Patternmaster by Octavia E. Butler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
After Clay’s Ark, I had no idea what to expect with The Patternmaster. What I did not expect was that the Clayark evolution would basically turn those people into animals – albeit really smart human-like animals – and that they would have no real purpose to their existence save to be obstacles for the protagonists. Their humanity was almost completely stripped away, despite them fighting so hard to maintain what they could of it in Clay’s Ark.
This book focused otherwise entirely on the Patternists. Two brothers, in particular. All of the Patternists of the past books are gone, including Mary, who created the Pattern and there is little spoken of them beyond what purpose they served in history. Not even their names are mentioned. I did appreciate the intricacies detailing how the Pattern and the Patternist society worked and the descriptions of the mental processes and battles.
Other than the Patternists and Clayarks, there are still humans about. “Mutes,” to the Patternists, who consider them little more than smart animals that can be easily manipulated to serve any purpose, from domestic, to brutal, to sexual. The evolution of slavery, where those who have not evolved, can serve no other purpose.
A few interesting themes show up. One being that society has reverted to a sub-technological level. Apparently, the Clay’s Ark spaceship was the pinnacle of human technology, and, also served as the downfall of the species. No real reason is given as to why the Patternists no longer have use for technology. Certainly communications isn’t necessary. But … air conditioning? Cars? Netflix?
The most interesting thing about this book as the conclusion to the Seed to Harvest series, is that it is rather anti-climactic. With all the build up regarding the Clayarks and the Patternists, I assumed there would be more to it, but as I read on, I kept looking at the number of pages left and realized that the book would remain focused on a small pocket of the greater world. These books aren’t to be viewed as an epic series, connected through characters and adventures. Instead, it is four different stages in the human evolution Butler has imagined. Apparently, no matter how far the human race evolves, men will always compete against men and women will always be treated as inferior. I had hoped for greater juxtaposition with the Clayarks regarding this, but ultimately, this story was simply about two men and their battle for succession.
I don’t want to say that the final book, or the series itself, was disappointing. It simply wasn’t what I expected – and that’s not a bad thing. Butler is proving to me that she is a master of telling a story so far outside the box. Science fiction and fantasy so often follow the same tropes, with a few twists here and there, but Butler completely ignores it all and forces you to think on so many different angles, all while forcing you to question the rules and morals that society sets upon us.
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