Review: “Adulthood Rites,” Octavia E. Butler

Pros: A look at new conflicts that arise out of first contact
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Octavia Butler’s Adulthood Rites (Xenogenesis, Book Two)picks up after Dawn. Humans are making a life on what’s left of Earth. Lilith leads those colonists who are willing to live and work with the aliens, accepting that their children will never be quite human. The colonists who refused to compromise their humanity live in various small towns here and there, but thanks to the alien meddling they cannot have children. With no future to look forward to, they’re getting desperate–they kidnap some of the children of the first human/alien pairings. Akin is the first male child born to the new world, Lilith’s son. That makes him extremely valuable, and extremely vulnerable.


One thing I appreciate about this series is that it’s totally understandable why people would go against the aliens–and yet, it’s also easy to empathize with those who accept them. The Oankali trade genetic material by being a part of conception. No matter how much pleasure it can add to the equation, there are a lot of people who aren’t going to be interested in a threesome with an ugly alien in the middle. Even Lilith isn’t always comfortable with the situation, but she believes the whole thing is necessary. And she had the advantage of helping her own ooloi, Nikanj, enter adulthood–giving her emotional ties to him beyond his place in her reproductive cycle. It’s nice to see a setup that isn’t black-and-white, where really hard decisions have to be made on both sides. Do as the Oankali want, and your children won’t be entirely human. Go against them and you’ll have no children at all. Akin wants to find some sort of middle ground, where those who don’t want to join with the Oankali could be allowed to have purely human children of their own. One of the concerns about allowing unmodified humans to reproduce is the fact that they already destroyed themselves and their civilization once (with a nuclear war), meaning that the Oankali do not want unmodified humans reproducing. Akin is going to have to come up with a creative solution to deal with that.

The characters are complex and interesting. In particular I appreciate seeing more of Lilith, who has had to make so many difficult decisions on behalf of her race. She’s finally developing another relationship with a man named Tino, some years after Joseph was killed. It’s interesting to see both her caring for all of her people, alien, hybrid, or human, as well as her occasional bitterness at having been dropped into a leadership position without her agreement. The aliens seem to have some problems with consent–occasionally they’ll do things they’re asked or told not to because they believe what they want to do is more important, or because they believe the person feels differently than they say they do. Given our current cultural emphasis on consent, it’s a fascinating struggle to read about.

The Human Contradiction held them. Intelligence at the service of hierarchical behavior. They were not free.

The Xenogenesis books contain a riveting account of survivalism, social identity, consent issues, racial identity, and more. I’ve read the first two now from start to finish and been unable to put them down. I’m very much looking forward to book three, Imago.

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