At the beginning of Octavia Butler’s Dawn, humans are decimated and Earth has been destroyed by nuclear war. A young African American woman, Lillith is offered a deal by the alien creature, Oankali to save the human race; they will create a stronger species by combining the DNA of homo sapiens and of the Oankali creatures. Lillith is, of course, worried about being raped or having her eggs stolen; however, they reassure her that she will not be raped, and the “transaction” will always be consensual.
Unfortunately, throughout the book “consent” becomes a muddied term. Although the Oaknali are very peaceful people, with environmentally conscious practices, they have sex with humans while humans are sleeping and then create chemically alter their brains to believe the act was consensual and pleasurable. They also emit powerful pheromones that makes it impossible for humans to avoid intercourse with them. Before they wake humans on the ship, they make copies of their genetic code so they can create infinite offspring… These questionable acts, although not physically violent in nature, raise the question of rape. What is rape? What is consent?
Butler does an excellent job blurring the lines between good and bad. She does not necessarily take a side with either people’s but instead leaves it up to the minds of the reader. This novel is certainly another take on colonialism and the impacts it can have, peaceful or not.