Review of Dawn by Octavia Butler

I generally prefer artwork which uses the full cover.

Dawn by Octavia Butler. ★★★★

Trigger warning for rape and sexual assault

Dawn is the story of a woman who wakes up in an alien spaceship centuries after the Earth is largely destroyed by a nuclear war. The Oankali pick up the survivors, but it is ambiguous as to whether they are saviors or kidnappers. At any rate, the humans are given no choice in the matter.

Dawn is a good book, and it has a lot to consider. It just isn’t really the book for me. It’s difficult for me to put into words. Maybe it’s because so much of the book involves the intersection of sex, power, and reproduction. Like I said before – weighty stuff. But this did mean that there was a certain amount of what I’d refer off hand to as “weird alien sex stuff.” It was completely necessary for the plot and themes, but it wasn’t the sort of thing I liked to read.

Dawn in general wasn’t a comfortable read (that’s the point). So much of it deals with the idea of being powerless and under other people’s control. Lilith has literally no control or choices. She’s completely in the hands of the Oankali, who do treat her like an independent person with rights. She’s more like a tool to them, or at best, the beloved family pet.

Yet, Lilith still has strength. She’s resilient and intelligent. She keeps thoughts of resistance and ambitions of escape within her. The fact that she’s still sane and functioning at the end is nothing short of miraculous.

I did wonder where LGBT people fit into this scenario, but their complete absence may be explained by the fact that this book was published in the 80s. Or maybe the Oankali just never let any out of imprisonment because they didn’t align with the aliens reproductive goals. It’s possible that this is addressed in sequels, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up.

I would recommend this one, but it’s hard for me to say who to. If you want to read Dawn, you need to be prepared for a rather bleak book that deals with some difficult subject matter. However, if you do pick it up you will find an excellently written science fiction novel addressing gender and oppression. Really, this should probably be on the classics list.


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