Dawn is the first book in Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis Trilogy, and like much of Butler’s work I’m going to go through them very slowly, both to savor them and let them filter through my head. Butler does not write easy science fiction, the contents of her novels challenge the reader and the ideas in them linger long after the last page is turned.
Dawn starts with the awakening of Lilith Iyapo. Earth has just gone through a nuclear war and Lilith remembers the small, pitiful struggles of humans to survive the catastrophe. However, she wakes up on a ship, captive to an alien race, the Oankali, who have come to save humans from themselves but the price they demand for that saving is a terrible one and one that humans have no opportunity to refuse.
One of the most frustrating things about the novel is the way that the Oankali completely deny humans any free will, in fact they don’t seem to fully comprehend that humans have free will, and minds that will refuse things their bodies desire. There are multiple scenes where the Oankali offer something to one human or another and the persuasion is along the lines of “I know you want this, your body wants this, your mind will accept this, you cannot refuse this”. And then Butler makes a few of them sympathetic. As a race they are monsters, as individuals they are not. Reading this book I thought of Butler’s time travel novel Kindred. Both books seem to ask the question, can a person really be a good person when their entire culture is founded on denying another being the possibility of freedom of choice? I’m sure that I’ll have more to say on this once I read the other novels in this trilogy.
If you haven’t read any of Octavia Butler’s work, you absolutely should and this one is as good a place to start as any.