The Novels

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

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...

(The entire section is 672 words.)