I’ve recently finished Lilith’s Brood (still known in some circles as The Xenogenesis Trilogy) by Octavia Butler. It’s become an instant new favorite, and I really want everyone to read it. I thought of doing a full series review, but I realized that, due to my love of it, it would just be me gushing. I’d be hard-pressed to be critical, since there’s so little that is wrong with it in my mind. So instead I’m going to indulge myself and talk about all the reasons it’s great and should be read by everyone.
1. It’s #OwnVoices. Let’s face it. Everyone says they want diverse books, but what they really mean is they want white, straight, cis, able-bodied authors writing all the things they themselves are not. There’s nothing evil in that, but it’s definitely misguided. If you desire a certain voice, it’s really best to seek that voice firsthand. Octavia Butler was a black woman writing science fiction because she couldn’t find herself within a genre she loved. So she created those stories for herself and anyone else who wanted to listen. That is an incredible thing, and it’s not even as simple as that sounds. Lilith’s Brood is all about race and womanhood, agency or the lack thereof, motherhood, and the human condition. It asks the impossible question, if we could erase our faults as a species, should we? There’s not a single thing in these books that isn’t staggeringly important, and it’s from a woman who knows what she’s talking about.
2. It’s Wholly Unique. As someone who reads genre fiction and watches genre films, I’m always looking for things that are unlike the norm. I don’t like cliches and an excess of well-worn tropes. Lilith’s Brood, in that case, was a breath of fresh air. Her alien species she creates, the Oankali, is all her own. I’ve never encountered anything like this, that’s so smoothly and richly built that I found myself craving more. She didn’t only inject her own voice into science fiction, which was refreshing enough on its own, but she also ushered in such fantastic world-building that you feel as if you inhabit the world with its characters.
3. She’s Just So Good. Her writing is exceptional with exposition actually being a delight to read. Her characters feel like real people. There was never a moment where my immersion was broken. I stayed invested every moment. Her choices in style were spot on. The third book was written in the first person, and that should’ve felt jarring after the whole series being in third person up to that point, but instead I immediately understood why she felt the need to put us directly in this character’s mind. She’s clever that way, with every choice having intent. Nothing she writes is an accident, and that craftsmanship is worth a lot.
4. It’s Fast. I know… Who cares how long it is? Sincerely I say to you, in a world where series can go on for twenty, fat volumes, this was a breeze. She says everything she wanted to say concisely. The commitment to this series is not like staring at an epic fantasy lined up and taking the space of an entire shelf. My copy of this trilogy was collected in one bind-up, and even with my small, lady hands, I thought it was comfortable to hold and read. So if you’re saying to yourself that you’ve already got too many series ongoing, that’s no excuse!
5. The Characters. I know I mentioned that in a previous point, but it needs to be emphasized. Lilith Iyapo is one of the most well-crafted female characters I’ve ever read. The Oankali and how we get to know their personalities, as alien as they are, start to become just as comfortable as the humans. How she writes what it’s like to be the first of a group of human/alien hybrids is so true-to-life, because her grasp on human nature is so sure. She understands every ugly thing about people and reflects on it with the reader until it actually comes full circle into beauty again.
6. It’s One of My Favorite Trilogies. Who really cares about my opinion, but you should know I’m picky. I don’t read just anything. And when I do read something, I don’t love it simply because it exists. I’m very critical and thorny, and if a thing has faults, I’ll say so. I’m saying this has so few faults that I’m basically forced to love it. I was given no choice, and you’ll feel the same if you give it a chance.
With all that said, I really hope you consider checking this trilogy out. And as always, happy geeking!
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