-- Nancy Lebovitz, rasfw
It's 2024, and in Los Angeles anarchy reigns. There is some semblance of civilisation (electricity, telephones, computers, TV, even a Mars mission), but only for the rich. And it's crumbling all the time. Lauren Olamina lives in a small walled neighbourhood, which manages to maintain a vestige of civilisation, by keeping out the street people and gangs. But she can see that things are steadily getting worse, and so plans for the day the wall is breached. She spends some of the time developing her own new religion --- Earthseed. She is also a 'sharer', crippled with hyperempathy syndrome, which means she shares the pain (and, in this grim world, much less frequent pleasure) of others. But she's no wimp, and when her community is destroyed, she sets out on a long journey northwards, with an ever-growing band of followers, to form the first Earthseed community. The creed of Earthseed is 'God is Change'; the Destiny of Earthseed is 'to take root among the stars'.
Octavia Butler manages to evoke a vivid image of civilisation caught mid-decline. Rather than the more usual post-apocalypse novel, this depicts a slow but inevitable descent into barbarism, where enough of the old world is still around for people to realise what they're losing. It's brilliantly, if grimly, depicted, by following the viewpoint of Lauren Olamina as she grows to adulthood through various crises. Interwoven with this is her development of a new religion, Earthseed.
I'm not too keen on the religion side of it (although I have a feeling that it is supposed to be the important point), but the grimly painted future and the gutsy, competent protagonist make this a memorable read.