Category Archives: Patternist Series

Wild Seed, Mind of My Mind, Clay’s Ark, [Survivor], Patternmaster

What I Have Learned From Octavia Butler

Octavia Butler has introduced me into the world of literary science fiction. Prior to taking this course, I have never read a science fiction novel before. I entered into this course with many preconceived notions about the genre and thought that it only concerned story lines about aliens and spaceships. I was very concerned that I would not like Octavia Butler’s work, because science fiction was a genre that was completely foreign to me. However, I am very happy to say that I was wrong. What I thought was going to be my least favorite class of the semester turned out to be my favorite. In my opinion, the works of Octavia Butler are captivating and contain many important themes that go beyond spaceships and aliens. In each one of her novels, Butler creates a fantasy world that explores the type of conflicts that are apparent in our own reality.

The types of questions that I entered into this course with dealt mostly with what the genre of science fiction was and what type of storyline it generally involved. However, my involvement in this course made me realize that there is not a specific storyline that science fiction is regularly concerned with. Reading Octavia Butler’s work has allowed me to observe how free this genre really is, because it ranges from a variety of different settings. When I first read Fledgling, I had no idea that a vampire novel could be classified as science fiction. I was so used to the pop cultural persona of the vampire novel (such as Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight) that I did not realize that science fiction could be written within this discourse. In Octavia Butler’s interview with Juan Gonzalez and Amy Goodman in Conversations with Octavia Butler, Butler talked about how she first became attracted to the genre of science fiction and how she liked how open it was. She spoke against the stigma that science fiction has, stating that “People tend to think of science fiction as, oh Star Wars or Star Trek, and the truth is there are no closed doors, and there are no required formulas. You can go anywhere with it” (Francis 224). I admit that I used to be a part of the group of people who thought that every piece of science fiction was similar to Star Trek and Star Wars. However, Octavia Butler’s novels are very different from one another and extends across different subject areas, such as Ina vampires, Clayarks, and telepaths.

Another question that I asked myself at the beginning of the semester was about the purpose of Butler’s work. I asked myself “what is Octavia Butler trying to accomplish in her science fiction novels? Is there a reason that Geneseo has made this author’s work into an author study?” After reading several of Octavia Butler’s novels, I have discovered that Butler sought to expose her audience to issues regarding racism, prejudice, and slavery. Prejudice is an issue that appears regularly in her novels and is particularly dominant in her vampire novel Fledgling. Shori was a victim of prejudice because of her genetically engineered body and dark skin color. In order to ensure that her form of Ina would never reproduce, the Silks murdered her family and attempted to murder her as well. Although this novel takes place in a world where vampires exist, prejudice and discrimination are very real issues that are prevalent in our own reality. After I read “Black Girls Are from the Future: Afrofuturist Feminism in Octavia E. Butler’s Fledgling”, I viewed Fledgling more concretely about combatting prejudice and learning to live with difference. Within her article, Susana M. Morris discusses how “Butler’s Ina transgress conventional vampire tropes not only by being mortal but also by experiencing (and succumbing to) hierarchal divisions, such as those of racism, mirroring the violent systems of oppression that are the foundation of much of the human world” (Morris 161). Some of the similarities that the Ina share with human beings are their involvement in social class divisions, their oppression as a result of prejudice, and their ability to die. Furthermore, slavery was also a subject that Octavia Butler regularly dealt with in her literary works. In Wild Seed, Doro subjected Anyanwu into slavery as he forced her to take part in his breeding program without her consent. Anyanwu never willingly agreed to become involved in Doro’s program, but she was still forced to participate in it.

