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Imago by Octavia E. Butler

book cover of Imago

I enjoyed this book just as much as the second one in the trilogy, Adulthood Rites. Taking place perhaps fifty years later, this book follows another of Lilith Iyapo's children, Jodahs. Like Adulthood Rites, it's basically a coming-of-age story where the protagonist is not fully human, but a “construct”, half human and half Oankali. Not only that, though, but Jodahs is also neither male nor female – he turns out to be the first-ever construct ooloi (the Oankali third sex).

Not only is Jodahs a sympathetic character whose story is pretty interesting, but the book continues to deal with many of the same issues that the trilogy as a whole has. Is humanity doomed to tear itself apart, no matter what “fresh starts” we're given, or can we be better? Are the Oankali doing the right thing by tinkering with our genetics and cross-breeding with us to eliminate those authoritarian, destructive instincts, or is that wrong regardless of the outcomes, like the resisters believe? And also, while it's not quite as explicit about it as a book like The Left Hand of Darkness, there is some discussion of how difficult humans find it to comprehend the concept of ooloi, of someone who's not a he or she but an “it”. (I feel like these days the concept isn't quite so foreign, and singular “they” has entered into wider use, but there are still a lot of people who don't understand, and might even be hostile to, non-binary people.) Of course here there is the whole non-human aspect to it as well, where the hostility stems from a fear of difference.

Overall, this has been such an excellent, thoughtful series, ruminating on humanity's failings as well as presenting a unique and well-developed alien civilisation. The first book was a bit slow and heavy on the exposition, but the second and third have tied it all together well. Highly recommended.

Books in the Xenogenesis series

  1. Dawn
  2. Adulthood Rites
  3. Imago (you are here)

★★★★

photo of Jessica Smith is a left-wing feminist who loves animals, books, gaming, and cooking; she’s also very interested in linguistics, history, technology and society.