Review: Dawn (Xenogenesis Book 1 of 3)

Dawn - Octavia E. Butler

This is the first book I’ve read by Octavia E. Butler, and I see I’ve been missing out! I’ve put off a lot of things I needed and wanted to do this weekend in order to read this book instead. Fortunately it was only 248 pages, so I managed to finish it before my weekend was completely shot! Now if I can only resist allowing the next book in the series take over the rest of my weekend…

 

Dawn is a science fiction book, the first in a trilogy. It’s told entirely from the perspective of a woman named Lilith. When the book begins, we find Lilith waking up from a long, mysterious sleep, in a room with no exits. We learn that this has happened many times before, and she always hears voices asking her lots and lots of questions. She doesn’t know how she got there, who’s holding her captive, or why. This description really doesn’t explain the premise of the book, but finding out the answers was part of the fun for me so I don’t want to spoil any more than that. The book synopsis on the book page gives a better idea of what the book is actually about.

 

I liked Lilith; she was relatable and interesting. The story was told very well, and the writing grabbed me and pretty much never let me go. The story is full of shades of gray. There were some pretty disturbing things here, especially if you stopped to think about the implications. By the end of this book I still hadn’t quite made up my mind how I felt about what Lilith’s captors wanted, or how I felt about Lilith’s reaction to it and the choices she made. I can’t say more than that without major spoilers.

 

 

 

The one thing I definitely knew was that I hated the way the Oankali manipulated Lilith and the other humans. They studied them until they could predict how they would react, and used that knowledge to manipulate them. They tricked them into forming bonds that were more than just emotional, but also physical, without explaining the consequences. They were determined to get what they wanted from the humans no matter what the humans wanted. The Oankali may have behaved politely and compassionately on the surface, but their actions showed complete disregard for the humans' right to choose their own course.

 

I was on the fence about Lilith’s reactions. I felt like she gave in too easily, allowed herself to become attached too easily, and didn’t fight hard enough when she realized the extent to which she was being manipulated. On the other hand, what could she really have done? Maybe her way was the best way – play along and look for better opportunities for freedom once circumstances changed. This only gave the Oankali more time to secure their hold on the humans though, such as by making it impossible for them to have children without the Oankali.

 

Despite my disgust for the Oankali’s methods, and my desire for the humans to resist because of that, I disagreed with the humans’ attitude that having children with the Oankali was an unthinkable action that would corrupt the purity of the human race. What makes it so important for the human race to stay pure, especially considering they would likely have died out altogether without Oankali intervention? Is the universe somehow a better place because it still has a pocket of pure humans living in it? To me, that attitude is no different than saying humans of different races here in the real world shouldn’t intermarry.

 

The Oankali should have been open about everything from the beginning, lived among humans, and let the humans make their own decisions. Some humans, perhaps in future generations if not in the current generation, would eventually have chosen to mate with the Oankali of their own free will and the Oankali would eventually have achieved what they wanted. The process would have been slower, yes, but it would have been less traumatic. We’re told the Oankali are infinitely patient, so why not be a little more patient?

(show spoiler)

 

 

 

The U.S. Kindle version of the first two books in this trilogy are both on sale on Amazon for $1.99 each through the end of the month (tomorrow) if anybody else is interested.