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A note before I start: I plan to read Butler's work in chronological order of publication. Her very few short stories are collected in Bloodchild and Other Stories (1995), with an afterword for each story, and I will read each story with its afterword when appropriate to the chronology.

Crossover is a short story - a very short story, only six pages, originally published in Clarion. Butler says in the afterword that she wrote it in the summer of 1970, during a Clarion writers' workshop, and that she sold it and one other story that year, before selling nothing more for another five years. (Crossover was sold to Robin Scott Wilson who was running the workshop. The other story was called Childfinder and was sold to Harlan Ellison for Last Dangerous Visions. It is not included in the collection.) I would observe that this was a decade in which the Clarion workships were very helpful to science fiction writers' careers.

It's a nicely atmospheric little horror story, told from the point of view of the protagonist, with some dialogue, and whose grasp of reality appears tenuous at best. The protagonist is a very unhappy woman coping with miserable circumstances, and the story focuses very directly on her experience, but apart from that I can't see anything in it that particularly prefigures the books I remember reading more recently. I have no fault to find with it as a short story, although I can't say I find it remarkable in any way. I don't find it surprising that Butler mentions Ellison in her afterword - it resembles many of his own short stories in both theme and overall style.


[While I write, I have a podcast about women writers of science fiction, fantasy and horror running in the background, and Butler's Kindred has just been mentioned as a memorable book. If you are interested:
http://pop-verse.com/2016/04/21/breaking-the-glass-slipper-gender-inequality-in-best-of-lists/]



Patternmaster was Butler's first novel, published in the US in 1976 and by Sphere in the UK in 1978. My Sphere paperback has 176 pages. It quotes Science Fiction Review on the back:

"One of the best first novels to come around in quite some time...reminiscent of Zelazny at his best...Octavia Butler will become a name to be reckoned with."

And the Sphere blurb writer said:

"Patternmaster signals the arrival on the scene of a brilliant and exciting new novelist who is set to join the ranks of the great science fiction writers."

Which with hindsight seems both accurate and prescient, but begs the question as to what exactly was being recognised here.

This is a coming-of-age adventure story, in classic tradition, featuring all the standard elements: love, violence, death, disappointment and learning the world. At the beginning Teray has just left school, and is about to embark on his planned career as trainee aristocrat. Very quickly it all goes horribly wrong, and Teray is plunged into misery. His nurturing adults have let him down, his friends betray him, he has no hope...but he survives, finds new allies, and triumphs in the end. This story is written hundreds of times a year in many genres.

The science fictional elements here are familiar too: psionic powers that enable practitioners to communicate and act at a distance, "mutes" (from mutation) as slaves and enemies, a post-holocaust landscape and society. I am quite happy with Zelazny as a comparator for Butler for this book, but there were (and are) many other writers working with these themes too.

The aspects that do stand out somewhat are those of the personal relationships, and the nature of the author's focus on the story. Teray has a number of relationships and encounters, they are varied and nuanced, and Teray learns from them. The focus remains tightly on Teray's single viewpoint, but quite a few of the scenes feature dialogues between Teray and other characters. We learn about the world of the story by following Teray's encounters with that world and its inhabitants. Teray does learn, and he does grow, and his fellow-characters in the story are recognised as people, not just as props for the story.

Let me be clear: this is an aristocrat's journey. Teray loses his own privilege, and hangs out with slaves and others without privilege, but he does not question his world, and the lessons he learns are about being an aristocrat in that world, of being a master in a world of masters and slaves. Also, it is a story, so he learns an improbable amount very quickly, and arrives at maturity in an unfeasibly short period of fictional time.

Not all of this is well done, but it is done well enough. The story is told, and ends where so many stories end: the young man has achieved his adulthood, the adventure is over. But this is science fiction, and the writer created a world to tell her story in, and the reader is left wanting to know more about that world.

Butler's next book is Mind of My Mind.

[And while we are talking about women writing, over on that podcast Garth Nix is crediting Andre Norton (with Daybreak 2015 A.D. his first sf novel) and Rosemay Sutcliffe as among his influences.]

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
dalmeny
22nd Apr, 2016 22:59 (UTC)
I'm finding your discussion interesting because I did not read the "Seed to Harvest" novels in the order in which they were written, but in their order of internal chronology. Also, I think I read most of them over a single, glorious long weekend.
coth
23rd Apr, 2016 09:00 (UTC)
Well, I won't read them over a long weekend, but I expect to read all five over no more than about a fortnight. I hope to continue to interest you. :-)

You might have seen on FB that I was advised to read in publication order rather than internal chronology. I read them in publication order and pretty close to date of UK publication at the time, but for these first few that was so long ago that I have almost no direct memories. The first one I can trace a direct memory for reading is Dawn, which wasn't published until 1987.
del_c
23rd Apr, 2016 09:50 (UTC)
"a brilliant and exciting new novelist who is set to join the ranks of the great science fiction writers." Which with hindsight seems both accurate and prescient, but begs the question as to what exactly was being recognised here.

It may be a case of successfully predicting nine out of the last three recessions.
coth
23rd Apr, 2016 10:59 (UTC)
There is that of course.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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