Imago by Butler, Octavia, 1989

Imago by Butler, Octavia - Book cover from

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Here is a link to a review of the entire Lilith's Brood trilogy.

Where Dawn is the genesis of Octavia Butler's Lilith's Brood trilogy, and Adulthood Rites is the antithesis, Imago must certainly be the synthesis that brings the divided together in harmony. Without knowing anything personal about the late Butler at all, I suspect that this is what she had in mind when drafting this final installment of the Xenogenesis Trilogy.

Imago is the story of one of Lilith's construct children, Jodahs, a product of the same five-individual union that produced Akin, the main character in Adulthood Rites. The main difference being that Jodahs has inadvertently matured into an ooloi, rather than the male Oankali that everyone thought he would be. This causes several huge problems for the construct race, and its human and Oankali parents. Nikanj, as the ooloi mate of Lilith and parent of of Jodahs is viewed as a failure for preventing this unstoppable metamorphosis from beginning, despite the fact that he may be the most brilliant geneticist the Oankali have ever known. Nikanj is the first and closest ooloi to humans, and is very adept at modifying and using human cancer cells, which he discovered in Lilith before the Oankali started their breeding plan with humans. It was literally like gold to them, as it was essentially proto-human cells that were capable of rapid, and with Oankali nudging, controllable and steerable growth. With this new tool the Oankali were able to accomplish miraculous feats of biological engineering, and heal any injury to any human, even the loss of a limb and brain damage. Jodahs, as Lilith's child, was genetically predisposed to cancer. When he started his metamorphosis to ooloi it was quickly realized that he had the potential to kill with a touch, and as an immature member of his species, he was very likely to do just that. On top of that, Oankali planning had previously ruled out the possibility of any construct ooloi because all the potential human mates were aging. Remember, Oankali had denied resister humans the rights to procreate, because their plan was to evolve their towns into ships and take massive chunks of the Earth when they leave. The departure would have been after all the humans had died of old age. Since all the other non-resisters had joined family groups, there was nobody left for Jodahs to mate with on Earth. Because of the risk posed by Jodahs, he and his family voluntarily exiled themselves to the jungle until Jodahs could get his incredible powers under control. While the family was in the jungle, another younger sibling of Jodahs also began to metamorphisize into an ooloi, contributing to the problem.

The thing that I love about this book is that it stands as much more than a conclusion to a very fine trilogy. It does do that, and it wraps up the story quite well and at a pace in accord with the pace of the first two novels. But more than that it is a true synthesis; a true depiction of synergy between the human and Oankali races that does not defile any of its deeply complex literary premises. As much as Dawn is the story of the mating from a human perspective, and Adulthood Rites is told from the perspective of a construct male, Imago wraps things up from the perspective of a construct ooloi while bringing in the Oankali perspective as well. The creation of the construct ooloi brings a strength and vigor to the new race that not even the Oankali were able to foresee. Jodahs is everything that Oankali are and much more. He is capable of virtually any act of healing that is asked of him, and he is capable of manipulating his own genes and body structures at will. But he is also human enough to begin to bring resister into the fold is a way that Akin missed. Where Akin strove to identify with his human heritage and executed a plan to terraform Mars for humans only, Jodahs was able to truly show resisters that not only would their humanity and their genes go forward, but that their lives would be richer, fuller and happier by staying with the Dinso Oankali. And in that sense this book is transformational in a way that the other two books are not.

Copyright 2008, Gregory Tidwell

There is a lot more to consider in this book. Please have a look at the trilogy review under the title Lilith's Brood.

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 4 star(s)


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