Category Archives: Octavia Butler Book Club

Clay’s Ark [Octavia Butler Book Club]

Clay's Ark

[W]as he wrong? Should he give himself up? Would he be able to tell everything he knew and dump the problem into the laps of others?

To give himself up would be an act of self-destruction. He would be confined, isolated. He would be prevented from doing the one thing he must do: seeking out new hosts for the alien micro-organisms that had made themselves such fundamental parts of his body. Their purpose was now his purpose, and their only purpose was to survive and multiply. All his increased strength, speed, coordination, and sensory ability was to keep him alive and mobile, able to find new hosts or beget them. Many hosts. Perhaps three out of four of those found would die, but that magical fourth was worth any amount of trouble.

The organisms were not intelligent. They could not tell him how to keep himself alive, free, and able to find new hosts. But they became intensely uncomfortable if he did not, and their discomfort was his discomfort. He might interpret what they made him feel as pleasure when he did was was necessary, desirable, essential: or as paon when he tried to do what was terrifying, self-destructive, impossible. But what he was actually feeling were secondhand advance-retreat responses of millions of tiny symbionts.

The woman touch him to get his attention. She had brought him a tray. He took it on his lap, trying, and in the final, driven instant, failing to return the woman’s kindness. He could not spare her. He scratched her wrist just hard enough to draw blood.

It’s hard for me to articulate how I feel about Clay’s Ark. Sandwiched in as the third of the Patternmaster series, Clay’s Ark feels dramatically different from the pacing and tone of Mind of My Mind and Wild Seed. In many ways, Clay’s Ark functions as a bridge to explain the events that lead to the creation of the Clayarks and their eventual war with the Patternists. There were no standout characters to wrestle with, in this one – the main thrust of the novel is the series of extraordinary circumstances that bring about the end of (a) world.

We’re a bit behind in the book club, so let’s call this one the “winter break” read. We’ll do a summary post in January, and then roll right into Patternmaster.

Mind of My Mind and Coercive Control [Octavia Butler Book Club]

*Trigger Warning/Spolier Alert*

Mind of My Mind Cover

“Are we going back home?” Vivan asked.

Karl glanced at her, then looked around. He realized that he was heading back toward Palo Verde. He had left home heading nowhere in particular except away from Mary and Doro. Now he had made a large U and was heading back to them. And it wasn’t just an ordinary impulse driving him. It was Mary’s pattern.

He pulled over to the curb, stopped under a NO PARKING sign. He leaned back in the seat, his eyes closed.

“Will you tell me what’s the matter with you?” Vivan asked.

“No.”

She was doing all she could to keep calm. It was his silence that frightened her. His silence and his obvious anger. He wondered why he had brought her with him. Then he remembered.”You’re not leaving me,” he said.

“But if Mary came through transition all right–”

“I said you’re not leaving!”

“All right.” She was almost crying with fear. “What are you going to do with me?”

He turned to glare at her in disgust.

“Karl, for heaven’s sake! Tell me what’s wrong!” Now she was crying.

“Be quiet.” Had he ever loved her, really? Had she ever been more than a pet-like all the rest of his women? “How was Doro last night?” he asked.

She looked startled. By mutual agreement, they did not discuss her nights with Doro. Or they hadn’t until now. “Doro?” she said.

“Doro.”

“Oh, now – ” She sniffed, trying to compose herself. “Now, just a minute – ”

“How was he?”

She frowned at him, disbelieving. “That can’t be what’s bothering you. Not after all this time. Not as though it was my fault either!”

“That’s a pretty good body he’s wearing,” said Karl. “And I could see from the way you were hanging on him this morning that he must have given you a pretty good – ”

“That’s enough!” Outrage was fast replacing her fear.

A pet, he thought. What difference did it make what you said or did to a pet?

“I’ll defy Doro when you do,” she said icily. “The moment you refuse to do what he tells you and stick to your refusal, I’ll stand with you!”

A pet. In pets, free will was tolerated only as long as the pet owner found it amusing. Continue reading

Mind of My Mind [Octavia Butler Book Club]

Mind of My Mind

[Doro] glanced at Rina in annoyance. Rina shrank back against the wall.

“What’s the matter with you?” he asked. “Do you think you’re safer over there?”

“Don’t hurt me,” she said. “Please.”

“Why would you beat a three-year-old like that, Rina?”

“I didn’t do it! I swear. It was a guy who brought me home a couple of nights ago. Mary woke up screaming from a nightmare or something, and he-”

“Hell,” said Doro in disgust. “Is that supposed to be an excuse?”

Rina began to cry silently, tears streaming down her face. “You don’t know,” she said in a low voice. “You don’t understand what it’s like for me having that kid here.” She was no longer slurring her words, in spite of her tears. Her fear had sobered her. She wiped her eyes. “I really didn’t hit her. You know I wouldn’t dare lie to you.” She stared at Doro a moment, then shook her head. “I’ve wanted to hit her though –so many time. I can hardly even stand to go near her sober anymore…” She looked at the body cooling on the floor and began to tremble.

This month’s selection is Mind of My Mind, the second in the Patternist series.

