The Patternist Series Analysis

The Plot (Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The five novels of the Patternist series were not written and published in the order of their fictional chronology. Chronologically, the tale begins with Wild Seed, which covers the period from 1700 b.c.e. to c.e. 1830. It presents Doro, the oldest known of all the patternist paranormal humans. Born a Nubian in the upper Nile region of Africa around 1700 b.c.e., he died at the age of thirteen in a transition, the equivalent of a vastly accelerated adolescence. He can live only by taking the body of another nearby living human, which, used up, is left dead, to be replaced by yet another living human. Doro’s mind and spirit displace those of the body’s owner. He must kill to survive and has done so thousands of times. Doro’s taste for the bodies of other humans with paranormal abilities (limited to forms of telepathy and psychokinesis; Butler eschews precognitive powers) drives him to hunt them, relocate them in isolated villages, and breed them through many centuries.

Around 1690, his homing sense for paranormal humans takes him to the extraordinary Anyanwu in the Ibo/ Nigerian region of West Africa. At this time, Anyanwu is already three hundred years old because she is a shape-shifter and a healer. She can take many forms, including that of an eagle, a panther, a dolphin, and a wolflike dog. She has enormous physical strength and does not age.

From 1690 in West Africa, through the “middle passage” period of the slave trade, to the early nineteenth century in America, Doro and Anyanwu engage in a struggle of love, hate, and, finally, truce. During these years, Anyanwu has children by members of Doro’s breed population of paranormal humans, often with Doro inhabiting the breed father’s body. She eventually establishes herself as a white male Maryland plantation owner to give a home to what has become her own extended family of paranormal people. Prior to the Civil War, Anyanwu moves her people out of the war’s path to California, where she soon takes the name Emma. It is by this persona that she will be known in her role as a secondary...

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The Patternist Series Bibliography (Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Anderson, Crystal S. “The Girl Isn’t White: New Racial Dimensions in Octavia Butler’s Survivor.Extrapolation 47, no. 1 (2006): 35-50. Argues that Survivor’s Afro-Asian Alana epitomizes “strategies of negotiation” by Afro-Americans who engage other ethnic groups.

Butler, Octavia. “’Radio Imagination’: Octavia Butler on the Poetics of Narrative Embodiment.” Interview by Marilyn Mehaffy and AnaLouise Keating. MELUS 26, no. 1 (Spring, 2001): 45-76. Butler discusses the meanings and narrative strategies behind all of her writing.

Call, Lewis. “Structures of Desire: Erotic Power in the Speculative Fiction of Octavia Butler and Samuel Delany.” Rethinking History 9, nos. 2/3 (June/September, 2005): 275-296. Interprets Wild Seed as in part a story of an ultimately wholesome love affair between a paternal Doro and earth-mother Anyanwu.

DeGraw, Sharon. “’The More Things Change, the More They Remain the Same’: Gender and Sexuality in Octavia Butler’s Oeuvre.” Femspec 4, no. 2 (June, 2003): 219. Reprises the Patternist series (except Clay’s Ark) and finds Patternmaster to be set nominally in the future but actually culturally and technologically in the past, before Wild Seed. Observes that the status of women remains the same, second class, in all the books of the series.

Govan, Sandra Y. “Connections, Links, and Extended Networks: Patterns in Octavia Butler’s Science Fiction.” Black American Literature Forum 18, no. 2 (Summer, 1984): 82-87. Links four Patternist works to Kindred, a novel Butler once intended as part of the Patternist series.

Sands, Peter. “Octavia Butler’s Chiastic Cannibalistics.” Utopian Studies 14, no. 1 (2003): 1-14. Sees in Butler’s use of cannibalism a crucial representation of otherness, one that mirrors the attitudes of some rhetorical theory.

Vint, Sherryl. “Becoming Other: Animals, Kinship, and Butler’s Clay’s Ark.” Science Fiction Studies 32, no. 2 (July, 2005): 281-300. Anchored by an interpretation of the transformation in Clay’s Ark of principal characters into animal-human hybrids as an improvement of the species. Traces to other Patternist narratives (except Survivor) Butler’s similarly approving dramatization of human/animal and human/subhuman combination and interbreeding.

Wood, Sarah. “Subversion Through Inclusion: Octavia Butler’s Interrogation of Religion in Xenogenesis and Wild Seed.” Femspec 6, no. 1 (June, 2005): 87. Claims Butler’s fiction “admonishes unquestioning reliance on religious myths.”