Imago, by Octavia E. Butler

The trilogy, billed first as Xenogenesis and then as Lilith’s Brood, closes with more insight on the human condition from the vantage point of maturity. (Am I a grown-up, now?)

“Humans said one thing with their bodies and another with their mouths and everyone had to spend time and energy figuring out what they really meant. And once we did understand them, the Humans got angry and acted as though we had stolen thoughts from their minds.” (p. 548)

Why are we so reluctant to be known? And what is the crime of understanding?

“…the ooloi perceived all that a living being said – all words, all gestures, and a vast array of other internal and external bodily responses. Ooloi absorbed everything and acted according to whatever consensus they discovered. Thus ooloi treated individuals as they treated groups of beings. They sought a consensus. If there was none, it meant the being was confused, ignorant, frightened, or in some other way not yet able to see its own best interests. The ooloi gave information and perhaps calmness until the could perceive a consensus. Then they acted.” (p. 553)

Jodahs is another child of Lilith, Tino and Nikanj, Dichaan and Ahajas. Jodahs has exceeded the limits of genetic engineering designed to ensure only male and female children, instead becoming ooloi, an ungendered being. “Not being able to go to anyone for comfort…can make you like the lightening – mindless and perhaps deadly” (p. 558).
I have acted “like the lightening” sometimes, in past events and instances I’d rather not remember. Quick anger and deep hurt spark words that leap unbidden from the tongue even before my mind has wrapped itself around them. Then come the rationalizations: the excuses and reasons why, the justifications. None suffice.
Some things, however, must be said.

“There are easier ways to say these things,” it admitted.
“But some things shouldn’t be said easily.” (p. 565)

Jodahs is afraid of causing harm. “Give yourself time. you’re a new kind of being. There’s never been anyone like you before. But there’s no flaw in you. You just need time to find out more about yourself.” (p. 571)
The hard things Nikanj had to say were about killing in self-defense – if absolutely necessary. Such an action is a horror to the Oankali, whose reverence for life exceeds all other imperatives. “Nothing is more tenacious than the life we are made of.” (p. 663)
That is the Oankali religion in a nutshell: “A world of life from apparent death, from dissolution.” (p. 663) I am reminded of Alvin the Maker and quantum physics.
If one accepts the fact of quantum indeterminacy, however unlikely the probability, there remains chance – for life, for change, for health, for happiness, for any good thing (just as equally as, to be fair, any bad thing). One can never predict when, where, how, or why one may discover – in themselves and others –

“the tiny positioning movements of independent life”

Book Two: Adulthood Rites
Book One: Dawn

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