Grasping the bigger, more significant perspectives of your era can sometimes be a challenge when all you have at your disposal is the sluggish, old human sensory apparatus. Our 2017 brains have limited processing capabilities, which makes it difficult to comprehend and analyze the total sum of everything that goes on around us. When you’re caught in the hurricane of all these overwhelming, hectic impulses and impressions, your memory is compromised and your ability to make connections between cultural, technological and political events is stretched beyond its means like a cheap balloon enlarged by the ruddy cheeks of an overzealous 7-year-old.
However, some people, particularly certain science-fiction writers, are blessed with the ability to make those connections, enabling them to process the relevant information of the present and make startlingly accurate predictions about the future. Cases in point are George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four“, Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” and, as it was just highlighted in the New Yorker yesterday, Octavia Butler’s 1998 novel ‘Parable of the Talents.’
I have to admit that I’d never heard of Butler (despite Queen Beyoncé mining Octavia for inspiration on her latest album), but that’s an oversight I intend to rectify posthaste. As Abby Aguirre puts it:
‘In the ongoing contest over which dystopian classic is most applicable to our time, Octavia Butler’s “Parable” books may be unmatched.’
Lately, with the rise of Trump, people have been falling over themselves in the quest to name the classic dystopian book that most aptly describes the present ‘Trumpified’ moment. Orwell’s media-controlled totalitarianism and Huxley’s culture held captive by trivial hedonism are inevitable science-fictional touchstones, but maybe Octavia Butler’s ‘prescient vision of a zealot elected to make America great again’ (actual words) is the novel that got it right. In ‘Parable of the Talents’:
‘The Donner Administration has written off science, but a more immediate threat lurks: a violent movement is being whipped up by a new Presidential candidate, Andrew Steele Jarret, a Texas senator and religious zealot who is running on a platform to “make American great again.’
In 2120, you might be asking yourself why we’re not doing anything if some people can see the train hurtling at us at breakneck speed. I can only say: good question. At the moment, a lot of people don’t really seem to care what smart novelists have to say.