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Octavia E. Butler - Survivor (1978)

I have two copies of this: a battered Sphere paperback that was quite happy to be reread again, thirty-five years after it was printed; and the UK hardback first edition published by Sidgwick & Jackson in 1978, which shows no signs of ever having been read by anyone. Both books have the same blurb and biographical information. I don't think much of either cover; the figure on the paperback does bear some relation to the book, but is not very accurate.

This is the book that Butler later refused to have reprinted, according to Edward James. I'm not sure I can quite see why. It is certainly not a bad book, even if it is not an extraordinarily good one.

The book is set in the Patternist universe, but there are no patternists on the alien planet where human colonists, the Missionaries, have been settled for some years among the indigenous Garkohn. The Missionaries have become embroiled in the war between the Garkohn and their near neighbours, the Tehkohn.

The story is told through two viewpoints: wild human Alanna, the foundling child adopted by the Missionaries, Jules and Neila; and Diut, the Tehkohn Hao, the leader of his people. The book starts in the middle of the story, when Alanna returns to her people after some years among the Tehkohn, and the action flips back and forward between the past events that led to this point and the events from that point onwards. The story is quite satisfactory, although the manner of telling is sometimes confusing.

The family relationships between the characters are still the most important and convincing aspect of the story, but the background is much more strongly developed than in the previous two books, with attention paid to the relationships between the Garkohn and the Tehkohn as well as between both tribes and the Missionaries. This is Butler's first attempt at building a world for herself rather than placing her characters in her own familiar California, and she makes a reasonable fist of it for the most part.

However, there are some problematic aspects for someone reading the book today. The societies of the non-human Garkohn and Tehkohn are segregated by caste, and hierarchical, with caste and status conferred at birth. The non-humans are characterised as animals by the Missionaries, who believe that humans alone are made in the image of God. All of the relationships in both human and non-human societies are patriarchal, and some are characterised by abuse. The issue is not that the story features these elements, but that all of these things are taken for granted, as it were, by both author and characters. At least some modern writers and readers no longer do take such things for granted. Is this the source of Butler's later dissatisfaction with the book? Not impossible.

Notwithstanding all of this, there is a happy ending, of sorts for Alanna and Diut, which I feel suits the story well. And in many ways I feel that this is a better written book than the first two, more tightly plotted, structured and paced, and still with convincing character and dialogue.

Butler's next published work was a short story, Near of Kin. Her next novel is Kindred.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
8th May, 2016 02:54 (UTC)
Abebooks is quoting a minimum of $60 for a second-hand copy, so perhaps I won't try to get hold of it.
8th May, 2016 06:35 (UTC)
If you like I will put the paperback in the post for you. It's a perfectly good reading copy, and I don't need to keep two. (Remind me by DM of your address).

Rereading what I wrote I realise I might have used a word slightly misleadingly. But to revise now is to spoil (to spoiler? - what is the verb form of 'spoilers'?) so I will try to remember to make the revision after I complete this series of blog posts.

Thank you for commenting. It is nice to know that somebody is reading.
14th May, 2016 13:56 (UTC)
That would be extremely kind. I would much appreciate that, if the postage is not steep. I'll DM you.
23rd May, 2016 13:45 (UTC)
For the record, the paperback went to dalmeny as discussed in the comments above.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )


Caroline M

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