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Seven Stories Press

Works of Radical Imagination

Parable of the Sower & Parable of the Talents: Boxed Set

by Octavia Butler

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A beautiful boxed set brings together the great sci-fi writer's two award-winning Parable books.

The perfect gift for fans of Octavia Butler, this boxed set pairs the bestselling Nebula-prize nominee, Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents, which together tell the near-future odyssey of Lauren Olamina, a "hyper-empathic" young woman who is twice as feeling in a world that has become doubly dehumanized. In Sower, set in California in 2024, small walled communities protect from hordes of desperate scavengers and roaming bands of "Paints," people addicted to a drug that activates an orgasmic desire to burn, rape, and murder. It is into this landscape that Lauren begins her journey, traveling on foot along the dangerous coastal highways, moving north into the unknown. The book has an introduction by feminist, journalist, activist, and author Gloria Steinem. 

Parable of the Talents celebrates the classic Butlerian themes of alienation and transcendence, violence and spirituality, slavery and freedom, separation and community, to astonishing effect, in the shockingly familiar, broken world of 2032. It is told in the voice of Lauren Olamina's daughter––from whom she has been separated for most of the girl's life––with selections from Lauren's journal. Against a background of a war-torn continent, and with a far-right religious crusader in the office of the U.S. presidency, this is a book about a society whose very fabric has been torn asunder, and where the basic physical and emotional needs of people seem almost impossible to meet. Talents is introduced by singer, musician, composer, producer, and curator Toshi Reagon, who created an opera based on the Parable books.

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“I’d love to see Octavia E. Butler’s novel PARABLE OF THE SOWER read in more high school English classes. It’s a brilliant, endlessly rich dystopian novel that pairs well with “1984” or “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and it’s also a fascinating exploration of how crises can fuel new religious and ideological movements.”

“What Butler saw in our future matters more today than ever. She saw a world headed toward collapse. She saw a Black, female prophet who understood that nothing was inevitable, that we have the power to change things and change course. On some level, as a 13-year-old, I understood that Butler's work was not just a warning but also an invitation. It invites us to let go of the conventions that can lock us into a destructive future and to embrace our greatest power, to change. She introduces us to a humanist vision for the future that makes space for metaphysical spirituality without the need for a traditional, omnipotent God-figure... She [Butler] imagined worlds like the one we are living in, but encouraged each of us to dream our own dreams and to respond to the fear of uncertainty with creativity and bravery. As the Earthseed maxim tells us, ‘All that you touch, You Change …’”

“Butler tells her story with unusual warmth, sensitivity, honesty and grace; though science fiction readers will recognize this future Earth, Lauren Olamina and her vision make this novel stand out like a tree amid saplings.”

“In her fine new novel, 'Parable of the Sower,' Octavia E. Butler accepts a more difficult challenge: poising her story on the brink of change, she tries to imagine a new social order at its moment of conception... As a novel, ‘The Parable of the Sower’ also succeeds on multiple levels. A gripping tale of survival and a poignant account of growing up sane in a disintegrating world, it is at bottom a subtle and disturbing exposition of the gospel according to Lauren: ‘The only lasting truth is Change. God is Change.’”

“The scariest book I’ve ever read is Octavia E. Butler’s near-futuristic ‘Parable of the Sower.’ Much of Butler’s work is frightening because it feels so plausible and true, even when she’s writing about aliens or vampires. But this book’s dystopia of walled-off communities, useless government, unchecked violence and corporate slavery feels like the waiting headlines of tomorrow — and too many of our headlines today… But Butler forced me to grow stronger as I read. Despite the horror of its prescience, the stubborn optimism that burns at the core of ‘Parable of the Sower’ helps me face our true-life horrors. As Butler wrote, ‘The only lasting truth is Change.’”

