Sometime in the future, Lilith Iyapo dies after humans make the Earth inhospitable in a nuclear war. Centuries later, Lilith is Awakened by aliens known as the Oankali who are trying to save the human species–taking them aboard their ship to be Awakened and teaching them how to live on Earth again. The Oankali have redeveloped the Earth and hope to use human genetic material to merge with their own and evolve as a species. Chosen to act as a leader and teacher for humans meant to be sent back to Earth, Lilith must learn to live among the Oankali and accept that the human race will be changed forever. She must learn to accept the Oankali, who as a species, have three sexes: male, female, and Ooloi. The Ooloi are the humans’ only chance at reproduction, as they can mix the genetic material of both species to create new children.
I thought Butler’s perspective on the Ooloi was very interesting, and appreciated that the Ooloi were referred to with neutral pronouns. Though this book was written in 1987, I still find the ideas regarding gender in this novel are something we can learn from today.