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Mind of My Mind is Butler's second published book. I know I read (and in some cases reread) her early books more or less on UK publication, but probably not again since, and I remembered almost nothing about it. My UK paperback was published by Sphere in 1980, and is in the kind of state that suggests I bought it second hand; it is now very fragile and has not survived this rereading.

The blurb text offers major spoilers and meaningless platitudes.

There are a number of different covers for this book on ISFDB, but this edition's cover by John Blanche might have one of the best I have ever seen on a science fiction novel. Let me show it to you.

(There is a better image on ISFDB here:

I rarely see the overall mood and sense of a novel so well invoked by its cover art.

I am not the least bit surprised that the author of Crossover went on to write Mind of My Mind: either's characters could move between either's neighbourhoods. In terms of genre, however, the book picks up immediately from where Patternmaster left off. This is the foundation story for the origin of the Pattern and the world of the Patternmaster. It explains how and where the Patternists came to exist, and why their social structures work they do. But it stops at the end of the beginning, leaving much unexplained.

Mind of My Mind in some ways tells the same story as Patternmaster: both Teray and Mary have to fight their way among their families to adulthood. But I found this a much more interesting book, for several reasons. It is still a story of a child coming to maturity, but it is a more interesting story, a more interesting child, and a more interesting maturity. There is a broader view of events, via the viewpoints of two protagonists, and a varied sample of the supporting cast. My knowledge of the future of this world sharpened my attention and deepened my appreciation for some of the details. And although it is clunky in places, and the pacing at the end is a bit off, overall it is better written.

The setting is in that vague twentieth century suburban California that has cars and televisions and public schools, but pays no attention to any of these things. Butler's focus is very tightly on her people, their individual desires and needs, and the relationships between them, and in setting up the world of the Patternists.
It may well have been startling to readers at the time of original publication that Butler's protagonist is black and female, but although Mary is conscious of being black in a white world and female in a male world, and both matter enormously, those identities are not the fundamental drivers of the story. In Mary's relationships with other people, gender and race are secondary relative to family, personality, competence and the struggle for power.

There is a strong strand of the science fictional conversation that is about finding your community in a hostile world, and this is a fine example. And it's probably for that reason that I think of Sturgeon (particularly Baby is Three) and Zenna Henderson after reading this, and Zelazny and Ellison recede somewhat into the literary distance. Philip K. Dick's struggles for power and identity in Californian bungalows come to mind, also (A Scanner Darkly was published in the same year).

As an aside: It annoys me to discover that in Butler's world "mute" is "non-telepath", not from "mutant". I can think what I was thinking while I wrote the entry on Patternmaster, and it was stupid of me. Better take that as your warning that these are written as blog posts, and are not as carefully considered as reviews perhaps should be.

Butler's next book is Survivor.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
3rd May, 2016 12:10 (UTC)
*spoilers below for anyone who hasn't read the series*

I found the ending of Mind of My Mind very powerful because I read it after starting with Wild Seed. Wild Seed had presented Doro as truly immortal, and I had taken that as an axiom of the series, so I found his death shocking and yet narratively perfect.

I think Doro is the only character to appear in more than one book? That's one aspect I really enjoyed about the series, it depicts a consistent future history without any sentimentality about individual humans or the human race as a whole – human life is depicted as precious, certainly, but not to nature and evolution. Nature is entirely callous towards us.
4th May, 2016 07:49 (UTC)
Reading in publication order Wild Seed is still well in the future.

One of the things I really enjoyed in MoMM is Mary and Doro's relationship: recognising each other's strengths and necessities, and perhaps loving each other, while being quite unsentimental about the power relations.
4th May, 2016 08:31 (UTC)
And the other thing I liked is Doro's recognition of his own immaturity. Will think more about this.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )


Caroline M

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