Dawn (Xenogenesis #1) – Octavia E. Butler

Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Pages: 320
Release Date: April 27, 2021 (first published May 1987)

Lilith Iyapo has just lost her husband and son when atomic fire consumes Earth—the last stage of the planet’s final war. Hundreds of years later Lilith awakes, deep in the hold of a massive alien spacecraft piloted by the Oankali—who arrived just in time to save humanity from extinction. They have kept Lilith and other survivors asleep for centuries, as they learned whatever they could about Earth. Now it is time for Lilith to lead them back to her home world, but life among the Oankali on the newly resettled planet will be nothing like it was before.

The Oankali survive by genetically merging with primitive civilizations—whether their new hosts like it or not. For the first time since the nuclear holocaust, Earth will be inhabited. Grass will grow, animals will run, and people will learn to survive the planet’s untamed wilderness. But their children will not be human. Not exactly. 


Ever since reading The Parabole of the Sower I knew I had to read more of Octavia E. Butler’s work. Enter Dawn. I’ve had Dawn on my TBR on and off for a couple years now because I couldn’t find an edition I liked. Insert eye roll. But after finding this new edition, I picked it up immediately.

Dawn is weird. Readers follow Lilith as she wakes from an extended sleep to find out humans essentially ended themselves and extra-terrestrial beings called the Oankali saved a few humans, healed the earth, and want to send them back, but for a price.

Throughout Dawn, Butler explores themes of gender, sex, love, and free will but through an interspecies lens. Though it was originally published in 1997, Butler’s depiction of gender as a fluid state reads as especially poignant. Butler slowly acclimates readers to the Oankali and their ways. It’s unnerving and jarring at times. Readers get a sense of unease and alien-ness from them, but not in the way you’d expect. 

Side note: I especially love Butler’s decision to name the main character Lilith. 

Overall, Dawn is a thought provoking first contact novel that explores themes of gender, sex, and love through interspecies relationships. Butler’s writing is clear and concise making Dawn an easy read despite its heavier topics.

Have you read Dawn? What did you think?

2 thoughts on “Dawn (Xenogenesis #1) – Octavia E. Butler

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