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Imago by Octavia Butler (Xenogenesis #3)

Imago by Octavia Butler (Xenogenesis #3)Summary: The child of human and alien parents must find his own way.

One of my reading goals this year was to finished the final two fiction books that Octavia Butler wrote. In November I am just finishing the first of the two, so I am not sure I will get to the second.

Imago I think is a second tier Butler book. It is not bad. Butler is a good writer and creates intriguing worlds. This is not really complete series. It is set on earth, but an earth that an alien race has captured and rules. The alien world took over the Earth in the midst of a global war. The aliens capture the remaining humans in the world and for hundreds of years kept them in stasis while they were studied and the earth was restored after the war.

In the first book of the trilogy the first humans were awoken and that started a forced breeding program to create new species. The aliens are genetic manipulators that go from world to world collecting gene samples and creating new species, mining and using up the worlds until they are bare hunks of rock and then moving on. Butler at times could be a bit to on the nose with her imagery.

The conflict of the trilogy is about participation of humans in this breeding program and the ways that the new ‘constructs’ impact both the humans and the aliens. The three books are about three different characters, the human mother, her first construct child and then this one about another of her construct children, the first construct that is a genetic manipulator itself. (The genetic manipulators do not have sex or gender, they are the conduit through which the different genders connect for procreation.)

Kindred the Graphic Novel by Octavia Butler adapted by John Jennings

Kindred the Graphic Novel by Octavia Bulter adapted by John JenningsSummary: Graphic adaptation of the best of Octavia Butler’s books.

Over the past couple years I have begun to appreciate the art and promise of the graphic novel. Not as a ‘children’s version’ but as something that can be a true art form to itself. I do not think that John Lewis’ memoir in the March Trilogy would be as good in narrative text. The graphics of the March trilogy were essential to making it so good. But I am not sure that the graphic novel of Kindred is up to that standard.

It is not that Kindred is a bad adaptation or a bad graphic novel. It stayed pretty close to the original in story and I liked the art. But the novel was, in my opinion, the best novel of a very good novelist. Octavia Butler captured not just the horror of slavery for the slave, but the horror of slavery for everyone involved. I think some of the nuance of the novel was (necessarily) lost in the graphic novel adaptation. A graphic novel, even one that is over 200 pages, can’t really tell the same story as a 300 page novel.

Bloodchild and other Stories by Octavia Butler

Bloodchild and other Stories by Octavia ButlerSummary: Six short stories and introductions by Octavia Butler.

As regular readers know, I am not a fan of short stories. Most of the time the issue is that I want more from the stories, more characters, more story, more development.

The Bloodchild collection was one of the better short story collections I have read. In large part because each of the stories also included a discussion section by Butler. This gives me part of that more that I am looking for. I could see what prompted the story, or what she was trying to work on to give the short story greater context.

Kindred by Octavia Butler

Kindred by Octavia ButlerSummary: A 26 year old newlywed African American woman from 1976 somehow gets sent back in time to save the life of a young Maryland plantation owners son, in 1815.

A bit over a year ago I picked up Octavia Butler’s book Fledgling more by mistake than anything else. I knew the late Octavia Butler was a well known science fiction author, but I had not read anything she had written.

Fledgling, her last book, was about vampires, but was far different from either the young adult Twilight books, the Anne Rice books, or the traditional Bram Stoker book.

I was reluctant to pick up Kindred because of the subject matter.  An African American woman gets sent back in time to Antebellum South. I expected a depressing or superficial book. Instead I found one of the best fiction books I have read this year.

I am a bit allergic to nostalgia, wishing to be back at some mythical point in history is great, for those that were privileged at that point in time.

Dana, both a woman and African American, was not privileged to in 1815 or the later points where she goes back. It is this voice, of the African American and female, that Butler is known for. But what could be a simplistic (slavery was bad) book was a nuanced look at how culture affect the person.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

A single volume of that includes both the Parable of the Sower and its sequel the Parable of the Talents is on sale for $1.99 on kindle.
Parable of the Sower by Octavia ButlerSummary: A young woman in a dystopian world strives to build a life, a community, and a faith, in the midst of chaos.

I have been slowly working my way through Octavia Bulter’s book since I first read her nearly a decade ago. I have two full length novels and her short story collections yet to read.

Parable of the Sower, like most of her books, is a dystopian novel. Butler published from 1976 until her untimely death in 2006 (she was 58.) Her dystopian was not part of the recent trend. Parable of the Sower was published in 1995. It feels closest to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006), but while just as bleak in description, Parable of the Sower is the story of a young woman, Lauren Olamina, that actually is trying to build something.

The story starts when Lauren is 15, living in a walled community in the remnants of Los Angeles. The novel develops her character and generates the setting while giving us a glimpse of the religious system that she is developing. Lauren is a writer. What she is writing is the philosophy of her religion, Earthseed. Which, when told she is creating a religion, she responds that a person that describes something they found, such as a rock, did not create the wrong, but merely describes it. Earthseed is humanist. It is a philosophy, a way of living. God may exist in it, but that god is distant and not present in the reality of the dystopian world she is living in.

