On the morning of June 10, I saw a cloud of grayish smoke rising from Little Saigon. I was walking down Elder Street. I had just passed the King County Juvenile Detention. The plan was to catch the 36 bus to Beacon Hill at a stop near the intersection of 12th and Jackson. But my plan was undone by a fire that, according to reports, "broke out at midnight" and destroyed much of the building vacated by Viet-Wah Supermarket in 2022. The Seattle Fire Department was still fighting the fire nearly 12 hours after it started. Buses, automobiles, streetcars, bikes, and pedestrians could not enter the area surrounding 12th and Jackson. 

As I approached the police's "Do Not Cross" tape on the east side of Jackson, as more and more smoke drifted across the otherwise sunny sky, as I noticed a number of people sleeping in the shady space between the sidewalk and walls of this and that business, the intensity of a dread-filled feeling struck and surprised me. It was as if my own experience of this city's not-unusual (and self-imposed) scenes of misery, degradation, and destruction were displaced by someone else's. But who was making me feel this way? A moment of thought revealed the answer: Octavia Butler. 

At the end of May, I began reading two books, David Bohm's Wholeness and the Implicate Order and Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower. The former concerns a metaphysical interpretation of the strange world revealed by quantum physics; the latter is a 1993 novel that begins in the year we are now in, 2024. The timeliness of Parable of the Sower made it an obvious pick for Seattle Public Library's 2024 Seattle Reads. I decided to join this "city-wide reading book group," as I had never read what has to be Octavia Butler's second-most famous novel. (For reasons related to my obsession with time and quantum physics, I kept returning to Kindred, Butler's most famous work.) 

From Seattle Read's webpage for Parable of the Sower:

When global climate change and economic crises lead to social chaos in the early 2020s, California becomes full of dangers, from pervasive water shortage to masses of vagabonds who will do anything to live to see another day. Fifteen-year-old Lauren Olamina lives inside a gated community with her preacher father, family, and neighbors, sheltered from the surrounding anarchy. In a society where any vulnerability is a risk, she suffers from hyperempathy, a debilitating sensitivity to others’ emotions.

Hyperempathy is the key to the novel and the novelist and the intense dread I felt while watching Viet-Wah Supermarket's former location go up in smoke. Lauren Olamina, Parable's teenage narrator, suffers from a condition that makes her feel the pain of others (and other animals). The condition, medically called "organic delusional syndrome," resulted from her mother's abuse, during pregnancy, of a prescription drug, Paracetco, that was "as popular as coffee." The drug, initially made for people with Alzheimer's disease, turned out to be great for a competitive society. It improved intellectual performance and gave its users (mostly professionals) an edge with calculations and computers. Lauren's mother did not survive her birth. And, worst of all, she is hyperempathetic in a world that has lost almost all empathy.

Climate change has turned much of the country into a wasteland. Old diseases are returning; new diseases are arriving. Blizzards are freezing these states; tornadoes are ripping through those states. The man in the White House, President Donner, is basically Donald Trump on steroids—in fact, the "carnage" America in Trump's inaugural speech is almost identical to the one in Parables. Nearly everyone is homeless or in a gang. There is still law enforcement but nothing that resembles law and order in the usual sense. There is still capitalism, but no jobs, no middle class, no social services. The latest drug makes young people get high at the sight of fire. Food is too expensive. Everyone is armed to the teeth. If you are lucky, you live in a gated community. If you are really lucky, you live in Oregon or Washington or faraway Canada (the novel is set in Southern California). 

The horror never ends. Page after page. It's relentlessly intense. The corpses, the misery, the stench, the broken bones, the fires, the smoke. The reader becomes one with Lauren's hyperempathy. You see and feel it all the way she does—and also her creator, Butler, whose vision of America's post-everything future was so present to her senses that she, like Lauren, decided to leave Southern California and move to the Pacific Northwest. Butler spent her last years (1999 to 2006) in Lake Forest Park. She was possibly the region's first climate refugee. Here before the shit really hit the fan. I saw Seattle 2024 through her eyes.