Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 672
Octavia E. Butler’s Patternist series chronicles an alternate history of the earth and other planets, and the novels of the series are set chronologically in a different order from that in which the books were published. Wild Seed (1980) depicts events taking place from 1500 b.c.e. to the 1850’s c.e. Mind of My Mind (1977) is set in the twentieth century, through about 1970. Clay’s Ark (1984) takes place in the late twentieth century; Survivor (1978) takes place in the twenty-first century; and the first book to be published, Patternmaster (1976) is the last in chronological setting, depicting events beyond the twenty-first century. The plots of the various novels are not seamlessly joined. Instead, they depict related events in different time periods.
By considering the order of the novels’ publication, one can observe progress both in the thematic structure of Butler’s work and in the artistry of her narrative style. Butler was twenty-nine when Patternmaster was published. She finished Clay’s Ark eight years later.
Patternmaster portrays a distant future society that is ironically medieval in the level of its technology. This society is a classist, racist, speciesist, and sexist empire composed of Patternists, who have mental powers such as telepathy, precognition, and telekinesis; “mutes,” or humans without mental powers; and the mutated Clayarks, who are sentient but regarded as animals. The plot concerns the power struggle set off by the death of King Rayal, the Patternmaster, between his sons Teray and Coransee. Favored by his father, Teray is triumphant. Teray wins the sympathy of Amber the healer, as well as some readers, by being kind to a Clayark.
Mind of My Mind portrays the classist, racist, sexist United States of the second half of the twentieth century, during which Doro, the Pattern creator, fights Mary, one of his many daughters. Mary kills her father and thereby wrests control of his hegemony from him with the support of Emma, Doro’s old and ambivalent consort. Mary’s preeminent mental power allows her to create a network for the Patternist people with her dominant and benevolent will at its center.
Survivor, first drafted in the late 1960’s before Patternmaster was written, presents white missionaries, their followers, and their adopted Afro-Asian daughter Alanna Verrick, who leave behind the Patternist Earth of the later twentieth century to start a human colony on the planet Kohn, half of whose indigenous species is addicted to a powerful drug called “meklah.” None of these characters possesses mental powers. Alanna’s strengths are her capacity to experience the agony of radical change and her genius for revolutionary diplomacy. She twice undergoes addiction and life-threatening withdrawal from meklah. She marries and has a child with a Tehkohn leader male and negotiates withdrawal from meklah and safe resettlement for her human parents and their followers.
Wild Seed, perhaps Butler’s single best novel, narrates the story of the beginning of the Pattern by Doro, a three-thousand-year-old African being who steals bodies and extinguishes minds. He finds the three-hundred-year-old, charismatic, and shape-shifting healer Anyanwu (the Emma of Mind of My Mind) in West Africa. Doro forces Anyanwu to join him as the mother of a portion of his “family” of humans with mental potential. Together, they travel the historic Middle Passage of the slave trade, following a group of kidnapped Africans to antebellum America. Doro must kill to live. Anyanwu mutates, and she heals herself and others. Between them there develops a tortuous bond of loathing, hate, and love.
Clay’s Ark was the last Patternist novel to be published. In it, the twenty-first century African American Elias Doyle returns to the southwestern United States from a space voyage to Proxima Centauri carrying a “plague” that will transform many of the younger humans on Earth into a superior species that will replace humanity, turning many humans into fur-covered quadrupeds. A doctor’s daughter, Keira, is cured of her leukemia through the plague’s syndrome of transformation, becoming also one of Elias’s sexual partners and perhaps the mother of one of his children.
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