The bare bones of the story of Imago kind of remind me of V, where the lizard people take over Earth. Except there’s no Marc Singer OR Morena Baccarin, and Octavia Butler is much much better at storytelling, and at shades of gray.
The Oankali landed on Earth generations ago (I started on book 3; I assume the first two tell the tale). They are a race of traveling scientists/healers. They land, study the new planet, mate with the natives, incorporate all the shiny new genes and resources into their DNA, and then leave when they’re done. Except the natives don’t get much choice in the matter, and when they leave, the planet is a burned-out husk, incapable of sustaining life.
Some Oankali are ooloi, a special offshoot who can not only heal humans, but change their genetic makeup. Family clusters consist of mated humans, mated Oankali, and one ooloi. Jodahs is the protagonist of the story, a young ooloi/human construct on the cusp of adulthood, learning to mess with genes and searching for human mates. This last bit is problematic, because most humans are either “resisters,” who want their Earth back, already mated, or on some giant ship in orbit (I never quite understood the ship – prison? hospital? – must be explained in earlier books). Most of the resisters have been caught, sterilized by ooloi, and released to the wild like feral cats. There is a human colony on Mars, where Earthlings are allowed to live and breed without Oankali interference, but it’s a tough existence.
Jodahs meets some resisters, a brother and sister who have a genetic disorder that causes deformation. He lures them in with his addictive scent, heals them, and basically while he’s fiddling with their innards during the cure, he makes them love him. (Ooloi are all supposed to be “it,” but Jodahs seemed mostly male to me throughout the story.) Then the siblings are forced to choose between their new mate, and their tribe, still hiding in the woods because they don’t want to be caught and sterilized, even though their genetic disease is widespread.
I liked the writing, and the ideas were all very interesting, and the science. But I felt like Butler was expecting the reader to be on Jodahs’ side, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why. Yes, the Oankali heal every human they can get their hands on. It seems to be almost involuntary. But they have no qualms about mucking about with everything else in the human body while they’re at it. They all seem legitimately baffled that the resisters would rather live on the Mars colony than mate with them. (Only humans mated with Oankali are allowed to have children – all others are sterilized.)
I have a friend with an adorable little boy named Gabe. When Gabe was very small and learning to talk, he’d get himself all worked up and angsty when he couldn’t get his words out. He would reach out, little fists clenching and unclenching, and moan “Gabe wants! Gabe wants!”, suffering because he couldn’t say WHAT he wanted. It was fiendishly cute. Not so much when it’s Jodahs doing it, though. He wants, and he doesn’t care at all what his family, his humans, his people want.
I did like the storytelling, but I would have liked the book better if it had ended with a grand revolution, the humans rising up to take back their planet, rather than Jodahs getting his mates and everybody living happily ever after in captivity.