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Again, I have the US first edition hardback published by Warner Books. The blurb is a complete recap of the plot, with respect for but little detail about Butler's previous work. The cover image is accurate for the trilogy, but might have been better used on the third book. I now notice that Butler is billed as the Hugo and Nebula Award winning author on the covers of all three books of the trilogy.

The new things that appeared in Butler's writing in Dawn recede again here. We're mostly in a rainforest on the edge of a chain of volcanoes, but landscape is not detailed. We're in the forest or the garden, or in Human or Oankali habitations, but again there is little or no detail of place. Even on the Oankali ship we are given just the barest sketch needed to make clear how alien it is to Human sensibilities. There is little consideration of leadership, and references to sex are infrequent and undetailed.

The viewpoint character is a child, Akin, whose childhood is disrupted by violence and conflict. Like Dawn, the story is told through the personal relations of the narrator with its family and other people, both Human and Oankali, and its own ideas of its self and place in the world. Through Akin's eyes and thoughts we readers learn more about the Humans and the Oankali and their plans and hopes for their futures than we knew before. It is a very mixed picture.

More than any of Butler's previous books, this book is about an idea. It is Akin's idea, bred in loneliness and terror. It is disruptive. It is cruel. The Oankali know it won't work. The Humans don't understand it. Only Akin could have that idea or convince others to implement it, but it is nevertheless inexorable, inevitable.

At the end of the book the die is cast, the decision has been made. We have to wait for Imago to find out what happens.

The Oankali are genetic engineers who wander among the stars seeking out new life forms to trade genetic material with. When they find a suitable host planet, they stay a while, organising themselves to make the trade. When they arrived on Earth they identified Humans as superb trading partners.

There will be three groups of Oankali after the trade: The Dinso will become Oankali/Human hybrids and stay on Earth. The Toaht will become Oankali/Human hybrids and travel onwards on the ship the Oankali came in with the Akjai, who will remain Oankali, as they were before they came to Earth. But there will be no pure Humans. The Oankali know that Humans suffer from a fatal genetic contradiction, and the Human race must inevitably destroy itself. It would be cruel to permit this.

But Akin knows that there must be Akjai Humans, a chance for the pure Humans to try to survive.

I wouldn't want to be Akin. I don't want to be David Cameron either.

I don't suppose that Butler ever spared any thought for European politics, and I don't know what real world situation sparked her thinking here. But I am reading this in London, in the middle of the debate about leaving or staying in the European Union, a debate that until now I did not understand. If you were Prime Minister and thought we should Remain, why would you allow the possibility of the people voting to Leave? Thanks to Butler's clear-eyed brutality I think I now understand why we are having a referendum.

An unexpected conclusion.


Caroline M

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February 2019