Olamina is struggling to build a community and a new faith called Earthseed in a post cataclysmic California in which the government is in the process of being taken over by a fundamentalist denomination known as Christian America, education has become a luxury or something that must be arranged privately, and the poor routinely find themselves sold into slavery, and all of it is frighteningly believable. I can't comment on how possible it all seemed when it was first published, but thirteen years later it strikes me as one of the most prescient books that I've ever read. Earthseed teaches that God is Change, the only lasting truth, and that people can shape Change just as Change shapes them.
And yet, as dark as the book is, so full of violence and despair, it ends with hope. Olamina begins to find supporters at the end of the book's main timeline; in the farther-future timeline, in which her daughter pieces together bits of her mother's journal along with occasional additions from her father and her uncle in order to tell the story, we are told that Christian America is now just one denomination among many. Although Olamina's daughter explains from her experience that a CA family might believe that a woman who moves out of her parents' house before marrying is more or less a prostitute, there's no law that keeps her from doing so. She's not the property of her father until she becomes the property of her husband, and neither does a male guardian have to manage her finances or own/rent the place where she lives. In short, America did not go the way of The Handmaid's Tale. And if the chaos just sort of passing and normality returning might seem narratively strange, without the drama of massive resistance movements, it also seems quite natural in its way that the country would just reject the CA movement when it became clear they did not have the answers.
Butler said that she planned to write a third book about the Earthseed communities who colonize other planets. Although I wish that there was much more of her work to read and that she was still alive and writing more of it, I actually do not miss the opportunity to read that particular book, and it makes perfect sense to me that Butler turned her attention to writing Fledgling instead. We know that Olamina herself did not go to the stars. Her story is over, and over so perfectly that I'm afraid any more might detract from it.
Overall Grade: A+