Mind of My Mind, by Octavia Butler

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I think that the reason that I like fantasy and science fiction so much is because I am so intrigued by the way the author's mind works.  I mean, when I read Neil Gaiman or Sheri S. Tepper, I marvel at the places their imagination takes them.  To take our ordinary world and change it into something marvelous/wondrous/horrible/terrifying/magical takes skill.  Since so much fantasy and science fiction these days seems targeted at a younger audience, I'm always glad to find mature, thoughtful stories.

And this week it is Octavia Butler that I am thanking the sci fi gods for.  I read Wild Seed, the first book chronologically in her Patternist series earlier this week, and last night finished Mind of My Mind Mind of My Mind takes the story of Doro and Anyanwu and fast fowards it 150 years.  Anyanwu and her family are now living in California, and Doro continues to pay visits to the only other immortal he's ever found.  On this trip, he is planning to take Mary, one of his many experiments in creating telepaths, and marry her off to Karl, another of his creations.  She is about to go through her transition, the time when those with latent telepathic abilities either learn to control their talent, or go crazy or die in the attempt.  When Mary transitions, Doro finds that her power is new, different-and potentially dangerous to him.  Since this is a fairly rare occurrence in his almost 4000 years of life, he does not kill her, but watches to see what she will do.  She is at the center of the Pattern-a psychic link to other strong telepaths.  While she does not control the Pattern itself, she can control the people in it.  She soon builds an enclave of other powerful telepaths, all of whom answer to her.  Soon enough, Doro realizes his mistake in not killing her when her new power first asserted itself.

As I was reading I was alternately drawn to the mission that Mary took on, and terrified of what it would mean if it was real.  Her telepaths can control anyone not a telepath, forcing them to do things while making them so content with their servitude they think they are doing them out of their own free will.  This is slavery of a different sort-one with fairly benign masters, assuredly, but slavery nonetheless.  While Mary has a symbiotic relationship with her telepaths, they all use the "mutes", as they call non-telepaths, to support them in creating a small empire, while helping them stay hidden from the rest of the world.  This reminds me of the relationship between the Ina and their symbionts in Fledgling, the first of Butler's books I discovered.

Mary and her "First Family" of telepaths (those she drew to her first), are at times sympathetic characters, and at times ruthless killers.  Mary's mission to save latents from themselves seems admirable, but when they do not abide by the rules of her little community they will kill them without much remorse.  It seems that ordinarily, telepaths cannot abide each other's company, since they cannot abide mind to mind contact with each other.  They also cannot abide children, because no one, not even Mary, can completely block the psychic noise that constantly streams from young minds.  This is another reason that they need the mutes-if their "race" is to continue, they must have someone who can take care of the children without abusing or killing them.  Butler blurs the line between good and evil, highlighting the relative nature of so many of the rules of human society.  She also examines the very idea of race as a construct, since Doro has been trying for millenia to create a new "race" of people like himself of which he can be a part.  Color has nothing to do with it in Doro's worldview-talent is the great dividing line, the one thing that determines a person's worth.  There are two more books in this series, and I almost don't want to read them, because then I will have read them-I like thinking about the pleasure I will have in the future from this always surprising, though provoking author.


  1. Wonderful thoughts here. I love Octavia Butler's books and have been forever greatful that my minister turned me onto them. You'll have to read Clay's Ark, then Patternmaster, then go on to Survivor if you can get your hands on them. Then read them again and see if your prospective changes... She was AWESOME!!

  2. Interesting, Great read. I would love to know what you think about the greater themes of "power" and these characters managing their power. Doro vs Mary: using power for bad vs good.


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