‘Dawn’ by Octavia E. Butler

Title: Dawn
Author: Octavia E. Butler
Published: 1987
Genre: Science Fiction


Lilith Ayapo is in the remote Andes, mourning the death of her husband and son, when nuclear war destroys the world. Centuries later, she revives, held captive aboard a starship.
Miraculously powerful and hideously grotesque galactic beings, the Oankali have rescued the planet and the war’s victims out of an irresistible need to heal and a greater need to change all they touch. For the Oankali survive by merging genetically with primitive peoples — without their permission.
Lilith’s children will inherit the Earth and stars. But they will be more — and other — than human.

My Biggest Takeaways: Bodily Autonomy & Consent

Dawn is the second novel by Octavia Butler that I’ve ready so far, and I must say, she is already shaping up to be my favorite author. The first installment of the Xenogenesis series is an intriguing sci-fi tale that follows our African-American protagonist, Lilith Iyapo, and her interactions/conflicting feelings towards the Oankali, a race of aliens that have “saved” humanity but also seek to effectively erase humanity by merging genetically with humans to create a race of beings that’s neither fully human nor fully Oankali.

One of the themes that recurred to me constantly as I read this novel was autonomy and consent. The surviving humans exist in a world that they have almost no control over. The Oankali surveil them, keep them in isolation against their will, force the humans to acquiesce to the Oankali’s presence, manipulate their bodies *without consent* while they are asleep, sterilize them, and even coerce them into sex. On the surface, the Oankali sound like evil, ruthless colonizers. However, because the Oankali are very patient and don’t rely on overt violence, they never seem evil or ruthless. In fact, it is the re-Awakened humans that are the source of the only real moments of open violence in the entire novel. And even when the Oankali “seduce” the humans, the neuropsychedelia they experience is almost always incredibly satisfying (the book describes the experience as even more pleasurable than regular human sexual intercourse); because of this, the humans are hesitant to describe their experience as sexual assault, even when they had verbally rejected the Oankali advances.

All of this creates a dynamic that observes the subtle, insidious ways in which colonialism can manifest itself. Instead of giving us a flagrant antagonist, whose evils are obvious and plain to see, Octavia Butler presents us with rational, pacifistic “saviors” whose fascination with the incredibly complex — and contradictory — nature of humanity results in an intense need to “correct” humanity’s flaws. Butler blurs the lines of good and evil with questions about the essence of humanity, bodily autonomy, and consent that may or may not have clear-cut answers.

Rating: 👽👽👽👽 (4 Oankali out of 5)

Read also: “Adulthood Rites” by Octavia Butler
Read also: “Imago” by Octavia Butler

Did you read this novel? If so, did you enjoy it? What elements of the story resonated with you the most?


Published by Bryan-O

Nigerian-American | Dallas, TX

2 thoughts on “‘Dawn’ by Octavia E. Butler

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