In many of our lecture discussions, consent was a topic that was touched upon heavily. Throughout my involvement in this course, I have discovered that Octavia Butler’s work regularly grapples with the issue of consent and how someone could lose their consent to life if they did not obey an individual’s refusal to consent to their demands. After we discussed the complexities of consent that are prevalent in Butler’s work, this left me questioning about what consent really involves. If someone’s life depends on another person, does that mean that they lose their consent to live if the individual does not wish to participate in their demands? Before I read Octavia Butler’s work, I never really thought about how complicated consent could be. Shori depended on her symbionts for sexual pleasure and nourishment while Doro depended on the bodies of his victims to house his spirit. In terms of consent, one aspect of Fledgling that really struck me was Shori’s ability to acquire her symbionts without their “natural” consent. Once Shori bit someone, she automatically received their consent to become her symbiont due to her venom. Because Shori’s venom persuaded humans to become her symbionts, this made me wonder if Shori’s symbionts were really giving their consent to be with her or if they were just being brainwashed to. On the other hand, Doro had to steal a person’s body without their consent in order to live. If Doro did not steal bodies, he would have died sooner once the body that he was in deteriorated. If both Shori and Doro did not take part in these relationships, does this mean that they have lost their ability to consent to life? These questions made me realize that in some cases, someone might have to take away another person’s ability to consent willingly in order to fulfill their own consent. Does this make disobeying someone’s refusal to consent right? Unfortunately, I still don’t know the answers to these questions and it might take me years to establish a definitive answer.

After contemplating the takeaways of science fiction, I have discovered that Octavia Butler’s work deals heavily with learning to co-exist with different lifestyles, especially lifestyles that are considered to be transgressive. In Conversations with Octavia Butler, Butler described her view of what she believed science fiction accomplished to Rosalie G. Harrison, stating that “I see science fiction as a way of disseminating the fact that we don’t have only one kind of people, namely white males, in the world. They are not the only ones who are here; not the only ones who count” (Francis 6). None of Butler’s literature involve only white individuals. Instead, Butler focused on individuals that differentiated from this norm, such as Doro in Wild Seed. Doro celebrated the concept of difference as he sought to breed individuals with special abilities in order to create a brand new superior race. If someone did not have any special abilities, Doro wanted nothing to do with them. Furthermore, Anyanwu also exemplifies Butler’s celebration of difference. Even though she was originally born as an African American female, Anyanwu had the ability to change her shape and appearance whenever she pleased. By including the concept of difference within several of her novels, Butler spread the message that being different is okay, and that it is crucial for society to learn to accept these differences in order to live with one another peacefully.

Before I discovered who Octavia Butler was and what her novels encompassed, I considered science fiction to be a genre that was only about spaceships, aliens, and extraterrestrial beings. After reading several of her literary works, I now view science fiction as a free genre that can range anywhere from concerning the spread of disease, becoming a victim of slavery, and becoming a target of prejudice. Science fiction has the ability to influence the audience to reflect on issues that involve how society responds to different lifestyles. Despite her unique settings that are vastly different from a traditional fictional novel, Octavia Butler’s science fiction addresses many of the issues that are prevalent in our own reality. Butler strives to fight in favor of lifestyles that are out of the norm, and I really respect that of her as a writer.


Francis, Conseula. Conversations with Octavia Butler. Jackson: U of Mississippi, 2010. Print.

Morris, Susana M. “Black Girls Are from the Future: Afrofuturist Feminism in Octavia E. Butler’s Fledgling.” Women’s Studies Quarterly 40.3/4 (2012): 146-66. Academic Search Complete. Web. 23 Feb. 2015.

Language Politics

One of the most powerful things that I’ve read in all of Butler’s assigned fiction, is the passage in Mind of My Mind where Doro asks Anyanwu if she understands the term ‘mute,’ and she replies:

“I know what it means, Doro. I knew the first time I heard Mary use it. It means n—–s!”

I know I’ve quoted this in at least one of my other blog posts, but I keep coming back to it. In light of racial tension seeming at an all time high, the events in Ferguson and Baltimore are drawing more attention and momentum across the country. While the larger issue of institutionalized racism in American law enforcement is finally being noticed, the smaller scale issue of the politics around language being used to discuss what is happening is almost entirely under the radar. An article on the Feminist Wire, Thugs-R-Us, discusses “the epithet ‘Thugs’” and how it is “a word that has an egregiously racial/black association.” The word ‘thug’, as the article says, “[conjures] up…scenes of ghetto chaos, criminality and macho swagger,” and therefore instantly brings up a negative connotation in our minds. Continue reading Language Politics


