Parable Series by Octavia Butler Conversation 4: Parable of the Talents Chapters 1-12

Parable Series by Octavia Butler Conversation 4

Parable of the Talents Chapters 1-12

Readers Underground participants:

Geoffrey Edwards
Jocelyne Kiss
Marco Morelli
Dona Abbadi
Douglas Duff
Mary Thaler
Miranda Iossifidis

Recorded 12 September, 2018

The group discusses:

  • The harsh realities experienced by characters of the novel
  • Relevance to/ reflection of current world-wide socio-political realities
  • The experienced emotional force while reading + the typically unearthed emotional factors in religious thinking.
  • The depths of Butler‚Äôs characters + their development and relationships with other characters throughout the novels

The group asked and reflected upon questions of purpose and destiny; religion and relevance; chaos and modes of change; collective vision: creative vs destructive; local & nation-state; is Earthseed a viable religion?



About Octavia Butler : "Octavia Butler passed away on February 24th, 2006 at the age of only 58, leaving behind a body of work whose influence cannot be exaggerated. Butler was a Black, female genre writer at a time when science fiction was still seen by many as the territory of white men. Her writing centered on women of color in a way few narratives then did, and posited that empathy could be humanity’s saving grace. As today’s environmental and human rights crises make painfully clear, Butler’s work is only going to become more relevant and necessary as time goes on. " - Carolyn Cox, The Portalist, 2018, URL : 1

Seed Questions

  • What brings you to this group? What do you know about Octavia Butler and why are you drawn to read her books?
  • What do we think about Butler‚Äôs religious ideas? Are they viable? What do they tell us about both the power of religion and its limitations?
  • Butler paints a bleak portrait of the future. Do we agree that this is a likely future? Or is it overly pessimistic?

Upcoming sessions

All sessions will occur 10 AM- 12PM MDT; 12 PM - 2 PM EDT

In your timezone: 4:00:00 PM ‚Üí 6:00:00 PM


Week 8 (Sept. 26th): Parable of the Talents - Ch. 13-21 + Epilogue
Week 11 (Oct. 17th): Parable of the Talents - Wrap-up
(skipped the 10th week because of the Gebser conference)


For more information about Butler and her books, refer back to the [announcement thread. (

My book arrived yesterday so I haven’t completed the scheduled reading. I will get caught up and continue with the group next time. Have fun!

We briefly discussed using this short story by Octavia Butler as a potential additional element to our Wrap-up discussion. It can also be found in her short story collection Bloodchild (though only in the 2005 edition). I am in love with this story. It gracefully corrals many of Butler’s/the Parables’ themes into a more user-friendly setting (the emotional requirements are minimal!) and gives voice to Butler; one could say that she wrote herself and her vision into this story.

In Butler’s own (after)words:


‚ÄúThe Book of Martha‚ÄĚ is my utopia story. I don‚Äôt like most utopia stories because I don‚Äôt believe them for a moment. It seems inevitable that my utopia would be someone else‚Äôs hell. So, of course, I have God demand of poor Martha that she come up with a utopia that would work. And where else could it work but in everyone‚Äôs private, individual dreams?

A summary is also on this wikipedia page.


Doug’s excessive, mostly unnecessary notes (made as wiki; insert corrections and comments at will!)

Links provided by Miranda:

TIME: 8 Books That Eerily Predicted the Future

Prospecting Futures Online (Miranda’s research project; sign-up by following the link)

0:01 - 5:30 - Introductions, Check-ins and Orientation

5:30 - Initial Reflections

Themes of loss, bleak realities, relevance to/ reflection of current socio-political realites


Mary - notes the harshness of the story; loss of children

Geoffrey - Butler sets us up for the harshness, the loss

Marco - only the latest in the string of calamities; Butler now introducing the political, militant mind; notes Jarret’s religious fundamentalism; the loss of significant others a strong theme (Dan); notes Butler’s own diffuculty with writing this depressing material.

