Upon learning that Patternmaster is the first book that Octavia Butler wrote in the Patternist series, I immediately began to wonder what it would have been like if we had read the series in the order that Butler wrote the books, or read this book first instead of last. The order in which Butler chose to write this series intrigues me. I wish that she had originally planned to write the series in chronological order – it would certainly make the series appear less disorganized. Nevertheless, I understand why she chose to write the series in that order as a writer myself. After writing one book, sometimes the writer can become addicted to the characters. From there the writer wishes to expand their backgrounds and continue to be a part of their world. In Conversations with Octavia Butler, there is an article titled “Persistence” that was in a magazine. In the article, Butler explains how she “kept taking [her characters] back in time, after wondering, ‘How’d they get like that?’ And that’s how the various novels got plugged into wherever they are on that timeline” (181).
Reading them in chronological order made Patternmaster a bit of a let-down. I was expecting this let-down, so ultimately I didn’t care as much, but if she had started to write this series from Wild Seed, I think that the last book would have been much stronger and more suspenseful. However, Butler didn’t write the series that way so there is no use in going over this idea. Instead, we can question how our experience of Patternmaster would have been different if we had read the series in the order that it was written, rather than reading it chronologically. A classmate of ours, Ashley Allen, mistakenly began to read Patternmaster before the other books in the series, making her perspective a rather interesting one. I decided to interview her, desiring to see what her initial thoughts of Patternmaster were before she read the other books.
Me: Hello Ashley. How are you today?
Ashley: I’m very excited for this interview. How are you?
Me: I’m doing fine. I am aware that you began reading Patternmaster while our class had started to read Wild Seed. How far did you get in the book before realizing that you were reading the last book first?
Ashley: I read through chapter 4, which was the assigned reading for Wild Seed. I didn’t realize that I had read the wrong book until I got to class and started hearing about Anyanwu and Doro and didn’t know who these characters were.
Me: What was your opinion of Patternmaster?
Ashley: I thought it was a really good book when I initially read it. I thought the world that Butler created was really interesting. I liked how this whole new world was outside of the society that we are used to. They didn’t have to deal with our economies and our politics. Once I read it, I had to re-read, since I didn’t really know what a pattern was. I also thought that Teray and Amber’s relationship was very interesting. The concept of the mental link was really cool since this allows two people to become completely one. In romantic relationships in our world, it’s all about becoming one. Two people can get married and come together physically, and although they can know each other very well, they can never exactly feel what the other person is feeling or know what they are thinking. In this story, two people can become one mind, not just one body. In this world, they can hear the other’s thoughts; they can feel what the other person feels. I thought that was a really interesting idea.
Me: That’s a very good point. What else about this book made you enjoy it?
Ashley: There are two real reasons why I liked Patternmaster. Originally, I didn’t think that the story took place on this world since everything was so unique and different. I liked how this idea of the story taking place on a different planet. When I discovered that this world is supposed to be on Earth, just in the future, I still loved the setting and the new concepts. The other books that we’ve read so far by Octavia Butler were very similar to our world. Butler had basically put hidden supernatural characters in our normal world. In this story, the whole world was unique. I also liked that I didn’t know what the Pattern was. The idea was new and fresh to me. I also loved the idea of how two people can become one through it. No one can ever experience that in the world we know.
Me: Did you find any of the concepts confusing? Or was it all interesting to you?
Ashley: When I read the prologue, the idea of the Patternmaster was confusing. I thought the fact that he was with his sister was really weird, but Butler always includes taboo subjects in her novels. I thought the mutes were also people who didn’t talk since Butler didn’t explain that very well at first. The idea of the pattern also was confusing.
Me: After leaving Patternmaster to read the rest of the series, did your opinion of the book begin to change?
Ashley: Definitely. I realized that her writing style really changed since Butler wrote Patternmaster. Also, I didn’t like the third-person in Patternmaster because I felt disconnected to Teray. Yet, I realize why Butler wrote it in third-person instead of in first-person. If we existed in that world ourselves, we would view it from the outside also.
Me: What was it like going back to Patternmaster?
Ashley: A lot of concepts made more sense because I had more background knowledge. I realized it also wasn’t as well-written as the other books were. After witnessing Butler grow as a writer in the other books, going back to Patternmaster made the book seem flat. I realized that it was on Earth in California.
Me: I see. Thank you for your time.
Imagining myself reading Patternmaster after reading Fledging is interesting. I really enjoyed reading Fledgling, so my expectation of the next book we were going to read by Octavia Butler was very high. By having these expectations, that alone could have changed my experience of reading Patternmaster. After reading the other books of the series first, and realizing that I did not like these books as much as Fledgling, my expectations were not very high as I was about to read Patternmaster. I also knew that the characters would not be the same since the characters in Clay’s Ark were almost completely changed from the first two books we had read as a class. I found it slightly amusing how some of my classmates still wanted Doro to return after he had obviously died in Mind of My Mind. I feel that by changing who the main characters are in a series of books makes me feel detached from the series itself, and lowers my expectations of the next book.
Yet, it wasn’t only high expectations that could have made me like Patternmaster more. Like Ashley, I think that I would have been more intrigued by the concepts and the new world that Butler was creating. The world of the Pattern and the Clayarks would have been much bigger in my mind and much fresher.
As Butler wrote the other books of the series, it seems as though her own perspective and ideas of the Clayarks and the world of the series became much more detailed and complicated. Without having knowledge of the details that would come later, the world that she wrote in Patternmaster seems flat. Anybody who read the series from chronological order instead of reading them in the order that they were published would make this realization.