What do we make of the creative decision to limit the cover art for the latest printing of Parable of the Sower and its graphic novel adaptation to a fiery color scheme? Perhaps this shared, yet narrow color palette might help us to think about two elements of Parable‘s reception: its “unreadability” and, relatedly, the increasing urgency of its nearly (if not already) realized vision.
Debbie Notkin’s review in Habakkuk, she concludes with what she sees as a guiding proverb among dystopian science fiction writers: “It’s not depressing; it’s cautionary.” She describes Parable as “the Pandora’s box myth come true, with the tiny Hope carefully stowed at the bottom of the chest of troubles” (8). But despite this final assessment of the novel, Notkin also says the “detailed realism” of Parable creates “an atmosphere so real it’s sometimes almost unreadable” (8).
Notkin is certainly not the only one who feels this way. Damian Duffy, one of the co-authors of Parable‘s graphic novel adaptation, explained that as he was making his way through Butler’s writings, he came to Parable but could not finish it because he was “frightened horribly” (19:14). In the same interview, Duffy explains that he read Kindred—a novel he classifies as “horror” due to its addressing of chattel slavery—in one sitting (41:00,19:00). In this context, as well as Notkin’s, what do we make of Parable of the Sower‘s perceived “unreadability”?
At one point in the interview Duffy and John Jennings (the other co-author of the graphic novel adaptation) talk about the prescience of the novel and the “added level of tension” of writing about wildfires in California and presidential infringement upon civil liberties while watching the news and certain Twitter feeds (56:11). Jennings even says that many of the color palettes for the graphic novel were drawn from simply driving around his Southern California residence and taking pictures (56:45). Does our temporal and circumstantial proximity to the world Butler constructs make the novel more or less readable?
This immediacy of the world Butler constructs in Parable led John Warner to this conclusion in his 2018 review of Parable of the Sower: “I would like to still be able to read Parable of the Sower as a cautionary tale, but that time has passed. Now it’s a requiem.” And while it’s tempting to focus on the prescience of Butler’s vision in Parable, Warner argues, “Butler wasn’t clairvoyant. She merely saw the present more acutely than most.”
Given the various accounts of science fiction’s relationship to the future (e.g., Gernsback, Bova) and whether such a relationship is an essential part of (the) science fiction (author’s work), what do we make of Warner’s comments about Butler and the present?
Finally, since it’s not nice to talk about race, religion or the end of the world at parties, does Butler’s “Genius” way of scientifictioning provide a potential example of how one might snag and snub cultural capital?
Habakkuk 3:3: http://www.fanac.org/fanzines/Habakkuk/Habakkuk0303.pdf
Interview with Damian Duffy and John Jennings: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gk_ez3DMO6U