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In Parable of the Sower, Octavia E. Butler has written a rather unfashionable sci-fi novel. The author concerns herself with building a solid story and engaging characters, rather than producing a steady succession of gee-whiz doohickies (the chief failing of many sci-fi efforts these days). While Parable‘s plot is somewhat worn—band of refugees travels through dystopian future Earth—Butler’s sensitive writing is refreshing. Butler reads today at 1 p.m. at Vertigo Books, 1337 Connecticut Ave. NW. FREE. (202) 429-0272; in conjunction with the “From Captain Nemo to Captain Kirk” lecture series at 7:30 p.m. at the National Air & Space Museum’s Einstein Planetarium, 6th & Independence Ave. SW. $2. (202) 357-2700. (Steve Kuhn)