I have two reasons to blog about the Parable of the Sower. One is that I listened to the Octavia Butler novel Parable of the Sower as an audiobook recently, and then did likewise with the sequel, Parable of the Talents. The latter is not getting the attention it deserves, given its arguably prophetic insights, about which I’ll say more below.
At the same time, I was reading parts Gerry Canavan’s book, Octavia E. Butler. Canavan had the privilege of being among the first to gain access to Butler’s papers, which included her many drafts for Parable of the Trickster, envisaged as the next book in the Earthseed series. Apparently the words I recently turned into a meme were intended to be the epigram for that volume, following one or more Earthseed colonies into space:
There’s nothing new
under the sun,
but there are new suns.
The biblical allusion and reworking, as Canavan puts it, “wonderfully captures this tension between optimism and pessimism, and the possibility of actually breaking through this psychic impasse into something new…” Canavan’s book includes Butler’s essay “Lost Races of Science Fiction” which it is truly fascinating to reread in the wake of the controversy over The Last Jedi on the one hand, and the success of Black Panther on the other.
The other reason for writing a blog post with this title is because of a post on another Patheos blog, asking what Google Analytics would make of the sower’s “bounce rate” in the story that Jesus told. And that too seemed a thought-provoking way of bringing the ancient agricultural parable into conversation with our modern world.
Butler has written many words that engage with the Bible, and those who know the novels mentioned earlier in this post will know that the name Earthseed refers to a new religion created by the central character in those books. They raise the question of whether science fiction and prophecy are the same or at least overlapping genres, since the second novel features a politician whose slogan is “Make America Great Again.” But the focus in prophecy, whether in ancient Israel or modern dystopian fiction, is on addressing the present day. Butler often quoted a dictum of Robert Heinlein’s, saying that there are only three kinds of stories: “The what-if category; the if-only category; and the if-this-goes-on category.” Prophecy and sci-fi arguably deal with all three. Would you agree?
To conclude, here is an excerpt from the fictional scripture embedded in the novels, “Earthseed: The Books of the Living,” a snippet that is relevant to the present day, and probably to every present day:
Also, let me add one more related detail: Stephen Garner’s series about theological science fiction continues!