The main story is a travel story. The climate has shifted and drought it perpetual. Water is one of the most lucrative commodities and homelessness, slavery, and drugs are prevalent. The government and police exist in name, but not in ability to maintain structure or order. They are simply another gang that will rob you if you let them. Similarly to Walker Percy’s Love in Ruins (which was written about a decade before Parable of the Sower), this dystopian world is divided by race. And like most of Butler’s books, the main character is an African American woman.

Wild Seed by Octavia Butler

Summary: Two long lived people interact, love and fight over generations.

Wild Seed is now the fourth book and the start of the second series I have read by Octavia Butler. She is a good writer and creates interesting (and wildly different) settings and characters.

But Butler is also hard to read at times. Not particularly unusually among fantasy and science fiction authors, she uses her settings to create alternative social structures and explore issues of ethics and morality.

Butler is known for her feminist writing. While not all men are evil, all of the books I have read from her so far have explored the ideas of male oppression of women.

Wild Seed is about two long lived people. Doro has the power to move from one body to another, living forever, but needing to ‘feed’ on those around him both to stay alive and because of an innate need. Because of his long life (he has been alive for over 4000 years), he has created breeding programs to breed special powers into his ‘children’. These settlements, first in Africa and then later in the Americas, are scattered, but allow him to live as a God. Worshiped by his children, who will willingly give up their bodies for their God.

Adulthood Rites by Octavia Butler (Xenogenesis Trilogy #2)

Adulthood Rites by Octavia ButlerSummary: a human/alien construct explores both his alien and human background and finds both lacking. 

Adulthood Rites is the second book in a trilogy. After a devastating world war, an alien race has come to earth. The aliens completely dominated the world. The aliens are genetic masters that use genetic manipulation as their main technology. The aliens have come to absorb all the resources of the earth, including the genetic information before moving on to their next conquest. As part of their conquest all humans have been sterilized and only those humans that are willing to breed with the aliens are allowed to have children.

The main character in this story is Akin, the first human/alien male construct. As an infant he is stolen by rogue humans who want children. After he is recovered, he continues to explore the rogue human’s world. Over time he develops an understanding of his human and alien sides and finds his calling.

I think this is a much better book than the first in the trilogy. Butler is always concerned with concepts of oppression and community and independence. Part of what she is exploring here is the human propensity toward violence. There is oddly a very paternalistic (not quite utopian, but in that direction) bent to this series. The aliens have real limits, but their intent is to change humans for their own good in a way that the humans do not necessarily want.

Patternmaster (Patternist #4) by Octavia Butler

Summary: The world has devolved into perpetual war between the clayarks and the patternists. A young patternist must find his way and try to avoid getting killed by either group.

Finally at the end of the series I figure out why each of the four books of this series have been so radically different. When Octavia Butler was 10, she saw a really bad science fiction movie and thought she could do better. So she started writing a story. That story become the book Pattermaster. It was the first book she finished and published.

The second book on the series Mind of My Mind was published a year later. The first book in the series, Wild Seed was not written and published until 1980. And the third book in the series (at least chronologically within the story) was Clay’s Ark published in 1984. There is a fifth book in the series, Survivor, published in 1978, but it has been out of print for a long time because Butler did not like the book and refused to let it come back into print.

Each of the books in the series fill in the gaps of the story introduced in Patternmaster. Wild Seed give the origin of the rise of a genetically different group of humans. Mind of My Mind is about the creation of the telepathic’s Pattern. Clay’s Ark tells of how the disease started (which is the origin of the war between the Patternists and Clayarks.

Clay’s Ark by Octavia Butler (Patternist #3)

Summary: A human starship has returned from its first visit to another star system, but it did not come back alone.

As I am writing this I have finished the fourth book of the series and finally understood why the books of this series are so different. I will leave that to the review of the fourth book. But yet again, this is a very different book in style and content from the first two books in the series.

This is a story of alien contact, almost horror, but not quite. The story is told in parallel, with the current time line and a historical timeline. Neither one is completely chronological so some of the jumping around slows down the suspsense and confuses the story.

The historical timeline tells the story of Asa Elias Doyle, an astronaut and the only member of a 14 person crew to make it back from visiting another star system. The spaceship crashlanded onto earth and he is presumed dead by everyone. The problem is that he was infected by an alien microbe that is slowly changing him. He is trying to protect humanity by staying away from other humans.

Mind of My Mind by Octavia Butler (Patternist #2)

Summary: The subject of Doro’s breeding program, after several thousand years, comes of age.

The first book in this series, Wild Seed, was more of a prequel than the first book in the series.

Doro is some type of mutant person that was born about 4000 years ago. He accidentally discovered that he could leave one body and take over another, giving him a type of immortality. Eventually he started a breeding program to create a people for himself. And he took on a type of God role for them. This breeding program both gives him some type of purpose (this book really discloses the purpose of the program) and a ready source of bodies to take over.

This book opens in the 1970s (roughly current time period because it was written in 1977), jumping more than 100 years from the end of Wild Seed (which moved about 300 years during the book.)  Doro finds Mary, a young abused girl, and gives her to Anyanwu (now called Emma) to care for and raise.

As Mary gets older and ’transitions’ to her full powers, she is more like Doro than any other of his previous ‘children’. Mary creates ‘patterns’ (the source of the series name) and draws people under her power.