As we have now read multiple stories by Octavia Butler, it is strongly evident that much of the same themes reoccur throughout her works. Now, it is obvious that Butler wants to challenge her readers, but I personally have reached a point where I have become nearly blinded by my own judgment of the characters. Not only the characters themselves, but their way of life. It seems that their lives revolve (especially in the Seed to Harvest novels) around breeding, mating, and reproducing (and oftentimes this is either ordered or forced). There appears to be little to no actual enjoyment of life and of pursuing endeavors that are of the individual’s own will. Continue reading Repellent

Disability and Autonomy as Race Issues in Patternmaster

In Patternmaster, on page 673, there is a quote about mutes born with physical or mental deformities:

“And there was a certain Patternist woman who had made an art form of controlling and changing the development of unborn mute children. Already she had created several misshapen monstrosities that had to be destroyed. She got away with what she did because infants and even older children, Patternist or mute, were considered expendable. Those who were defective in some irreparable way were routinely destroyed.”

This provides an interesting (and terrifying) look into how disability is treated in their world, while also showing more of the racial/disabled dichotomy between mutes and Patternists: disability is essentially turned into a race.

Continue reading Disability and Autonomy as Race Issues in Patternmaster

Eugenics and Reproductive Violence

Tala Khanmalek’s article in the Feminist Wire, “Slavery: The Haunting Legacy of Sterilization Abuse in California State Prisons,” begins by reporting that between 2006 and 2010 around 150 women were sterilized in California prisons without their consent. Khanmalek cites this statistic from an article in the Huffington post by Alex Stem (“Sterilization Abuse in State Prisons: Time to Break with California’s Long Eugenic Patterns”) which focuses on the general context of such eugenic programs and makes the claim: “What current and past [eugenic] practices share is the assumption that some women by virtue of their class position, sexual behavior, or ethnic identity are socially unfit to reproduce and parent.” Khanmalek has a slightly different central argument and instead of framing the incident in California in the general context of eugenics she frames it within a history of, “state-sanctioned reproductive regulation targeting women of color.” I think this framework is particularly useful in developing our understanding of Butler as it allows us to link a few instances of violence that I at least found very troubling, which provides a new way to understand them. Continue reading Eugenics and Reproductive Violence

A Very Troubling & Allegorical Parallelism

The other day, I happened to be glancing over the schedule and I noticed that we’d be talking about Survivor this Friday. And just at that moment, I immediately remembered that I had wanted to right a very brief but contemplative blog post about that one time that we read a few pages of Survivor together as a class. I remember Beth saying that Survivor is the most allegorical novel of Butler’s Patternist Series which makes it so much easier (and fun) to infer parallelisms. Yet, the parallel that came to me troubles me more than anything else, even if I find it very intriguing. On page 36, in the Survivor packet that we were given before Spring Break, there is a short scene in which Jules, Alanna, and Neila come across a distorted corpse in a sealed compartment on the very ship that they had flown in on, “It was the body of a young man, dressed in the bright-colored style of the city of Forsyth. His body was short and squat and his head large. His forehead bulged strangely on one side and seemed almost sunken on the other. His mouth was slack and half open, drooling…To Neila and Alanna, he said, ‘There are all kinds of slaves.'”  Continue reading A Very Troubling & Allegorical Parallelism

Advantage, Evolution, and Connection in the works of Octavia Butler

While reading Govan’s article “Connections, Links, and Extended Networks: Patterns in Octavia Butler’s Science Fiction,” I was struck by the following passage:

“In each story, a physical, psychic, or attitudinal difference associated with the heroine sets her apart from society and often places her in jeopardy; each survives because her ‘difference’ brings with it a greater faculty for constructive change” (84).

