Well, this finally makes sense of Clay’s Ark. You can definitely read this by itself, but it is far stronger as the culmination of the preceding books. I’m genuinely astonished that this was actually her first published novel and that she then went backwards in the story. What a genius.
That said, this is not the strongest book of the series. The Clayarks are just ciphers, really, an enemy for the sake of an enemy; something for the characters to react against.
That also said, there’s definitely some interesting character work here. I especially love Amber, at working with the system but not within in. Teray got a bit wearing after a while.
With the background knowledge of Doro and Mary from previous books, it’s intriguing to fill in the gaps to see how the world at the end of Mind of My Mind could turn into the world here: the development of Houses, how people are seconded, and the attitudes towards mutes. Butler could so easily have written many more stories here, filling in those gaps, but it clearly wasn’t what she was interested in doing.
I was most sad to see Butler expecting there to be sexism and fear of bisexuality present in this future.
Having read Wild Seed and Mind of My Mind, this was not at all what I expected of a book set in the Patternmaster series. It seems only peripherally attached to the Patternmaster series courtesy of something Clay, whom we meet in Mind of My Mind, developed.
Still, the book deals with some of the same preoccupations as are developed in the first two books, in particular how people manage go live under compulsions and especially how that impacts on sex and relationships and children. It was interesting to see Butler explore similar issues coming about from different motivations.
In itself, this is a very different sort of contact story from what is more commonly written. The contact is almost just a macgyver to allow the exploration of how confinement and externally imposed obsessions might play out.
Not Butler’s strongest work, but intriguing and enjoyable (well… within the bounds of devastating sf…) nonetheless.
Later: having now read Patternmaster, this book makes a bit more sense. Interestingly, I think this is the stronger.
Just go read it. Seriously.
As I mentioned in Wild Seed, I am glad I read that novel first – the background it provides for Doro, and Emma, is devastatingly important. Of course you could read this first – publication order – and then have the background filled in… but this order definitely worked for me.
This book is very focussed on Doro and the people he manipulates people to his own ends. Even when other characters – Emma (Anwanyu), and especially Mary – get to tell their own story, it’s always connected to Doro: against or in favour, in reaction somehow, trying to figure out how to circumvent or please him. He is the Patternmaster. He is the puppetmaster.
This book takes place over a much shorter timeframe than Wild Seed – just a few decades. In the prologue, Mary is a small child in an abusive home; the narrative picks up with Mary, one of Doro’s many children and an important part of his experimentation, in her late teens. Mary becomes the focus of the story as she seems to be the fulfilment of Doro’s plans, and it basically follows her development and discovery of her powers.
Unsurprisingly, Mind follows some of the same themes as Wild Seed. Why humans acts they way they do, how compulsions can work and why we act in our own worst interests; what slavery can look like. It develops the discussion of the difference between haves and have-nots to a greater extent, and the consequences of power. The idea of family and its power as well as its destructiveness. Humanity at its best and worst.
This book isn’t always pleasant to read, but it is always powerful and it’s always well written and I will definitely be reading it again.
It’s brilliant and you should just go ahead and read it and you don’t need to know anything else … unless incest (at a distance from the reader) really, really squicks you out (it happens but it’s not a huge focus and it’s not dwelt on greatly).
I know Butler didn’t write this as the first in the Patternmaster series but I am so glad I read it first, because Butler sets up the world of Doro and Anyanwu brilliantly; I can’t imagine coming to read this after already having been introduced to Doro, especially, in a different context.
There’s an enormous amount going on in this book. Doro and Anyanwu are very different from those around them: both seem to be immortal and both have talents that set them apart. Doro moves from body to body at will; Anyanwu can heal and change herself. Anyanwu has been living with her extended family and caring for them for generations; Doro has been building himself a people, gathering together individuals with some sort of psychic talent. One day Doro feels Anyanwu and goes to meet her, and Anyanwu’s life in particular changes. She hasn’t ever moved far from her birthplace, while Doro has been setting up colonies in America – this is the 17th century, and Doro and Anyanwu are both African (Anyanwu is Ibo, I believe; Doro… is something else altogether). So this means he’s trafficking in slaves, and working with slave traders. So that’s a whole thing: how people react and feel when they are enslaved, how the trading works and can be used, and so on. And somehow the fact that this is written by an African-American makes a difference. The very question about what makes someone a slave is key to the story, actually; how chains aren’t necessarily visible, how someone can become accustomed to the state – and asking the question about whether, if you don’t mind it, how bad slavery is. I think Butler firmly comes down on the side of it still being an evil, but she’s sure not making it an easy discussion.
Having two central characters who appear to be immortal means that Butler gets to write a story that goes over a couple of centuries. This allows her to explore the development of both individuals and communities, which she does really well. In some ways the people that Doro is developing are like a generation ship: they don’t know where they’re going, and it’s temporal rather than spatial, but they’re definitely on a journey. They just need to keep following orders and keeping the place running. The focus is really always on the relationship between Doro and Anyanwu, because their fraught relationship stands for everyone else: love and hate and need and resentment. Acceptance and rejection. Anyanwu is the one who changes and develops and grows, while Doro is largely static. There’s a variety of reasons for this – he’s that much older and has a very set purpose where Anyanwu is in some regards more passive (and in others really not) – but his lack of growth and change isn’t entirely presented as a positive.
It’s the complexity of Doro and Anyanwu, as individuals and in relationship, that makes this novel an absolute stand out. It bemused me somewhat when I finished reading that, really, very little actually happens: there are few really “significant” events like battles. Instead it’s a steady stream of small events. It’s a surprisingly domestic novel, in that much of it is focused on family and family relationships, centred around the home and small communities. But don’t be fooled – never has the idea of ‘domestic’ equaling ‘unimportant’ been less true.
I read this as part of “Seed to Harvest”, the compilation of Patternmaster novels. I was so engaged and intrigued that I moved straight on to reading the next novel (in internal chronology), because I couldn’t bear to leave the story.