Future Technology

Octavia Butler must have had quite a few issues arise when she began her novel that is set thirty years in the future. One of the hardest I believe she must have had to contend with was that of technology; how can you predict what technological advances will be made in thirty years? She does an eloquent job utlizing different techniques for various areas. The first obvious mention of technology that came up in Parable of the Sower was that designed for space. In 2024 there are somewhat frequent trips to Mars and serious notions of colonizing the planet. The heroine, Lauren, believes that space is where the country needs to head in order to improve. When Butler wrote this in 1993, the Cold War had just ended and the explorations of space were still fresh in everyone’s mind. But as the ’90s wore on the millenium came and went, space became less popular and interests in it dwindled. To write her novel, Butler used what was most prevalent in her time and imagined a future where those interests prevailed. She was bold to declare this, and she is less so with other technologies.

One of the most surprising objects she glances over is the giant televisions that apparently populated almost every household before the decline of the country. These televisions cover entire walls, and Butler only mentions this sparingly when in 1993 that idea must have seemed absurd. Today, though, that is more likey to become a reality before 2024, and every family will be watching the Superbowl on their wall-sized TV within the next decade. This is one instance where Butler predicted correctly, because she saw that television wasn’t a passing technology and it would advance quickly. She had to include entertainment in her novel somehow, and she was very intelligent in the way that she did so.

In the case of guns, I think Butler played it incredibly safe. She names a few guns that the Olamina family owns and is sure to mention that they’re old and not the best gun one could get on the market. Butler knew that she couldn’t guess what kind of weaponry people would have in 2024, so she used names she was familiar with and knew her audience would recognize.

I think this novel shows how difficult it is to predict accurately where technology is headed. Some people thought that by now we would be speaking to our computers rather than typing on them, but we haven’t lost that need for tactile sensation. Even people who study this area and make the most precise predictions as they possible can aren’t right. Butler does a good job making her world both familiar and different at the same time, which creates a sense of believability. Because she wasn’t so outrageous with the technologies she chose we’re more likely to focus on the characters and their development, which I believe is her intention.

1 comment

  1. Professor Sample’s avatar

    It’s intriguing that Lauren takes almost the same position on space exploration as the characters did in Lucifer’s Hammer fifteen years later. It makes me wonder, is Butler’s overall view of technology more like Niven and Pournelle’s or more like DeLillo, with his skepticism and focus on the “integral accident” of technology?

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