CRITICAL REVIEWS OF SELECTED OCTAVIA BUTLER NOVELS
"[Patternmaster] is fine, old-fashioned sf about a distant future in which the earth is ruled by Patternists who psi powers let them control the 'mutes' who have no mental voices and do battle with the Clayarks…A brief passes two this through the book offers a throwaway explanation of how this state of affairs came to be, but the how and why are less important then the compelling conflict between Teray and his brother Coransee, both of who seek to become Patternmaster--the ruler of this strange world. [Patternmaster is escape] fiction in the best Patterned tradition. "
A review of "Patternmaster" in Kirkus Reviews, Vol. XLIV, No. 10, May 15, 1976, p.612.
"After centuries of mutations and conflagrations, Earth's survivors have settled down into a neatly stratified system of détente [in Patternmaster]. The Patternists are the elite rulers, linked to one another in a vast mental chain of telepathy and empathy…The reigning Patternmaster is growing old, and his two sons are in hot competition for his job. Teray, the younger, just out of school and still naïve, falls into his older brother's superior pattern and seems doomed to extinction until he meets a sexy outsiders-Patternist woman who can augment his powers when she 'links' with him. The author carefully spells out the ground rules of her unique world, and the ensuing story of love, chase and combat is consistently attention-holding."
A review of "Patternmaster" in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 209, No. 2, June 14, 1976, p. 104.
"[Mind of my Mind is the] first chapter in a history that Butler has already taken up at a much later stage in Patternmaster(1976). Mind of my Mind begins with Doro, a ruthless mutant as old as the pyramids who has spent the last 4,000 years trying to breed a race in his own image. The culminating experiment is his daughter Mary…Despite some ragged moments, Butler is clearly on to a promising vein--something like Zeena Henderson's 'People' stories without their saccharine silliness. There's a lot of intrinsic energy in the Pattern idea, and one wants to see where this erratic, gifted storyteller will pick it up next."
A review of "Mind of my Mind" in Kirkus reviews, Vol. XLV, No. 8, April 15m 1977, p. 453.
"[Mind of my Mind] is a diverting novel about a mutant race emerging from humanity…The novel is concerned with their construction of a telepathic 'pattern' that permits them to build their own society. Butler has created some believable characters and placed them in a believable landscape. While neither the ideas nor the plot is new, the novel is readable and entertaining."
Michael S. Cross, in a review of "Mind of my Mind," in Library Journal, Vol. 102m No. 14, August 1977, p. 1682.
"Wild Seed is a tale of conflict and resolution stretching across a century and a half, from 1690 to 1840. It is warm, involving, sympathetic. And I am recommending it…as a potential Nebula winner. It's that good. Immortality is a difficult theme to handle effectively, for long life must have its effects on personality, effects too few writers seem able to sense. An immortal must, Butler says, acquire either Anyanwu's wisdom and sympathy or Doro's coldness, callousness, canniness of survival. They are opposites in many ways, but elements of both are necessary for a truly successful immortal, and their blending might well occur as Butler paints it…Butler's story, for all that it is fiction, rings true as only the best stories can."
Tom Easton, in a review of "Wild Seed" in Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, Vol. Cl, No. 1, January 5, 1981, p. 168.
"The title character [of Survivor] is Alanna Verrick, a wild human adopted by Missionaries and carried to a distant planet occupied by warring tribes: the Gharkohn and the Tehkohn. The Missionaries are devoted to spreading the sacred God-image of humankind; they find the hair-covered humanoid Kohn repulsive, and naturally they choose to side with the wrong tribe, considering both more animal than human. (p. 110)
The story is well told in alternating sections which reveal the past (first-person narratives by Alanna and Duit, her Tehkohn mate) and present ( third-person narratives). The Kohn culture is well developed, too, and is built around their peculiar colorations. They can change color at will in order to blend with any background, though emotion causes involuntary change, and one's true color determines his station in life. A Hao (leader) must be blue, for example.
The Missionaries and their hypocrisy are perhaps too easy a target, and some of Butler's ironies seem too obvious. The Tehkohn are much more sympathetic than the humans, except for Alanna. She survives, both physically and in the reader's memory. (pp. 110-11)"
Bill Crider, in a review of "Survivor," in Best Seller, Vol. 38m No. 4, July, 1978, pp. 110-11.
"Reading [Clay's Ark]...turns out to be a pleasant surprise. The title does prove to be empty of meaning, but I have the feeling that's not Butler's fault; it hardly sounds like an author's title. Clay's Ark...is the name of the interstellar spaceship that comes back to Earth with a plague aboard; the story has nothing to do with anything ark-like nor with the spaceship per se. We never see it or its landing in the southwestern US. The story follows the surviving crewman, and then other people he infects over a period of years. (p. 34) In any event, the story works.
What the crewman infects earth with is an alien symbiote that transforms the metabolism of humans and causes them to have children of superior physical and mental powers in an alien shape. the nature of the infections such that its victims cannot effectively prevent themselves from having children and can barely hold down the pace at which they will infect others.
