Adulthood Rites (Exogenesis #2), Octavia Butler. New York: Popular Library, 1988. (Out of print. Link is to a different edition)
Summary: Lilith’s son Akin, a human “construct,” is kidnapped by resisters and raised in one of their settlements, and realizes his own unique and risky calling.
Akin was a male child born of Lilith, the main character of the first volume in this series. He is the first male “construct,” He is the fruit of a human-alien union–a human father and an Oankali mother and father, and a Ooloi, neither male nor female. Outwardly he looks human, except for his tongue, through which he senses the world, and can also kill. He is also unlike any human in language and intelligence. In months, he can speak like an adult. One day a refugee from a resister settlement, Tino shows up and is accepted into the community of Lo. Over time, Akin and Tino develop a special bond, the beginning of an unanticipated connection with the resisters, humans unwilling to bond with the Oankali, and therefore sterile.
One day, Akin and Tino are out when kidnappers seize Akin, leaving Tino for dead. After a harrowing journey, he ends up in Phoenix, a resister settlement hungry to acquire children if they cannot conceive their own. He becomes the child of Gabe and Taft, developing bonds with them even as he grieves the severed bonds with his own siblings in Lo, bonds he can never fully regain. Over time, he recognizes the contradiction of the drive to live, and the drive to kill in humans, and that they are a dying race on a dying planet, with or without the Oankali. He also grasps that there is another possibility, one only possible if he becomes an Akjai, a kind of go-between.
It is risky. Though rescued at last by Lilith and his family, he must give up Lo, embrace training with the Oankali, and then risk return to a Phoenix, even as he transitions to adulthood. And there is no guarantee they will accept the way to a new life he will propose, or even survive the attempt.
This is such an imaginative series. Butler continues to explore the implication of the “trade” the Oankali engage in with humans, and what human-alien progeny might be like. It also parses out the implications of the miscalculation that many humans would refuse the trade the Oankali offered. It strikes me that this is analogous to the blindness of earthly colonizers who cannot grasp why native peoples would refuse the “blessings” of civilization, even when this meant inevitable extinction. But Butler also sees another side to this, that humans faced with the struggle to survive will resort to suspicion and violence and killing, even at the continual diminishment of their numbers.
Can this dying race in a post-nuclear world be saved? Will Akin’s desperate effort work, even with a remnant? And what of us–a people at each others’ throats when faced with a global pandemic, a rapidly warming climate, rising lawlessness and violence in many quarters, and the shadow of thermo-nuclear destruction under which I’ve lived since childhood? Why do we both love life and seem committed to self-destruction? What hope is there for us?