UNCERTAINTY. ALIEN. COPE.
Three words float continuously in Lilith Iyapo’s mind when she awakens in a living alien ship: uncertainty, alien, and cope. She struggles to adjust to her new housemates, the Oankali, who claims to have rescued the “best” humans from earth to preserve humanity after a nuclear world war. You may be wondering, other than the fact that Octavia E. Butler’s Lilith’s Brood, The Xenogenesis Trilogy (1987) is a book series you need to read in a single sitting, why should I care?
LILITH IS HUMAN – LIKE US
Lilith’s journey to learn to accept her new reality to survive mirrors our current challenge to adjust to the everchanging state of our communities and world due to the present-day pandemic. Lilith finds herself trapped in an unfamiliar room after the war. She is overwhelmed by the silence and misery of isolation. Her loneliness is accompanied by her distant recollection of being married and having a child of her own in her previous life. She also recalls having parents, two brothers, and one sister, too. Lilith’s memories return to her when she realizes she does not have anyone to depend on after the war.
LILITH FACES AN UNFORESEEN SITUATION – LIKE US
Lilith’s distress is partially relieved when one of the Oankali beings converses with her. Its short name is Jdahya. Jdahya is without a gender because it is an ooloi whose purpose is to aid others with injuries and assist them with conceiving offspring(s) between mates – Oankali and human mates. Like other Oankali beings, Jdahya has long, slender, grey tentacles that helps it see, feel, converse, and physically engage with other living beings. Because Oankali beings are absent of eyes, they learn from their sense of touch with their tentacles. Their tentacles also help them communicate with their ship. Their ship is a moving, living, and functional planet that responds and communicates to all Oankali beings who are inside it. For example, the ship can be physically manipulated by an Oankali to create and close an opening in a room similar to having a door.
“A dark spot appeared on the wall where [Jdahya] made contact. It became a deepening, widening indentation, then a hole through which Lilith could see color and light… [It] widened as though it were flesh rippling aside, slowly writing. [Lilith] was both fascinated and repelled… The hole in the wall had grown large enough for them to step through” (38-39).
When the Oankali finally ends Lilith’s quarantine, they explain to her the current state of the human race and their intentions to create a mutual relationship with the surviving humans. They want to learn more about human genetic material and create an improved generation of human-alien beings. The humans would have modified genetic material to enhance their immunity and strength to ensure a higher chance of survival on earth meanwhile the Oankali aliens will have the opportunity to experiment and understand human-alien biology.
Interesting Fact: The Oankali are strangely fascinated by the cancer cells found in Lilith’s body. They are captivated by the speed of the cancer cells’ growth. If you read part one “Dawn” of the trilogy, you will learn how they use the cancer cells for “good.” Nevertheless, Lilith chooses to fight for her life to survive when she agrees to cooperate with the aliens and their expected interest in human biology.
WHY WE SHOULD BE LIKE LILITH
Lilith demonstrates high levels of resilience and independence when the Oankali tasks her to awaken, train, and prepare other humans to return to earth. Despite the uncomfortable situation she wakes up to, Lilith continues to find her courage and will to live her life the way she wants. She chooses to focus on her goal to gain back her freedom and control of her life. She wakes her fellow humans and commits to teaching them about their enhanced abilities in hopes that when she completes her task, they can all return to Earth together and live happily. Lilith persists in educating the other humans despite the individuals who are either in denial of their situation or refuses to “submit” to the Oankali.
I believe every story shares a different perspective than our own that we can all learn. We can either act on the lessons from the stories or learn about another point of view to understand a situation with a different approach – either way, we will be a tad wiser than we were before.
Three ideas you should learn from part one “Dawn” of Lilith’s Brood, The Xenogenesis Trilogy are:
1. BE YOUR OWN LILITH
We may not need to live with aliens at this moment in time, but we can learn to be patient and persistent with adjusting to new lifestyles like Lilith. Learn a new skill and remember to be patient and hopeful. Change takes time but is worth the time when you work hard and smart to accomplish your goal. Lilith’s character is admirable because of her determination to seek a life she wants to live. Unlike the other humans on the Oankali ship, Lilith’s strength is not defined by her physical abilities and enhanced immune system, but by the will of her mind. If Lilith can survive and cooperate with an alien species, we can also learn gradually to cope with different lifestyle changes.
2. LET’S AVOID LIVING LILITH’S WORLD
Although Lilith’s adventure is riveting with the post-apocalyptic setting and interaction with aliens, I would prefer to live on the current state of our planet. We can improve the state of our home. We can apply the same concentration Lilith has toward reducing our carbon footprint and ensure a cleaner and greener future for us to appreciate. With longer line-ups and wait times at large grocery stores, all of us can adapt by creating our own garden or shopping at local grocery markets. We can save time and money in the long run with these small changes to our lifestyles.
3. READ THE BOOK (or the entire series)
According to Indie Wire (https://www.indiewire.com/2020/02/dawn-ava-duvernay-amazon-series-1202213726/), Amazon Studios and MACRO Television Studios are in the works on bringing part one, “Dawn,” of Lilith’s Brood, The Xenogenesis Trilogy to the screen. What better time to read the series? You will be ready for all those discussions about the show and can further appreciate the story and the characters on screen.
What lessons have you learned from the stories you have read?
Butler, Octavia E. Lilith’s Brood, The Xenogenesis Trilogy Volume 1: Dawn. New York City, Grand Central Publishing, 1987.
1. “Calm ocean at golden hour” by Aadesh Choudhari via Unsplash; https://unsplash.com/photos/cRHlop9xmlE.
2. “Five green plants photo” by chuttersnap via Unsplash; https://unsplash.com/photos/UmncJq4KPcA.
3. “Person holding string lights on opened bok” by Nong Vang via Unsplash; https://unsplash.com/photos/9pw4TKvT3po.