Safeguarding the Seeds of Truth: Colonial Speculation in Octavia E. Butler’s Earthseed Series

Activity: External talk or presentationOral presentation


According to a popular definition, speculative fiction differs from science fiction/fantasy in eschewing the supernatural, limiting its imaginative projections to new combinations of events that have actually occurred. This explains the politicality of speculative fiction: it often contains a warning about potential futures. But what are the risks of elevating the importance of “actual” events in this way? What ontoepistemological presuppositions guide the appeal to reality over the supernatural? In this paper, I argue that political visions of the future speculate in the economic sense of the term, staking their plausibility on the stability of the boundary between fact and fiction. But what this gesture also risks, however inadvertently, is the reinscription of the truth regime that underwrites the colonial logics of race and gender. 
To explain this, I read Octavia E. Butler’s Earthseed books, Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. Butler’s protagonist is Lauren, the young survivor of near-apocalyptic social collapse who wanders the wasteland of early twenty-first century America, guided by a spiritual calling. Lauren is the founder of Earthseed, the religion she has formed from her own personal reflections, and which she considers to be ‘the literal truth’. This unwavering faith provides the conviction and purpose that allows Lauren to inspire a small group of followers and create a self-sufficient community, a beacon of safety in a very dangerous world. However, Lauren’s denial of the fictive and metaphorical content of her discourse also authorises ‘the Destiny’, her eschatological prophecy that highlights the connection between specularity and coloniality.
Period2 Sep 2021
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Speculative fiction
  • Octavia E. Butler
  • epistemology
  • Contemporary literature
  • coloniality