The Unfinished Future of Earthseed

Attentive readers that you are, you’ll have noticed that Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower is followed by a sequel, Parable of the Talents, which was published five years later in 1998. Butler worked for years to write a third book in the series, Parable of the Trickster, but never completed it (or, it’s worth adding, the three more sequels she hoped to write after it — for a total of six).

In this essay, Gerry Canavan — who’s writing a book on Butler’s work — describes what he found while looking through her piles of notes on the unfinished third book. Among the manuscripts he found this epigraph, which haunts me when I think of it (which I do often):

There’s nothing new

under the sun,

but there are new suns.

SPOILER ALERT if you intend to read Parable of the Talents (Canavan refers to its final chapter in this review). I’ve included below Canavan’s description of the events of Talents. Click “Read more” to see it.

The two published Earthseed books trace the tribulations of Olamina’s early life and her efforts to find some safe space for her nascent utopian community in the desperate and increasingly fascistic America of the coming decades. But the last chapter of Talents skips ahead to the end of the story: jumping forward six decades, the epilogue sees a very aged Olamina, now world-famous, witnessing the launch of the first Earthseed ship carrying interstellar colonists off the planet as she’d dreamed. Only the name of the spaceship gives us pause: against Olamina’s wishes the ship has been named the Christopher Columbus, suggesting that perhaps the Earthseeders aren’t escaping the nightmare of history at all, but bringing it with them instead.

And there Butler left it. The long-promised third book, Parable of the Trickster, never arrived.

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