MIND OF MY MIND by Octavia E. Butler
Headline, p/b, £9.99
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan
Not every novel is told in a linear fashion, with one event following another. Sometimes there are flashbacks or jumps to future events. While the most recent series of books have been designed to have an ongoing narrative arc, a set of trilogies don’t always follow that Pattern. It is quite reasonable for readers to want to know how the characters or the world setting ended up in the mess the protagonists have to sort out. Sometimes, it is the author themselves who wonders and then sets about answering their own question.
Pattern Master (1976) was the first book written of the Patternist series and set in the future where people with a psi talent are linked telepathically through a network with the Pattern Master at its hub. Mind of My Mind, originally published in 1977, goes back to the origins of this society. It is set in the (fictional) city of Forsyth, California, at a time contemporary with the writing. Doro is a man who has lived for thousands of years. As a young man and on the point of death, he discovered he could jump into another body. Over the centuries, he has had many different faces but has been obsessed with a breeding program that he has instigated. He is trying to build a race of telepaths but has encountered problems. Children go through a transition during puberty from a ‘normal’ to a full telepath by a painful process of experiencing all the bad things in people’s minds. If they survive – and many don’t – they are able to shield their minds from the barrage. Latent don’t go through transition but often become troubled adults.
In Mary, Doro believes that he has achieved the mind he has been breeding for. Her mother, Rina, is a drunk who has a string of one-night stands, so Doro arranges for them to move next door to Emma, a woman who is one of Doro’s successes. She is a healer and will be Mary’s mentor. When Mary neared her transition, Doro suddenly married her off to Karl, another of his successes. Neither Karl nor Mary had a choice because one of Doro’s abilities was coercion. People did what he wanted, or they suffered. The situation changed when Mary went through transition.
Not only is Mary able to draw other telepaths to her, but she is able to push latents into transition and fairly swiftly begins to build up a community that are all mentally dependent on each other. The network of minds is the original Pattern Mary is the first Pattern Master. This is not the beginning of a utopia, as there are plenty of issues to contend with.
The community of patternists with Mary at the centre, like a spider knowing what was going on everywhere within it, is culturally diverse – Doro selected his breeders for the potential mental talent wherever he found it. All the patternists are able to influence other minds, particularly those of mutes – ordinary humans with no telepathic ability. This is the beginning of the creation of an underclass, wherein Pattern Master the mutes are slaves. Doro, by his breeding programme, has sown the seeds of a very unequal society that Mary develops to its extreme. Ethics and morality only seem to apply to those in the Pattern.
Butler is a writer who courted controversy, and the issues she explores are still relevant over forty years later.
Of interest is the chronologically third book in the series, Survivor, was withdrawn from reprint publication as Butler thought the plot was too like an episode of Star Trek. As a result, copies are offered for vast sums; a UK paperback from Sphere is being offered at over £1000.