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Classics Review: Lilith's Brood

G D Penman By G D Penman Published on December 2, 2015

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I had intended to start writing reviews for some of my favourite science fiction and fantasy novels throughout the ages. My thoughts immediately turned to Octavia Butler’s amazing trilogy “Lilith’s Brood.” But as I started putting together my notes I realised that I had altogether too much to say about these books and while I could write a whole book about how good these books are. I don’t have the time at the moment so I am just going to focus on one element and bang on about it.

Lilith’s Brood is an alien invasion story where the alien invaders aren’t malevolent. Neither the alien Oankali or the native humans seem to hold any particularly negative views about the other, both sides are just following their natural drives. Which is where the conflict arises. Because while the humans have a natural drive to survive as a species, the Oankali have an opposing drive, not to kill alien species, but to become them. To make the aliens Oankali and to make the Oankali into the aliens through crossbreeding and cultural integration. Resulting the ultimate destruction of the human race as an individual lifeform.

The Oankali arrive on earth at a critical juncture in history, where it seems like humanity’s warlike nature has finally led to their own destruction. The Oankali rescue humanity from their savage selves and begin training them how to be more civilised. How to be more Oankali. The remainder of the books chronicles the lives of the humans and their partially human children. Eventually culminating in the creation of a human reservation, where the human race is allowed to live on without interference to great protestation from the Oankali who believe that their savage nature will reassert itself and result in the human’s destruction all over again.

It is a very clever book. Constantly making you see things from the alien’s perspective. Constantly forcing you to see their position as the reasonable one. It places the reader in a very interesting position. Especially a reader that doesn’t immediately recognise the parallels to history. The civilised aliens seize control of the savage natives for their own good. They refuse to leave the savage native people with a culture of their own. They eventually force the natives to bear their children, creating the ultimate fusion of cultures and creating the emotional paradox; as the natives can no longer hate the invaders when their own children are the invaders’. Even the reservation that is condescendingly offered to the natives at the end, after their culture has already been eroded immeasurably, is only created because one of these children, one that is noted to look more alien than native, goes through the correct and polite political hoops and loops.

Making the protagonist a black American woman just hammers the parallels home. Lilith is reasonable throughout the story, despite the way that events are unfolding around her, but the Oankali seem to be incapable of understanding her anger at them. They colonial aliens who have snatched her from her home, forced her to learn their culture, forced her to teach other natives their culture and then forced her to bear their children all “for her own good” cannot understand why she would be angry at them. Neither can her half Oankali children.

If you are a white reader seeing the civilised way that things are proceeding and you are still rooting for the aliens to wipe out humanity, it is possible that you are missing the point. 

G.D. Penman writes about queer monsters for a living. He is the author of Call Your Steel, The Year of the Knife, Heart of Winter, Apocrypha and many other books. He is also a full-time freelance ... Show More

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