Octavia Butler was a celebrated American science fiction author. She was a multi-recipient of both the Hugo and Nebula Awards. In 1995, she became the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Fellowship, an award which is also known as the ‘genius grant. Butler remains one the most widely known women in the genre of science fiction.
Lilith awakens from a centuries long sleep to find that she is aboard the spaceship of the alien race, the Oankali. These aliens have rescued surviving humans from an Earth which is dying and have used their advanced knowledge to begin to heal the world. The Oankali, a a strange race of tentacle covered creatures are ready to help Lilith lead her people back to Earth but all is not as it seems…
Dawn, Butler’s 1987 science fiction classic (Book one of the Xenogenesis trilogy) explores the relationship between humans and aliens in such a finely crafted way that issues such as gender, race and even species are naturally woven into the narrative to offer the reader a rich and engaging science fiction novel which contains questions relevant within society.
What is so fascinating about this book is that by no means is it a comfortable science fiction novel. The aliens featured are cast both as saviours of mankind (and therefore capable of emoting with the human race) and yet somehow truly alien. Nevertheless, the Oankali are seen as the rescuers and humans are, by comparison, quite brutish in their behaviour. This throws up the question ‘what does it mean to be human?’ – something which is popular in artificial intelligence science fiction but which is particularly well rendered here.
Transformation and a blurring of human and alien seems to be a common theme meaning that as a reader those binaries are not clear by the end of the novel – the boundaries of perceptions about status, humanity and inter-species relationships are truly pushed and extended as the novel progresses.
Featuring a strong female protagonist, a highly descriptive world and a complex alien race with their own agenda, Dawn is a challenging read which encourages reassessment of what artificial intelligence means in the world as well as the way that humanity behaves in the world.
Dawn is a thoroughly compelling read and is highly recommended for anyone looking to science fiction to expand the boundaries of what it means to be an intelligent and emotional being in society…
Dawn is available as part of the omnibus edition of the trilogy, published by Warner Books.