I'm reading through three lists of best horror with two friends (DeAnna Knippling and M.B. Partlow), posting reviews as we go. (For more information, including a list of the books, see this post.) To see the books I've reviewed so far, you can view the list at the end of this post where I rank them.
This week I'm reviewing Dawn (Xenogenesis, Book 1), by Octavia E. Butler.
First, I'm going to get this out of the way: not horror. It's science fiction. I'm going to review it anyway.
It was an interesting story. A woman awakens in a strange enclosed space. An alien lifeform with tentacles on its face tells her she must grow used to its form before she can leave the room with living walls. It is explained to her that humanity all but killed itself off, but that these aliens, the Oankali, grabbed up those few survivors remaining and brought them up to their ship. It has been centuries since they picked them up, keeping them in a sleep while the Oankali repaired the Earth.
This woman, Lilith Iyapo, is expected to allow genetic modifications and then to lead a group of humans in training so they can all return to Earth. But humans being humans, they don't understand what has happened, and they meet Lilith with varying levels of aggression, disbelief, disgust, and hatred.
In this way, the book can be considered a type of intellectual horror, like Lord of the Flies. It's an examination of humanity, and an ugly look at the self-destruction of humans. Put a group of them together and see who destroys who first.
Two types of rape are addressed in this story: an attempt at physical rape and actual psychological rape (you'd have to read to understand what I mean by this). Relationships and sexuality are also explored.
What little hope there is in this book is overshadowed by the horror that is humanity. However, it's a fascinating exploration of both humanity and what could be with alien life forms who mean well in some ways, but also have their own agenda. At times, the humans meant to be "bad" were too severely bullying for me, and I didn't always agree with the actions of the main character, but it was overall a good book. It became slow at some points, but picked back up. I wouldn't continue reading the series, but I would pick up a different book by this author. It should be mentioned that science fiction is my least favorite aspect of speculative fiction, and not a genre I read much of. If you are a sci-fi buff, know that this is not hard sci-fi. It is more about culture and psychology.
My new rankings:
1. The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood)
2. The Bottoms (Joe R. Lansdale)
3. Coraline (Neil Gaiman)
4. A Choir of Ill Children (Tom Piccirilli)
5. The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2010 (Paula Guran)
6. The Year’s Best Fantasy: First Annual Collection (Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling)
7. Needful Things (Stephen King)
8. Those Who Hunt the Night (Barbara Hambly)
9. Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror (Ellen Datlow)
10. Dawn (Xenogenesis, Book 1) (Octavia E. Butler)
11. The Stranger (Albert Camus)
12. Dead in the Water (Nancy Holder)
13. The Witches (Roald Dahl)
14. Psycho (Robert Bloch)
15. The Damnation Game (Clive Barker)
16. The Wolf's Hour (Robert McCammon)
17. Berserk (Tim Lebbon)
18. Prime Evil (Douglas E. Winter)
19. Best New Horror, Volume 1 (edited by Stephen Jones and Ramsey Campbell)
20. Flowers in the Attic (V.C. Andrews)
21. The Tomb (F. Paul Wilson)
22. Shadowland (Peter Straub)
23. Blood Meridian (Cormac McCarthy)
24. The Imago Sequence (Laird Barron)
25. My Soul to Keep (Tananarive Due)
26. Penpal (Dathan Auerbach)
27. World War Z (Max Brooks)
28. From the Dust Returned (Ray Bradbury)
29. The Red Tree (Caitlin R. Kiernan)
30. In Silent Graves (Gary A. Braunbeck)
31. The Cipher (Kathe Koja)
32. Drawing Blood (Poppy Z. Brite)
33. The Doll Who Ate His Mother (Ramsey Campbell)
34. Hotel Transylvania (Chelsea Quinn Yarbro)
35. Naked Lunch (William S. Burroughs)
The next book I'll be reviewing is IQ84, by Haruki Murakami.
Have you read this book or anything by this author? What did you think? Did you find the breakdown of "humanity" to be realistic? What would you agree to if you woke up on a spaceship? Any other books by this author you'd recommend?
May you find your Muse.