Patternist Sequence

Discussion in 'Octavia E. Butler' started by Boreas, May 11, 2016.

  1. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    I love the Patternist sequence of books, so I definitely recommend them! You do have an option as to how you might approach them...either by internal chronology or by publication order. I read them according to publication order, so that means I started with Patternmaster, her first published work, but last in the sequence by internal chronology. A friend of mine read them by internal chronology and she loved it that way, so it's up to you.

    Patternmaster starts in medias res and presents quite a dystopian vision, and although bleak, it's a very interesting and fast-paced read. The rest of the books were [sort of] written as prequels that culminated with the future presented in Patternmaster. Her later books (earlier by internal chronology) were better written, but Patternmaster has a vibrant energy to it that I've always liked, very similar to the dynamism of Alfred Bester's Tiger! Tiger! (aka Stars My Destination), but a completely different tone.

    All the books (except one) are collected in the omnibus edition Seed to Harvest by internal chronology. The book that was omitted is only very peripherally related to the main-sequence Patternist works and the setting is not Earth. And all the books can actually be read out of order, even with the connections (one of my favourite features in a series or trilogy, that they don't need to be read in any particular order!).
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  2. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    I'm really excited about the Patternist Series. I only found out about Octavia Butler's work rather recently. The concept of xenogenesis behind Lillie's Brood trilogy, truly appealed to me. A rather unique approach to human survival in a post apocalyptical situation. A mind provoking setting, which forces us to reevaluate our moral's principles when faced extinction. Definitely food for thought: the paradox of needing your real enemy for human survival. Is human survival truly such considering what it actually survives it isn't completely human. Is the unfinished metamorphosed beings journeying towards the perfected and finalized Imago of less value because they haven't completed the evolutionary process...
    Boreas likes this.
  3. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Butler is an excellent writer and her various works usually cover similar themes from different perspectives. All these concepts you mention - "unique approach to human survival in a post-apocalyptic situation," and "re-evaluating moral principles when faced with extinction," and especially "the paradox of needing your real enemy for human survival" - are themes that she started exploring with her Patternist series, the beginnings of which was some of her earliest work.

    If you read Patternmaster first, I think you get the sense that she had a roughshod idea of where she was going with some of these central themes and it's almost like the book was a mini-thesis concerning motifs of survival against the other, the morality of using superhuman powers indiscriminately, and interesting parallels on slavery but, at the same time, almost undermining the very idea of a solution to such a problem from the protagonist's perspective. But all this in rudimentary form where it's not fleshed out but you can see the simmering potential. It's as if you're reading the last scene or two from the final act of a play, a climax where you understand the core theme from the tidbits of information available and want to know more of what happened before. She explored these ideas more carefully when putting forward the origins from whence these themes - that she immediately dove into with Patternmaster - might arise. And it's a narrative that develops over many hundreds of years.

    I think this is probably the major complaint by some people when/if they start the series with Patternmaster: that the story opens midstream in a future history without much background, a background which is only constructed in later writings. Personally, I didn't find that to be a problem because I enjoy figuring things out with minimal or scattered information. Patternmaster is also a very short work that's in line with much of published SF from that period, and that's another factor for not leaving much room for background explanations.

    I don't think Butler ever wrote these books with a consistent series in mind when she started out writing Patternmaster, so most of them could be read independently or by internal chronology if one prefers. I liked reading them in order of publication because I could trace how she developed her themes with each succeeding volume as the ideas came to her. But after having read them, I also think I would have enjoyed them equally if I'd read by internal chronology.

    I'd love to mention some details about plot, but perhaps it's best if I leave that for you to discover on your readings. Suffice to say, if you enjoyed the Xenogenesis books, I think you'll enjoy her Patternist books, too.

    By internal chronology, they are: Wild Seed / Mind of My Mind / Clay's Ark/ Survivor / Patternmaster.

    By order of publication, they are: Patternmaster / Mind of My Mind / Survivor / Wild Seed / Clay's Ark.

    As you can see, she really jumped around in time as she wrote them. Survivor is the only one not included in the omnibus edition.
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  4. R-Hat

    R-Hat Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the tip on the Patternist series. I've read Octavia Butler's Fledgeling (unfinished read) and Lilith's Brood. She has some of the modern Greenpeace themes, but as an author she is a GREAT one. After Karen Traviss's ecofeminist guilt porn, Butler reads like a breeze and breaks the borders of normality like the best of them. Xenogenesis (LB) was a love / hate read, both powerful emotions and both strongly identified with the world mechanics. Good job.

