Octavia Butler is a name that pops up frequently in searches for sci fi writers who aren’t white and male. Naturally when the first book in the Xenogenesis Trilogy popped up on Kindle for sale, I grabbed it up. While Dawn contains many of the same ingredients as a lot of sci fi classics (alien races, the destruction of humanity) the finished product is very different.
Lilith Iyapo has lost everything. Shortly after her husband and son are killed in a car accident, humanity destroys itself in a great nuclear war. She awakes on an alien spacecraft hundreds of years later. She and the other remnants of humanity have been rescued by an alien race called the Oankali. They have restored earth into liveable habitat and will be sending the humans back to start society from scratch. The catch, because of course there is one, is that the Oankali have survived by genetically bonding themselves with other more primitive species. So Lilith’s generation will be the last true humans to exist.
Butler maximizes the “otherness” of the Oankali. These are not the sexy green ladies favored by Captain James T. Kirk. They are grotesque to the human eye; a mass of tentacles and sensory fibers that seem to change with their mood. Lilith is the first human who does not immediately attempt to kill them at first contact. It is because of this that she is made a leader of one of the human groups that will return to to Earth. She will act as a liaison between the disoriented humans and their alien “rescuers.”
The discomfort level is high throughout this book as Lilith bonds physically and emotionally with her “rescuers.” She is clearly conflicted about her new role but she acts decisively with little waffling. The book posits the question, “Does humanity truly survive if its descendants are not completely human?”