Some free floating framing questions:

1. How does Butler depict the post-slavery world?
2. Are our minds inherently fragile or resilient?
3. How are people shaped by violence?
4. Approaching this book, after reading Wild Seed, what do you think about Doro’s humanity or inhumanity?

Happy reading.

Vote: Should We Read Octavia Butler’s Survivor?

Survivor Cover

So, Book Clubbers, I need to resolve a little problem that’s popped up.

Over the weekend, I read Survivor using the link that commenter FtrYBFMD provided.

On one hand, I can see why Butler hated the novel. Her novels are generally known for complicated morality – this one reads pretty clearly. There aren’t really good guys but there are clear bad guys, and it’s more in line with a lot of the other sci-fi I read. (As a matter of fact, it’s forcing me to reflect on how easily I accept the idea of colonizing other planets, lands, and worlds – and how easily authors accept human superiority, even when they question it.) Jo Walton, writing for Tor, provides some context for Butler’s distaste:

Survivor (1978) is part of the Pattern series, but has not been reprinted since 1981. Butler repudiated the novel and refused to allow it to be reprinted:

    When I was young, a lot of people wrote about going to another world and finding either little green men or little brown men, and they were always less in some way. They were a little sly, or a little like “the natives” in a very bad, old movie. And I thought, “No way. Apart from all these human beings populating the galaxy, this is really offensive garbage.” People ask me why I don’t like Survivor, my third novel. And it’s because it feels a little bit like that. Some humans go up to another world, and immediately begin mating with the aliens and having children with them. I think of it as my Star Trek novel.

All I can say is, she clearly watched a better grade of Star Trek than I ever did. I can understand her problem with the biology, but what she seems to be saying there is that Survivor is a dishonest novel. Well, I kind of like it. I’m sorry you can’t read it.

Oh, but we can. In addition to the link, Racialicious readers have emailed in and volunteered to scan their copies. So if we wanted to, we could. But there’s a couple ethical questions here. Continue reading

“It’s tentacle monsters, not Terry McMillan.”

cute tentacle monsterOur friends at Clutch shouted out the Book Club – to somewhat hilarious ends.

I saw this comment and just about fell out with laughter.

sci-fi writer
JULY 1, 2011 AT 10:28 PM
I am happy to see so many women getting interested in the male-dominated sci-fi genre. Octavia Butler is a great writer and I have enjoyed her works myself. I would like to offer some warning, however. Before you read Octavia Butler believing it to be “Their Eyes Were Watching God” in space, you should know that Octavia Butler was a good -science fiction- writer. That means her works may have some really weird stuff in it. For example, one of her books describes humanity being assimilated by an alien race that must have 3-way sex with a tentacle monster in order to reproduce. The book was riveting and very well-written though. I just wanted to give the ladies a heads up. “The Parable of the Sower” did read like “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” set in the year 2050 (I couldn’t get into it), but some of her works read like typical, fantasy, space opera, science fiction stories. Octavia Butler was an exceptional Black writer who blazed a trail for science fiction writers like myself to follow. If, however, you don’t like weird stuff, be wary.

Remember: It’s tentacle monsters, not Terry McMillan.

(Image Credit: Selling Out for Fun and Profit)

(Back story on the image: Okay, so I put in “tentacle monster” to see what popped up – and yes y’all, I know exactly what was gonna appear on my home computer – and this cute little thing came up. Since I was resigned to an image of something mildly pornified, imagine my delight to find this cute little thing. Then I checked to see what it is. It’s called Rape-kun. O_o. So then I’m trying to figure out what the hell that’s all about, and apparently it’s a gag in a webcomic called Errant Story and spin off series called Fun with Familiars. In the ES wiki, it’s described like this: “Rape-kun is Bani Igaaru’s familiar. He is a small, pink, “affectionate” micro-tentacle monster that enjoys sitting on Bani’s head. Despite the fact that Bani is a schoolgirl, Rape-kun does not, in fact, live up to his name. He was apparently protected by a password, which Bani did not know back during her days at Sashi Mu Academy of Thaumaturgy and Conjuration, that enables his “adult mode;” it hasn’t been revealed whether or not this state of affairs has changed since Bani’s graduation.” So I have no idea as to the appropriateness of using this image, but it’s gonna have to work at the moment.)

Wild Seed [Octavia Butler Book Club]

Wild Seed cover

Doro discovered the woman by accident when he went to see what was left of one of his seed villages. The village was a comfortable mud-walled palace surrounded by grasslands and scattered trees. But Doro realized before he reached it that it’s people were gone. Slavers had been to it before him. With their guns and their greed, they had undone in a few hours the work of a thousand years. Those villagers they had not herded away, they had slaughtered. Doro found human bones, hair, bits of desiccated flesh missed by scavengers. He stood over a very small skeleton – the bones of a child – and wondered where the survivors had been taken. Which country or New World colony? How far would he have to travel to find the remnants of what had been a healthy, vigorous people?

Finally, he stumbled away from the ruins bitterly angry, not knowing or caring where he went. It was a matter of pride with him that he protected his own. Not the individuals, perhaps, but the groups. They gave him their loyalty, their obedience, and he protected them.

He had failed. Continue reading