Organic Technology: Weird Shit

After the almost paralyzing boredom of Lilith’s first two hundred and fifty years among on the Oankali, her final exposure to the extraterrestrials, starting with her meeting Jdahya, comes as something of a shock.  And, indeed, Butler does manage to craft a world that, though familiar, is still irrevocably alien.

Lilith has several encounters with the “technology” that the Oankali utilize.  The first occurs upon her release from her “cage.” (30) The portal to her release is “as though it were flesh rippling aside, slowly writhing.” (30) It becomes apparent, later, that the room she had been held captive in was part something living, referred to later in the text as a “pseudotree.”  This tree structure, and others like it, are used to house the Oankali.  What’s more, the pseudotrees are part of a larger living organism, the Oankali ship.

More encounters follow.  Lilith is shown the “green oblongs,” plants that the Oankali utilize as a type of stasis chamber.  Food is grown from the ship, doors opening are chemical responses to the Oankali.  Flat creatures called “tilio” are used as organic transport.

Jdahya explains the Oankalis’ use of organic material.  “We acquire new life – seek it, investigate it, manipulate it, sort it, use it.” (41) While Jdahya is referring to genetic material, the drive extends itself to higher examples of life than just genetic code.

Lilith later asks Nikanj, “Do you ever build machinery?  Tamper with metal and plastic instead of living things?”  To which, Nikanj replies: “We do that when we have to.  We… don’t like it.  There’s no trade.” (85)

So, perhaps the most alien aspect of Lilith’s Brood, for a civilization so dependent of technological manipulation of the inorganic, is the Oankali’s preference to manipulate and utilize the organic as a form of technology.

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