I picked this book up because Audible put it on sale. I’d been impressed by Octavia Butler’s work before, so I shouldn’t have been surprised here. Despite being written over thirty years ago, Dawn feels like a modern work of science fiction. It challenges traditional takes on gender roles and subverts many of the classic alien invasion narratives.
First of all, the aliens in Dawn are truly alien. Don’t expect any little green men with a fondness for invasive probes. Instead, tentacled aliens with a penchant for genetic manipulation and scientific progress decide to help humanity survive a nuclear apocalypse of its own making.
If that doesn’t sound so bad… well, that’s the point. Octavia Butler imagines an alien takeover where we’re expected to side with the aliens, and it works. As the point of view character, Lillith’s biggest challenge is getting other humans to accept the rule of their alien saviors. After all, we all know how alien invasions go, right?
Dawn combines the classic alien invasion narrative with that of simple survival. I fell in love with Hatchet by Gary Paulsen for the powerful human vs. nature plotline, and that’s a central part of this novel as well. Lillith must teach the remnants of humanity how to survive on a post-apocalyptic planet. And yet, the actual details of survival are glossed over in favor of greater philosophical questions. Is it okay to accept alien domination if it means the human race can survive? And is survival an acceptable end goal when surviving requires evolving into something that may no longer be human?
The complexity of these questions made the story feel fresh and modern. Even so, certain aspects left me a little uncomfortable. There are mind-melding three-way sexual experiences between humans and aliens that raise uncomfortable questions of consent. Because ultimately, while humans might say one thing and mean another, ignoring verbal consent for something “deeper” is troubling at best.
But again, that might be the point. With such a legitimately alien species, there are bound to be cultural differences that are difficult to wrap our heads around.
But I did love this story, and it’s left me thinking about it ever since I finished reading it. Octavia Butler is a masterful writer and giant in the field of science fiction, and Dawn is the start of a compelling series. Even decades after its publication, there’s much to enjoy in and learn from this series. I’m excited to dig into the sequels and see how the story concludes.