“PARABLE OF THE TALENTS is the masterpiece. The sequel retains the brutal atmosphere of its predecessor — severe economic inequality, climate disaster, lawless mayhem — without sacrificing momentum or texture... By refining Lauren’s voice, Butler found others scarred by the American apocalypse, from a rising fascist who wants to “make America great again” to new-age slave traders to children who are forcibly separated from their families — and are happy about it. The Parable series is known for its discomfiting prescience. But “Talents” shows that the series’ true strength is its attention to the lives destroyed by fascism. There’s less spectacle and inferno than “Sower,” but far more sweat and anguish.”

“Reeling from environmental, political, financial and military blows, American society is just barely surviving in the opening years of the next millennium… Butler's narrative skills are impressive. We follow the rise and fall of Earthseed's first communal home through a chorus of voices that jump around in time, giving us contrasting perspectives on the heartbreaking events that test the faith and will of the founding mother, her family and her adherents. Most remarkably, the ideas they espouse -- at the risk of their freedom and even their lives -- are presented with the respect they deserve. The tenets of Earthseed arise from a thought-provoking collaboration between the scientific and religious imaginations.”

“The narrative is both impassioned and bitter as Butler weaves a tale of a frighteningly believable near-future dystopia. Lauren, at once loving wife and mother, prophet and fanatic, victim and leader, gains stature as one of the most intense and well-developed protagonists in recent SF. Though not for the faint-hearted, this work stands out as a testament to the author's enormous talent, and to the human spirit.”

“In the ongoing contest over which dystopian classic is most applicable to our time… for sheer peculiar prescience, Butler’s novel and its sequel may be unmatched... In the day to day of the Parable books, hyperempathy is a liability that makes moving through the world more complicated and, for tactical reasons, requires those who have it to behave more ruthlessly... In her lifetime, Butler insisted that the Parable series was not intended as an augur. ‘This was not a book about prophecy,’ she said, of “Talents,” in remarks she delivered at M.I.T. ‘This was a cautionary tale, although people have told me it was prophecy. All I have to say to that is: I certainly hope not.’”

“Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents contain many plot elements that seem to have ‘predicted’ our current circumstances. But because Olamina’s story is also the story of a prophet—and because Butler is interested in how people might retain their humanity and direction through conditions of extreme chaos and change—the Earthseed books are instructional in a way that other apocalypse fictions are not. They are not prepper fiction, though reading them will teach you a thing or two about go bags and the importance of posting a night watch. According to people who love the books, myself included, they offer something beyond practical preparations: a blueprint for adjusting to uncertainty... Butler’s books resonate right now because the apocalypse they describe is not singular but a series of them. There’s no major event that wracks the United States, just an accumulation of serious problems (climate change, inequality), and second-order crises (hunger, war, an epidemic of abuse of dangerous designer drugs)... You don’t have to believe in space colonization, I don’t think, to believe in the idea of Earthseed. Any ‘sweet and powerful positive obsession’ will do. And if there was ever a time to develop one, it’s now.

“I wasn't alone in thinking that 2020 was the right year for Octavia Butler's compassionately prescient duology Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. The political and environmental crises Butler's bold young visionary leads us through felt more familiar than ever, even while the richly imagined dystopian tale of survival and community transported me out of my daily doomscrolling.”

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A writer who imagined the dark future we have chosen for ourselves in book after book, OCTAVIA E. BUTLER  (1947–2006) is recognized as among the bravest and smartest of late twentieth century fiction writers. Her work includes Parable of the SowerParable of the Talents, Fledgling, and the short story collection Bloodchild. A 1995 MacArthur Genius Award winner, Butler transcended the science fiction category even as she was awarded that community’s top prizes, including the Nebula and Hugo Awards. Not merely a prophet of dystopia, Butler also wrote of the ways human beings might subvert their dismal destiny. “I write about people who do extraordinary things,” Butler has said, “it just turns out that it was called science fiction.” Her novels and stories have reached readers of all ages, all races, and all religious and sexual persuasions. For years the only prominent African-American woman writing science fiction, Butler has encouraged many others to follow in her path. The Octavia E. Butler Scholarship was established in her memory in 2006, providing scholarships for young people of color to attend the Clarion Writers’ Workshop, where Butler herself began writing science fiction.