Mary: not here in US (yet), but in the world there is this calamity

Doug: prophetic voice as a warning

14:09 Enter Dona: loves the book…Butlers character development; Talent has more depth; Sower introduces us to the world, Talents broadens the themes

Butler’s Storytelling methods + Depth of Characters

Marcos, Larkin, Seeds of Doubt + Character perspectives, storytelling, intergenerational dynamics


Mary: discussing Marcos; his call to be a religious leader…

Doug: Talents introduces seeds of doubt against Earthseed as a religion; Marco

Dona: who is telling the story? …is it a discovery of the journals…now we see that this is a future generation revisiting the history; from literature POV: who is telling the story; Larkin, reviewing the story of her mother; the book has great character depth…. Lauren is idealistic in Sower….Marco helps her face reality.

Mary: notes the interview of Butler: decision for mother-daughter relationship

Geoffrey: Bankole; the book who are considered heroic are women…gives voice to masculine with Marcos and Bankole

Doug: notes Marcos’ real experience of pain

Marco: Larkin’s subtle pain; without the mother she needed; the delusional vision got her killed, father killed…; other perspectives adding depth;

Miranda: intergenerational significance; coming to the surface in fragments and glimpses; the counteracting elements introduced

Mary: Acorn’s build-up and then wipe out; takes guts as a writer

Emotional requirements of the text


29:38 - Jocelyne: A flow from head to toe: the emotional connection to book’s dystopian pain was too much…hard to detach; in the religious meaning: demonstrates that meaning of life is not what you think it is and religion cannot define your meaning of life; you are the change….very powerful to realize this; loss of children is worst nightmare. Sad and powerful…Butler does not allow us to escape the emotional logic of it…submerging us (and characters) into the darkest side of reality; questions deeply how we build our reality…without social obligations

Mary: reminds her of hyperempathy

Geoffrey: reading in chunks; Lauren as a static in Sower ‚ÄĒ> plastic in Talents

40:10 -Marco Plants Seed Questions:

What are the ways that people collectively orient around transcendent goals?


Marco: Question of purpose and destiny; Bankole vs Olamina; human’s need a purpose, without it, humans fall apart; her religion

What are the ways that people collectively orient around transcendent goals? WHat happens if we dont?

Mary: raised as Methodist (resisted the transcendent; whats a church for? Whats a family for? Human relationships have intrinsic value vs scientific values

Geoffrey: the discussion about the space program (dismantling) wasnt a part of the public discourse in 1900s; now questioning; now the private industry leading the argument…may be necessary; religious tones…it is more about building the visions of the future

Doug: Lauren’s immediate community building

Mary: likes the practical, the immediate practical translates into immediate concrete action

52:00 - Does this answer as a religion?


Mary: yes: she is answering all the questions of religion

Geoffrey: gives a sense of security? Not quite, other than a communal security; Quakers are open to questioning

Mary: gives people a sense of power of the world, over the world

Geoffrey: immanent vs transcendent

Miranda: more about political organizing than religious; the fragility and engaging with intentional communities.

Mary: Intentional communities; a testament of Lauren’ s personality and strength

Marco: the imprisonment a blow to the goal of Earthseed

Mary: notes that Butler allows characters to be wrong, to face unsuccessful endeavors

Jocelyne: Children‚Äôs role; the feeding of knowledge‚Ķemotional detachment; for Lauren, emotion is reality‚Ķtrying to get everyone on the same page emotionally. To be out of tune with the emotions (lose children ‚ÄĒ> into despair), they cannot commune. Leading us to a spiritual POV through emotional understanding and process of developing alternate point of view. The text shows a realistic POV about a typically unearthed religious emotional.

Marco: Butler allows herself to be questioned in her characters; her religion strings together observations (from various religions); we would find that they make sense. It is philosophy as much as fiction. The desire for stellar vision is real.

