Dawn by Octavia Butler

dawn

Rating: 4

Warning: this review contains spoilers! The other characters withhold a lot of information from the main character, so discussing the themes of this book is really difficult to do without spoiling it. I’m just not going to bother here, and assume you’ve either read the book or don’t care about spoilers.

Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis series establishes its setting in the first book, Dawn. The book takes place after an apocalyptic war that resulted in nuclear winter. Lillith, a young black woman, wakes up not knowing where she is. Soon she finds out that she is on a living spaceship that is inhabited by aliens called Oankali. The Oankali are covered with tentacles with sensory organs on them. At first, Lillith is too horrified to get anywhere close to the Oankali and tries to hide, but it makes her look at it, and little by little, she becomes used to their appearance. Butler does an excellent job of making the aliens feel really alien, and gives readers a good sense of the Oankali’s otherness. Continue reading

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The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

sirensI don’t know how to describe this book other than to say that it’s very, uh… Vonnegut-y. If you’ve read Slaughterhouse 5 or Cat’s Cradle or ”Harrison Bergeron”, you’re familiar with Kurt Vonnegut’s unique combination of satire, pacifism, and accidental time travel. The Sirens of Titan, one of his earliest novels, features the seeds of ideas that become more fleshed out in Slaughterhouse 5 and “Harrison Bergeron”.

The beginning of the tale is a little slow, but Vonnegut does a great job of increasing the stakes and upping the danger as the book progresses. Sirens of Titan doesn’t really have a central character; it dips into the heads of each of various characters, but the narrative voice takes a cosmic view of events. I think this is a good choice for the subject matter, for reasons you’ll see later. Continue reading