It struck me that this true without exception in every one of Butler’s novels we have read so far: Shori had the ability to walk in the daylight, Anyanwu had the unprecedented power to control every cell in her body, Mary created the Pattern, the disease spread in Clay’s Ark and the infected survived because of heightened physical abilities and their symbiotic relationship with a micro-organism that utterly hijacks all forms of terrestrial life, and Teray had almost all of Coransee’s psionic strength plus extremely fine perception and control over biological matter. Virtually every protagonist in Octavia Butler’s novels is more evolved and ultimately more adaptable than those around them. Continue reading Advantage, Evolution, and Connection in the works of Octavia Butler

The Human/Animal Boundary in the Patternist Series

Danielle’s post “Uncontrolled Contagion” really resonated with me when she stated, in the last paragraph, that the domination of the “lesser” peoples, mainly that of the mutes and the Clayarks, in the Patternist series should serve as a warning sign to the reader of what such intolerances between cultures might entail: which, in her words was doomed to result in “rip[ping] society and eventually the world apart.” This enabled me to think about the binary structures that we as human beings create in order to define ourselves as a species by means of juxtaposition. It is no secret that we, as people, fear what is different—we see or we read about something that is socially, culturally, and/or biologically foreign to our own way of life and ways of being, and, suddenly, as a culture, we conclude that this society, alien to our own, is in some way as threatening as it is antagonistic; as dangerously hostile as it is distinct. In short: we fear what we do not know. Therefore, what better way to greater solidify our own identity as a species, than to define what is not objectively “us” as “Other” and thereby, “inferior”?

Continue reading The Human/Animal Boundary in the Patternist Series

“Positive Obsession” and Disease

Clay’s Ark left me with so many questions. It got me thinking about when we discussed who was truly at fault for the spread of this deadly disease. There are so many ways that people can look at this, whether they choose to fluctuate between having good intetions vs. not having good intentions. Personally, I can’t really blame Blake…although the spread of the disease was definitely on him. It is funny how one interaction led to such a deadly epidemic despite all the effort that Eli put towards controlling it. But, If I had to blame anyone it would definitely be Eli. I understand that the disease caused compulsions that led to  the control of the thoughts and actions of the host such as when Eli kidnapped Blake and his daughters, but if I had to pin this apocalypic ending on anyone it would be Eli. The ending of this novel really saddened me, because not only did Blake die but so did Rane. Keira, the one who everyone thought wouldn’t make was the only survivor of her immediate family. Because Butler is the author, this doesn’t surprise me whatsoever. After all, she loves to keep us guessing by playing  with the concept of strength and ability.

Strangely enough, This novel reminded me of Butler’s essay “Positive Obsession.” On page 133, she described her positive obsession of writing. She explained how she felt it was dangerous because she couldn’t stop. In her essay, Butler stated that positive obsession involved not being able to stop which is very similar to the spread of the disease in Clay’s Ark. Although this essay was geared toward writing science fiction, the disease acted in an extremely similar manner. It never stop changing and dissolving humanity and was very dangerous in this way. I feel like Clay’s Ark  took the concept of Butler’s possitive obsession with science fiction head on by representing it through this extraterrestrial disease. Butler’s fiction changes and dissolves humanity in Fledgling when human symbionts abandon their culture, in Clay’s Ark when humans contract a disease that changes their DNA and causes them to become more animalistic, and in Wild Seed where many slaves are treated as less than human.

Uncontrolled Contagion

As a student of political science and a current student of a class pertaining to the developing world, it is evident that the spread of western civilization and culture over time is a supremely problematic part of the world. It is common knowledge that western civilizations conquered and colonized the majority of the world, with countries such as England and Spain having colonies stretching across the globe. It is also generally understood that colonization ended, for the most part, after WWII. While it is true that many once colonized countries gained independence at this point, that does not mean that western countries lost their power over them. Many countries that were once the victims of colonization are still heavily dependent on those that had once been their colonizers.

The most evident ways of the lasting impact of colonization are a countries economy and its religion. On the continent of South America you see the lasting impression of Spanish colonization with the dominance of the Catholic religion. On the continents of Asia and Africa, you see a more economically based dominance with the economies of former colonies still relying on their colonizers to keep their economies afloat. This continued influence of the west on the “other” is echoed in Butler’s work quite effectively in The Patternist series. Continue reading Uncontrolled Contagion