Dawn by Octavia E. Butler – Book Review

Dawn by Octavia E. Butler - Book Cover

The Earth’s got a tough deal. Octavia E. Butler’s “Dawn” serves up a background story where it’s not global warming or some similar modern catastrophe that puts us on the skids, as we’re just starting to experience firsthand, but rather the good ol’ Americans and Soviets doing the orthodox thing, nuking each other. Small detail. Here come the aliens, scooping up quite a few survivors. After a few centuries, they pull them out of cryo, and give them a choice: you can start afresh on the planet and mess it up again, assuming you agree to bear common offspring with us.

Big question: would you be down for a little hanky-panky with a tentacled alien if it meant the survival of your species? Hell yeah? Bucket on their heads and let’s go?

Of course, it’s not that simple. According to Butler’s “Dawn’s” somewhat sluggish story, the aliens’ obsession is the shared offspring. Just because. There isn’t really a sensible explanation for it, just the occasional clumsy excuse or exaggerated enthusiasm for our restless species’ gene pool.

From the closed spaces of the alien’s plant-based spaceship (haha! – in Saga, this might actually work), you initially associate more with chamber drama than sci-fi, and when the awakened characters multiply, you might think of a cross between The Real World and Naked and Afraid. There’s a bit too much soul-searching going on. And to top it off, the space manipulators, alongside their calm indifference, mostly try to achieve their goals through emotional blackmail.

And humans… humans are, well, humans. They are jerks. Impatient, clueless, and as usual, bickering; and whoever feels stronger than others also throws a few punches. But eventually – presumably against Octavia E. Butler’s intentions – you realize you can’t fully condemn them either, because in their sly, passive-aggressive way, the aliens are just as big jerks. And dirty MOLESTERS too.

Hard sci-fi? Yeah, my ass! “Dawn” is more like a promising basic idea clumsily unfolded, resembling at times a better-executed amateur novel.


Dawn (Xenogenesis #1) by Octavia E. Butler
248 pages, Paperback
Published in 1997 by Warner Books

UPDATE: Warning! The sequel goes even more off the rails. Just read the damn blurb, and you’ll rate it below 5/10 sight unseen…

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