1:15:20 - More Themes of the Book:

Begin nation-state identity vs localized identity; use of war metaphors; creative vs destructive collective visions; chaos and modes of change


Geoffrey: nation-states in decide, thus no support for

1:20 - Jocelyne: study of youth and nationalism vs peace; view of a shared nation not working; religion can behave as a nation

Mary: replace the nation-state? What matters is local

Jocelyne: big vision not the answer, yes…to have a big vision in the face of change is to be limited, to forget our daily changing mind…

Geoffrey: a war is coming; she focuses on the larger while remaining in the smaller…

Marco: Jarrett stoking the jingoistic mind…get rid of the heathens…the larger identity reflects too this smaller identity. We need the nation-state.

Miranda: the European border tightening an issue; the various factors of our current nation relations and the book‚Ķwar; the US ‚ÄúWar on‚Ķ‚ÄĚ as silly rhetoric ‚Äú

Marco and Geoffrey note the ‚Äúwar on‚ÄĚ metaphor; using in medical terms nonsense.

Jocelyne: war as catharsis

Doug: reading from Chapter 2

Marco: the collective vision: creative vs destructive; In reality, this is a great question…local, trbalism….emotional life fulfilled in smaller groups

Geoffrey: issue of immigration in Canada (Party Quebequis) ; (issues of US/Mexico; global warming)

Miranda: Project of collective reading and futures.

Dona: Middle East; after postcolonial, living in nation states; Lauren created the new system of belief, but the setting and chaos is not ready for the full vision, Lauren’s drug is religion…hated Lauren for ; would this religion create a meaning for Dona? The answers are not there…they/she was not open…

Mary: agrees

Geoffrey: is Earthseed a viable vs is it convincing for me?

Marco: modern religions enbrace an active role for human agency and shaping God (conscious evolution)

Geoffrey - notes book

Marco: faith in literature; religion as prolific; reads to figure out the future.

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Appreciate this story being posted for those who don’t have the book. But…
the reader’s voice seems to have a distinctly robotic quality…too-even times between words and sentences, odd pronunciations, odd modulations or a lack of moduation…etc. Is this an AI reader??

Yes! I thought about recording my own version of the story to have available, since listening to a machine reader does take away the proper pronunciations, the flow of intonations, modulations…but I am not the best reader either. You would definitely recognize the human in my attempts! The machine voice is approaching a closeness to the human. Hope these bots didn’t ruin the reading/listening experience for you.

I confess I did have a hard time with it yes! I may be over=senstive because Voice means so much to me.
Definitely would prefer yours!

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Hi all, are we still meeting on Wednesday? I’ve been reading this article which is interesting

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Looking forward to Wednesday. The thread link with Zoom ID can be found below:

On the Electra Street article:

The author states that the Parables can be seen ‚Äúas ‚Äėrealist‚Äô science fiction that predicts the convergent twenty-first century crises of capitalism, climate, and humanism.‚ÄĚ What intrigues me most about the article is the author‚Äôs depiction of the ‚ÄúDestiny‚ÄĚ and hyperempathy as offering a new basis for humanism. She attempts to divert our attention away from envisioning Lauren‚Äôs ‚ÄúDestiny‚ÄĚ as offering a tangible heaven, an alternative to Christianity‚Äôs unknown heaven (outside of scripture) and towards seeing the ‚ÄúDestiny‚ÄĚ as a material ‚Äúheaven,‚ÄĚ an alternative to capitalistic dreams.
The author quotes the book:

Lauren responds that the Destiny offers ‚Äúa unifying, purposeful life here on Earth, and the hope of heaven ‚Ķ A real heaven, not mythology or philosophy. A heaven that will be theirs to shape‚ÄĚ

…we mainly focused on the religious side of Lauren’s religion. And perhaps we did discuss how her Destiny provides grounds for a new humanism, though without labelling it as such. Thanks for the link!

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