Immersed as I was in the first few chapters of Octavia Butler's “Parable of the Talents,” I almost missed the present-day connection all-but-hidden on page 21. The year is 2032 and Senator Andrew Steele Jarret is running for President in the hardened chaos of what is left of the United States of America. In her diaries, the late Lauren Olamina, founder of Earthseed, the religion and community she created out of the chaos, expressed her fears for Jarret's political success. Lauren and her followers believe Jarret's extremist, divisive tactics make their small community a target for his supporters, who have been known to go after non-conformists with a violent mob. Above all this, the most frightening aspect of Jarret was something I believe people around the world are fearing today: his ominously familiar campaign slogan, “Help us to make America great again.” Although I can't say I was surprised when presented with the villainous President's likeness to Republican Candidate Donald Trump, I was impressed with how spot-on it was considering Butler, like most of us, probably could have never seen Trump's candidacy coming. There are numerous other references to Jarret's fanatical, empty solutions that serve to strengthen the argument that science fiction literature expresses our fears of the future.
“Jarret insists on being a throwback to some earlier, 'simpler' time. Now does not suit him. Religious tolerance does not suit him.” (20)
“Think Ramiro,” I said. “Jarret doesn't have any answers! How will lynching people, burning their churches, and starting wars help your kids to live?” (28)
“Interesting that they fear Edward Jay Smith's supposed incompetence more than they fear Jarret's obvious tyranny” (29)
Published in 1998, “Parable of the Talents” is the second in a series of novels that explores how the issues of Butler's time, such as environmental abuse, poverty, poor leadership, and social inequality can evolve to eventually destroy the world as we know it. Butler's writing is uncomfortably clear about what could happen should society choose to ignore these problems. Today we can see how this ignorance has manifested itself in a candidate that seems to embody all of them. Finding this connection between the character and the candidate reminded me to be more aware of the patterns we are creating. How will the choices we make today affect the choices we will have in the future?
Header image by the talented John Jennings