The race of homo sapiens is doomed; what has been brought back from the stars is the end of human history. (pp. 34-35)
That's what it's about, and Butler creates this tale with verve, originality, and an apparent gift for the circumstantial detail circumstantially told. This latter attribute may instead be a present inability to write in more than one tone of voice, but in any event she never strains for a pitch she's not up to. While in rather far from ever reaching a resolution of any kind, this book is an effective piece of work in what might be called the 'slice of death' school of SF writing. And there is the possibility a sequel is coming. (p. 35)"
Algis Budrys , in a review of "Clay's Ark," in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Vol. 67, No. 2, August, 1984, pp. 34-5.
"In Kindred (1979) and Wild Seed (1980), a prequel connected with Patternmaster (1976) and Mind of my Mind (1977), Octavia Butler produced two novels of such special excellence that critical appreciation of them will take several years to assemble. To miss them will be to miss unique novels in modern fiction…[In Wild Seed] she has re-evoked the pre-European African tribal voice to present characters who will live through the nightmare centuries of the slave trade. In Kindred she excavates the ordeal…of slavery in America before the Civil War. Nevertheless, and therefore more remarkably, these are the novels of character that critics so much want to find in science fiction-and which remain so rare. Finally, they are love stories that are mythic, bizarre, exotic and heroic and full of doom and transcedence. With them Butler has at once made her best work inimitable and set a standard she herself cannot always be expected the meet.
Clay's Ark tells of Asa Elias Doyle ('Eli'), only survivor of an expedition returning from Proxima Centauri in about 2020 who carried an exobiological 'disease' that can transform humans into physically stronger, healthier, smarter people that are, however, no longer human. Children of disease survivors are a beautiful but radically mutated bioform. With his first 'victims' Eli begins an enclave of brutal but empathic supermen who try to live in hiding, hoping to protect humanity from their disease…But human men will inevitably discover the enclave and the disease will run its course upon the Earth.
The similarity of Ark's premise to that of Andromedia Strain is, we may be grateful, superficial. It has much more affinity with the stunning Australian film, Road Warrior…Zenna Henderson's 'People' narrative also come to mind; Henderson's shy supermen are sentimentally wholesome while Butler's are complex and any analysis of them edifying. But Butler's own Wild Seed and Kindred are a better measure of her talent, and Clay's Ark doesn't meet their standard, although it adopts the principal points of departure of Seed and Kindred, which include the history of slavery and racism, the deep psychic structure of female and male persons, and finally the possibility of a love relationship between them. In its present state the psychobiology of male and female humans is distinct; One is predatory, voracious, and inseminating; the other is fastidious, sequestering and nourishing. these personalities are both ancient and modern.
But Ark is simply too short. It is barely long enough to relate the incidents of the story. It doesn't return often enough to character to satisfy our interest in [the characters]…The male 'lovers' of the women of Wild Seed and Kindred cannot love. Perhaps Eli of Ark can. But the brevity of the novel conveniently permits Butler to avoid showing how he might. Nevertheless, Butler's craft is now so strong that even one of her works of intermission is a delicious confection. Read Clay's Art. It will be among the best things published this year.
John R. Pfeiffer, "Latest Butler a Delicious Confection," in Fantasy Review, Vol. 7, No. 6, July, 1984, p. 44.
"Octavia Butler's Kindred is more polished than her earlier work but still has the author's stubborn, idosyncratic gift for realism. Butler makes new and eloquent use of familiar science-fiction idea, protecting one's own past, to express the tangled interdependency of black and white in the United States; the black heroine's great-great-grandfather is a white man who can, half voluntarily, call her back into his time to help him in emergencies. Dana, drawn wholly involuntarily, must save him to preserve her own ancestry, at least until the conception of her great-grandmother-and Rufus is a Southern slave-owner, confused, spoiled, a rapist with a remarkable gift for self-destruction. Kindred is a family chronicle set in a small space; the limitations let Butler concentrate on the human relations and the surprising-but-logical interplay of past and present…Although characterizations in the past are detailed….Dana's present-day marriage is sketchy and her aunt and uncle, who disapprove of her white husband, are talked about, not shown. Past events may simply have crowded out the present or Butler may mean or indicate that Dana's present-day difficulties in being black are nothing to her past ones-she gets shut of the appalling Rufus only, finally, by killing him. Kindred is exciting and fast-moving and the past occurs without a break in style-a technique that makes it more real-even down to characters' speech (Butler describes their accents but wisely doesn't attempt to reproduce them). the end is crossed-fingers hopeful with some chance of sanity 'now that the boy is dead' though Dana has assured her own birth at a price: her left arm, lost at 'the exact spot Rufus's finger had grasped it.' (pp 96-7)."
Joanna Russ, in a review of "Kindred," in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Vol. 58, No. 2, February, 1980, pp. 96-7.
**Reviews taken from:
Marowski, Daniel, ed. Contemporary Literary Criticism, vol 38. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1986.