Reviews: Butler, Octavia E.

Where The Road is Dark and the Seed is Sowed

Parable of the Sower — Octavia E. Butler
Parable of the Sower, book 1

1993’s Parable of the Sower is the first volume in Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower duology. Here Butler explores a very American theme. From Huck Finn to the Joads ,from the Mormon pioneers to the Donners, from On the Road to The Road, nothing expresses the boundless possibilities of America like the road trip.

Lauren Olamina’s 2020s America is one that makes road trips challenging and eventful.

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The Final Piece of the Puzzle

Clay’s Ark — Octavia E. Butler
Patternist, book 4

Published last, Octavia E. Butler’s 1984 Clay’s Ark was the fourth installment in her five book Patternist series. Along with 1978’s Survivor, of which we do not speak, it abandons the series’ focus on psychic monsters. Rather, it examines an entirely different kind of monster

Humanity’s first foray to an alien world ended in disaster. The remains of the starship Clay’s Ark are scrap scattered across an American desert; the crew are dead. All but one of the crew are dead, that is. Better for troubled Earth had the ship simply broken apart and burned up during re-entry.

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The Woman Who Walked Home

Kindred — Octavia E. Butler

1979’s Kindred was Octavia E. Butler’s fourth novel, but her first standalone.

Dana has lost an arm, and the police suspect that her husband Kevin knows a lot more about Dana’s injuries than either he or Dana are letting on. Dana is not covering up spouse abuse; she just knows that the police would never accept the truth: Dana is the victim of time travel gone horribly wrong.


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I do not care for Teray

Patternmaster — Octavia E. Butler
Patternist, book 5

Octavia E. Butler’s 1976 novel Patternmaster was the first in her Patternist series to be published; this is not surprising, as this book was her debut novel. In terms of internal chronology, it is the final book in the series, the endpoint to which all the other books—Wild Seed, Mind of My Mind, Clay’s Ark, and Survivor—led.

(I will probably review all of Butler’s books eventually. Perhaps even including Survivor.)

Patternmaster is a gloomy destination for a future history.


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Beware Aliens Bearing Gifts

Dawn — Octavia E. Butler
Xenogenesis, book 1

1987’s Dawn is the first volume in Octavia E. Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy. It was followed by 1988’s Adulthood Rites and 1989’s Imago.

Nuclear war has killed most of humanity. Few wanted the war … but to build so many nuclear weapons and then not use them would have been immorally profligate. Those not killed immediately faced lingering deaths due to fallout and nuclear winter. The total extinction of humans appeared to be imminent.

And then the aliens arrived in their vast, living starship….


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Look out, Telzey Amberdon and Paul Maud’Dib! Here comes Mary!

Mind of My Mind — Octavia E. Butler
Patternist, book 2

1977’s Mind of My Mind, second in Octavia E. Butler’s Patternist series [1], is Butler’s take on classic Science Fiction themes: an examination of a world where mental powers are real rather than the delusions of the confused, the bewildered, and the fans of Analog.

Like Telzey Amberdon and Paul Maud’Dib, Mary is a Campbellian superhuman. Born to a latent telepath and another psychic, Mary has potential mental powers that could dwarf anything ever seen on the Earth of the late 20 century!

Too bad she’s property. Or, possibly, food.


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Wild Seed

Octavia Butler
Patternist, book 1

Science fiction has a long, colourful tradition of books about people with very special powers, abilities focused in specific privileged lineages through extended eugenics programs. See, for example, Doc Smith’s Lensmen series, Heinlein’s Howard Family stories and Larry Niven’s Known Space. Generally being a participant in these programs isn’t a bad thing, even though it constrains one’s choice of mates somewhat, and I cannot help but feel the fact most of the authors who come to mind are white and middle or even upper class – not the groups usually subjected to such programs, upper class inbreeding aside – plays a role in how the whole affair is portrayed.

I think it is safe to say Octavia Butler, one of the very very few African American science fiction writers active in the 1970s, had an entirely different model in the back of her mind as to how the whole directed breeding program would work out in real life. Until about 18651 the US had a distinct population whose activities were overtly closely monitored and closely controlled; a pattern that just leaps out at anyone who isn’t a mouth-breathing libertarian or worse is that despite whatever the propaganda of the day said, the program was not being run for the benefit of its subjects.

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