    I think the Patternist series are a wonderful tip to continue after I finish Attanasio's Radix Tetrad. I think I will choose the internal chronology.
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  5. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    Thank you Boreas for your detailed insight. It will be interesting and enjoyable to read Butler earlier work. Exploring how her views and conflictive values matured into what they became later on in Lillie's Brood work, will be exciting... I just need to focus now on Hyperion. I'm getting distracted with these new books to come and not paying the attention that Simmons really deserves.
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  6. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Oops, don't want to distract you from Simmons. Tell us how you find it when you're done. I think that @TomTB is also a big fan of those books.
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  7. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    My fault, mine only...!:D
  8. TomTB

    TomTB Administrator Staff Member

    Damn straight, I adored Hyperion! I've left it too long now to jump into the sequels, so it's high on my reread list +
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  9. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    Well, Simmons is compelling and excellent at playing with my head. I have been trying to decipher what might happen next... Wrong, wrong, wrong: I'm clueless! by She-Elvira ;)
    TomTB likes this.
  10. TomTB

    TomTB Administrator Staff Member

    Ok ok .. I apologise profusely. :)
  11. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

  12. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    I have just started the Patternist Series. I have decided to read it by internal chronology, so it is Wild Seed first.
  13. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    I have finished Wild Seed. Butler did have a tremendous talent to tell ugly stories in a very beautiful way. Wild Seed goes back to recurrent ideas already dealt in her Lilith’s Brood trilogy.
    There are many themes Wild Seed touches: Slavery, race, sexuality, and gender, but in my view all these are but an excuse to introduce a far more relevant point to Butler and that is the definition of ultimate survival. What does one have to sacrifice and alter in order to continue living? How easily can we break our moral principles? Could we break them and condone ourselves for doing so? Concepts such as good or evil are all but malleable in Wild Seed because when the need arises you never know what you might have to do for survival...

    I have already begun Mind of my Mind.
    Boreas likes this.
  14. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    Mind of My Mind takes off a hundred or so years after Wild Seed and to some extent, it is unimportant because what relevance has a century, after all, for two immortal beings?
    Compared to Wild Seed, Mind of My Mind has felt a bit rushed, less refined. Probably the fact this was an earlier work, might explain it.
    The main story arc is intelligently thought, extremely well presented and, as it is usual in Butler, very provocative and controversial. However, as far as the characters were concerned, it felt more clinical in its style and therefore I felt more of a spectator enjoying how the events unfolded rather than engaging more emotionally with them. It lacks, in my opinion, the intensity that Doro and Anyanwu delivered in Wild Seed.

    The more I read Octavia Butler, the more I’m convinced of her interest in presenting controversial ideas from very different angles in a very unjudgemental way.
    Butler doesn’t intend to manipulate the reader into any kind of moral beliefs. Preaching is not what she had in mind but prompting a reaction in the reader’s logic was.
    The story facts are exposed and told and it is up to oneself to decide what to approve or disapprove of, what to condemn or condone.
    The characters go through their own personal and moral experiences adapting and changing their views as the story progresses, while the reader keeps scratching the head trying to return to some kind of righteous position, whatever that might mean.

    Mind of My Mind follows Wild Seed storyline and continues with the concept of creating a new race by strict breeding methods. These methods will be void of any emotional and ethical values. Therefore the reader can’t possibly anticipate enjoying a story of epical tone, in which good versus evil stand as clearly as black versus white (pun intended)
    There are parts of the story, whose characters deliver very uplifting actions, whereas soon afterward they will leave you dispirited and wondering how much lower human instincts can get.
    Butler just manages to wrap you in the story and challenges the reader to use their own judgment as opposed to being spoon-fed a rather myopic conclusion.

    Clay’s Ark is next.
  15. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    Finished Clay’s Ark and Patternmaster.
    I really loved both but Clay’s Ark really captured my attention. I found it to be an extremely clever thought experiment. CA is complex and intriguing: how to succumb to survive. A new race is born.
    Butler did know how to tease readers moral. She also had this ability to transport her readers to a very scary, unsettling and ugly reality.
    Pattermastern has been a great finale to this collection. I have no doubt I would have equally enjoyed it had I read these books by publication order.

    Now, any other recommendations by Butler?
    Boreas likes this.
  16. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Isn't Patternmaster just a scary conclusion? Normally, you'd think that a writer would come up with a hopeful possibility by the end of even a bleak series. But Butler envisioned the weird, fascinating and ultimately unpleasant conclusion from the outset.

    You should pick up her collection of stories called Bloodchild and Other Stories. Butler is not comfortable writing short stories, yet she's written one of the most memorable and, again, freakishly unsettling stories with "Bloodchild". The others are also quite good, especially "Speech Sounds".
  17. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    Thank you, B! Noted!
    Butler is most definitely bleak in her outsets and conclusions. Yet, she was so terribly clever at devicing these stories that it almost feels like a compulsion to read and enjoy her books.

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