This is the first book in a trilogy, and I actually have it in an SF book club omnibus titled Xenogenesis. It does not come to a strong conclusion; I suspect it would be better to just read the whole trilogy at once, but I find that it's really not what I'm in the mood for right now.
This book presents some genuinely interesting, truly alien aliens, and by having them interact with humans, tries to illuminate what really makes us human. Too many writers give us aliens who are entirely too similar to humans, both in their physical structure and in their psychology, to really be believable. Butler's Oankali are definitely not just humans with a couple of token oddities grafted on. The aliens themselves work pretty well for me. Unfortunately, I find too many things jarring about the interaction between the humans and the aliens to be able to sympathize well with the human characters. As a minor example that shouldn't be any sort of a spoiler, it is extremely difficult for the humans in the story to handle the idea that they're actually dealing with extraterrestrials. As someone who's been reading SF for just about as long as I've been reading at all, I find it hard to deal with a whole cohort of humans who never even consider the possibility that they're dealing with ETs and immediately reject it as crazy if it's suggested. I had such a hard time getting past my lack of identification with the human motives that I only started to care at all about the characters toward the end of the book.
6 out of 10. Some very interesting ideas, but it just doesn't click with me.
**** PLOT SUMMARY -- SPOILERS ****
Lilith Ayapo wakes up trying to figure out the prison she finds herself in. She was a survivor of a devastating war, apparently nuclear, apparently between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Her captors question her incessantly, only by audio, and leave her otherwise isolated. Then an alien joins her in her cell. It is covered with sensory tentacles, lacking human features like eyes and ears, and it is supposedly so horrifying in appearance that it takes Lilith weeks to be able to stand touching it or being near it. Eventually she is willing to accept it. The Oankali, it seems, have a biological imperative to seek out other races and trade genetic makeups, so that both Oankali and the encountered race come out different. Earth was utterly destroyed in the war; the only humans who survived are the ones the Oankali have rescued. In return for being saved, humans are required to participate in this project. Lilith herself is given the responsibility for Awakening a group of 40 other rescued humans and training them to recolonize earth. She has extreme problems with the other humans because they see her as too alien, even though she herself is trying to save humanity. All the humans are completely unable to accept the idea that their children will be genetically modified; their only thought is how to escape. There is a big fight in which Lilith's husband is killed and the alien ooloi is nearly killed, Lilith ends up being separated from this group of humans to try again with another group.</lj-cit>