Adulthood Rites

~by Octavia E. Butler
1989 Locus Award Nominee

Even before I finished reading Dawn, I knew that I would be pursuing the rest of the Xeogenesis trilogy (also known as Lilith's Brood) and just about anything else that Octavia E. Butler had written. Adulthood Rites follow Dawn and is the second Xenogenesis book. Dawn is easily one of the best pieces of science fiction that I've read recently; it completely blew me away. So, I had high expectations for Adulthood Rites. I wasn't too disappointed, either.

Shortly after humanity destroyed itself in war, the Oankali arrived and rescued the few remaining fragments doomed for extinction. However, their actions weren't entirely altruistic--they plan on genetically merging with the surviving Humans in order to continue their own race. Akin is the first Human-born male construct to exist. Genetically engineered, he is both Human and Oankali, an important link in the creation of the next generation. Kidnapped as a young child by Human resisters, he is forced early on to confront and understand what makes the Humans so dangerous and yet so appealing to the Oankali. Ultimately, he may be the only hope for the Human race's survival.

Even when the narrative perspective changes to another character, the book is still very intimately about Akin. His importance to the Humans (both resisters and partners) and the Oankali is paramount to the novel. As a Human-Oankali construct, Akin must earn acceptance from others, but even more so he must learn to accept both sides of his heritage. One of the things that I liked so much about Dawn is that the characters weren't static and changed as the novel progressed--particularly Lilith (Akin's mother). Unfortunately, Akin seemed to stay very much the same person throughout Adulthood Rites despite his traumatic experiences and his eventual dramatic physical transformation. The Oankali are very strange, and Butler captures this superbly. I'm not sure if it's because I took so long between threading the first and second books, but some details did seem inconsistent--but I could just be misremembering. Sometimes it seemed like Butler was just making things up as she went along, especially in regards to Oankali culture. Then again they are supposed to be truly bizarre from the perspective of a Human.

While the book didn't capture me quite as much as Dawn, Adulthood Rites still explores a plethora of engaging ideas. Much of the novelty of Oankali gender relationships has worn off, but their relationships with Humans continue to be tense, uncomfortable, and a little creepy. Butler's style in Xenogenesis is very direct with very little superfluous description. I really wish that I hadn't waited so long between books because of this; many important elements and details were lost or forgotten. I definitely will be picking up the last book in the trilogy, Imago, sooner rather than later.


Jeanne said...

I loved all three of these, too. It's so nice to find another good female SF writer.

Phoenix said...

Too true! I plan on reading more Butler once I finish Xenogenesis; her ideas are fantastic. I've been meaning to try some Tiptree sometime soon, too.