Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E. Butler

Second paragraph of third chapter:

The cost of water has gone up again. And I heard on the news today that more water peddlers are being killed. Peddlers sell water to squatters and the street poor—and to people who’ve managed to hold on to their homes, but not to pay their utility bills. Peddlers are being found with their throats cut and their money and their handtrucks stolen. Dad says water now costs several times as much as gasoline. But, except for arsonists and the rich, most people have given up buying gasoline. No one I know uses a gas-powered car, truck, or cycle. Vehicles like that are rusting in driveways and being cannibalized for metal and plastic.

I discovered to my surprise, after reading the Hugo-winning graphic adaptation of this classic novel in 2021, that I had not read the original version, though I had read the Nebula-winning sequel soon after it came out and again in 2009. It’s of special interest right now because the first part of the story is set this year, starting on 20 July 2024 (the 65th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing), though it runs through to 2027.

On the one hand it’s a grim narrative of the disintegration of society in an all too credible future, where the state no longer protects people against each other, climate change is out of control and the narrator’s safe home enclave becomes steadily less safe. There are some gruesome moments of psychological and physical horror, and the whole situation seems a lot more plausible now than it must have done in 1993 (which was the exact time that the Republican Party declared war on the Constitution).

At the same time the narrator, Lauren Olamina, is a symbol of hope, founding a new belief system that allows her and her found family, her tribe, to start rebuilding society for the future. The book ends on a note of optimism despite the horror. One can question how realistic it is that even the most gifted eighteen-year-old could start a successful religious movement for the long term, even (especially?) under such extreme circumstances, but great stories are often written about unlikely events. You can get it here.

Not surprisingly, an easy Bechdel pass, with the narrator and her stepmother discussing the stars in the first chapter.

This was my top unread sf book, my top unread book by a woman and my top unread book by a non-white author. Next on those piles respectively are Hard to Be a God, by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky; The Virgin in the Garden, by A.S. Byatt; and Fevered Star, by Rebecca Roanhorse.