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July 1st, 2004, 11:11 AM #1
July BOTM: Patternmaster by Octavia Butler
I just finished this book for the book club. I have had a copy for a long time, but never read it. This was Butler's first novel and I thought that it showed. It was not up to the quality I've come to expect from her. It was, however, a fine first novel and it was nice to see how far she has come.
The storyline was a bit weak, but the characters were fun. What I really liked about it was Butler's thoroughly fascinating world. Some more explanation of how the world, which I take was Earth in the far future, would have helped, particularly the sphynxs.
All in all, I enjoyed it and will probably seek out the other books in this world.
July 1st, 2004, 04:46 PM #2
This was the first Butler book I'd read, and I was really impressed. However, some of the symbolism seemed a bit heavy-handed, esp. at the end where the current Patternmaster seemed a sure-fire standin for a more or less uncaring god who forced you to do things on your own.
Still, a fantastic premise. One thing I regret is that I came to this knowing too much about Butler and her tendencies. So I was on the lookout for slavery, race issues, class issues, feminist issues, etc. I wonder what it would've been like if I'd come to it without any of that background. It still would've been good, I'm sure of that.
July 2nd, 2004, 07:59 PM #3
I read this book a while ago, and don't remember a whole lot. I enjoyed it, but wished that she had written her stories chronologically. Although this is the first written, she explains about the psi powers in Wild Seed. It took me a while in this book to figure out that 'mutes' meant people without the psi talent, and not those who were stupid/dumb/deformed.
The Sphynix's too were a mystery until you read Clay's Ark, which explains how they are made, who they are and why they and the humans are fighting.
I seem to remember a couple and a relationship they tried to have, and an escape. I enjoyed the story, but as always with her, wanted more.
I guess I am not sure how knowing what themes are important to her is a problem with reading her stuff ? It isn't like she lectures, and surely you don't mean to imply that she isn't allowed to have a point of view about what goes on around her, everyone else (authors or not) does.
July 4th, 2004, 01:52 PM #4
[i]I guess I am not sure how knowing what themes are important to her is a problem with reading her stuff ? It isn't like she lectures, and surely you don't mean to imply that she isn't allowed to have a point of view about what goes on around her, everyone else (authors or not) does.[i]
No, no no, I don't mean to imply that she shouldn't write about deep themes and issues and everything! Absolutely not. I'm glad that she does, since she enriches the field immensely.
What I meant was that I wonder how I would have percieved the book if I didn't have that background knowledge. Would I still have percieved that the feudal society of the psychic people and the slave status of the mutes all had different elements of slavery and oppression in them? Some things in the book felt unsubtle, but is that her fault as a writer, or my fault as a reader for looking for them too hard?
It's a bit hard to explain, and I don't really think it detracted from my enjoyment of the book much at all.
July 4th, 2004, 11:24 PM #5
No I understand now, I didn't from your first post.
Although the set-up of the society isn't subtle, I look at as a dystopia coming out of the 70's when everything seemed so bleak. It may have first been published in the 80's - but her stuff often takes me back to Jimmy Carter's days of 'malaise'.
July 17th, 2004, 02:49 PM #6
I was pretty thoroughly disappointed, especially having already read the Dawn / Adulthood Rites / Imago trilogy and the two Parable books.
Unlike those, this was a simplistic and straightforward book that still managed not to hold my attention. Why was everything so flippin' medieval? Two things I especially disliked: first, the way the magic-oops-I-mean-psi-powers were only vaguely explained and described, which is one of my pet peeves about fantasy-I-mean-SF-of-this-type. A little more exposition about what happens in school would have helped with this a great deal. Second, I guess the very first chapter (where Rayal gets hit by a gun) is supposed to happen after the last chapter--unless that's just the beginning of the time when Rayal is really too old and is basically just fooling everyone. I couldn't tell, and I didn't feel that anything ever looped back around to that chapter enough to provide me the understanding or closure I would have liked.
I think the only thing I liked was the Amber character, who was brave and resourceful. I am slightly interested in reading Clay's Ark, but at this point I won't until someone here mentions that it's worth it. Sigh... sorry to sound so negative but I really didn't like this one.
July 20th, 2004, 03:08 PM #7Originally Posted by lemming
Thanks Lemming, that helped to elucidate one of the reasons for my ambivalence about this one. I hadn't thought about it on a concious level, but you hit the nail on the head.
July 20th, 2004, 07:15 PM #8
I have to agree. The fantasy elements in the book were a bit too cliched for my tastes.
On the other hand, from what Ficus Fan stated, the other two novels help explain the development of psychic power and the origination of the spyhxes, so, technically, it should be considered SF with a sort of fantasy feel, what some people have dubbed SciFantasy, ala The Dragons of Pern.
As I opined above, this was by far the weakest Butler book I have read. Archen, I would recommend giving her other works a chance. That said, it was still not bad for a first novel, cliches and all. It does contain what will become hallmarks of her work, i.e., issues involving slavery and oppression, ways in which humanity may change and what we do with those changes, sexism, etc.
July 21st, 2004, 10:04 PM #9
I guess I would have to say that I don't agree that the book had fantasy tropes in it. Probably because I have read the other two books which explain things. But even without it I would say that the idea of mutant, latent talents in humans was a definite theme of the softer-science SF in the 70's and maybe early 80's. Just because there isn't a scientific explanation for the mutation (had they even thought about the idea of cracking the genome then-?) doesn't make it fantasy (maybe bad SF), anymore than a SF story where they just assume FTL is fantasy.
The people who had powers were all part of a genetic breeding program with a mutation and they could trace their heritage back to at least one of two people in Wild Seed. Sometime the two ancestors bred together and at other times bred with others - including their own offspring I think, in order to propagate the mutation.
I have no idea why OB wrote the series in such a disjointed manner. She was at Readercon a few years ago and she said her suggestion was to read them in the order they were published in. It was at a large Q&A after the interview, and I never asked why, and neither did anyone else.
I have read them all (except Survivor which is out of print, and she hates it, so it won't be republished and used copies tend to sell for $75.00-$170) and I have an understanding of the whole story, but think it would have been better suited to be told in order.
July 22nd, 2004, 12:03 PM #10
By fantasy tropes, I had more in mind the sort of feudal feel of the whole society. That is a hallmark of fantsy much more than SF. Also the old king, the quest (through the country on horseback, no less), and the competition for inherited power are all big parts of your average fantasy/sword & sorcery story.
I've got no problem with using those elements in an SF story, and Patternmaster was certainly SF by my definition (if it attempts a scientific explanation of its scenario in any way, no matter how inadequate, it is SF), but I would have liked more explanation for why an advanced society had evolved along these particular heirachical lines.
Also, being that is was so heavy into the fantasy tropes, it used precisely some of the elements that I generally don't like in fantasy. There's a reason that I read more SF than fantasy.
July 22nd, 2004, 09:27 PM #11
But it wasn't an evolved society, it was a post apocalyptic one that evolved from the wreckage of ours. They were medieval in feel becaus they lost most of the technology and heavy industry when society stopped functioning. There was a war between the mutants and the deaf, and there was the spread of the Clay Ark disease and later Clay Arks.
The man who started the whole thing was very big into power and being the top dog, so I suspect that type of behavior led to the belief in a single all powerful ruler. They were trying to survive so they banded into clans, and the strongest became the leader. It was a very autocratic set up in terms of the man who started it all. Others imitated him, and like all rulers with power they were interested in preserving it, strengthening it, and passing it on.