear to facially impose a moral code of behavior, at least not as it’s developed in this book. However, at least one verse from the Book of the Living hints at a moral code:
“Any Change may bear seeds of benefit. Seek them out.
Any Change may bear seeds of harm. Beware.
God is infinitely malleable. God is Change.”
Lauren’s character and ideas appeal to me on many levels. At the age of 15, she had the strength of will to challenge and reject as false and useless the religion practiced by the person she loved and respected most in the world. That’s not an easy thing, and it takes some very deep convictions. Her religion, such as it is, appeals to me as an atheist because it doesn’t require belief in or worship of anything supernatural or mystical—it is quite simply an acknowledgment of and respect for a natural truth of the universe. It is immanent rather than transcendent. Most importantly, it’s useful and helpful both in Lauren’s world and ours. It recognizes the spark of divinity in each of us—we can all be agents of Change. We can all be mini-deities and alter reality to create better or worse outcomes for ourselves and those around us. And we are all subject to the power of Change, and we must be prepared to face the consequences of our behavior and our environment. In EarthSeed’s credo, to plan, build, work, support your community and be supported by it, prepare for change and be ready for it, are sacred acts, or as close to sacred as Lauren is willing to offer. I suspect I’ll be thinking about these ideas for a long time to come and pondering how they apply to everyday life in this world rather than Lauren’s.
19 of 19 people found this review helpful
I can't decide if the author intends us to take seriously the religion developed by the main character. It's pretty lightweight stuff. But the tale of survival in 2025 California is entertaining. It's not America in the post-apocalypse, exactly, but in the middle of new Great Depression as it is becoming a corrupt violent dangerous capitalist country like Brazil or India.
Some of the dialogue is embarrassingly stilted--audio books bring that out, and the reader is very, very slow--I listened on my iPhone in 2x speed, and I do believe that helped the pace.
14 of 14 people found this review helpful