Patternist series

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First combined publication
(Warner Books)

The Patternist series (also known as the Patternmaster series or Seed to Harvest) is a group of science fiction novels by Octavia E. Butler that detail a secret history continuing from the Ancient Egyptian period to the far future that involves telepathic mind control and an extraterrestrial plague. A profile of Butler in Black Women in America notes that the themes of the series include "racial and gender-based animosity, the ethical implications of biological engineering, the question of what it means to be human, ethical and unethical uses of power, and how the assumption of power changes people."[1]

Butler's first published novel, 1976's Patternmaster, was the first book in this series to appear. From 1977 until 1984, she published four more Patternist novels: Mind of My Mind (1977), Survivor (1978), Wild Seed (1980) and Clay's Ark (1984). Until Butler began publishing the Xenogenesis trilogy in 1987, all but one of her published books were Patternist novels (1979's Kindred was the exception).

Butler later expressed a dislike for the novel Survivor,[2] and declined to bring it back into print.[3]

Plot summaries[edit]

Wild Seed (1980)[edit]

Chronologically, the series starts with the fourth novel published, Wild Seed. Set in the 17th and 18th centuries, the story involves the relationship between two immortals - Doro, a man born in Africa thousands of years ago, who survives by transferring his consciousness from one body to another (feeding on each new victim's mental energy in the process), and Anyanwu, a shape-shifting healer with perfect control over her body. They struggle to live together over generations as Doro attempts to create a new race through a selective breeding program.

Mind of My Mind (1977)[edit]

The series' history continues with Mind of My Mind, in which Doro's breeding program has created a society of networked telepaths that he struggles to control. By the end of the novel Doro's thousands-of-years long breeding program has succeeded, but he is killed in the process, and the first patternmaster takes his place as leader of the patternists, establishing control over the fictional city of Forsyth, California, which is still the seat of their power during the time of Patternmaster.

Clay's Ark (1984)[edit]

Clay's Ark, the last book of the series to be published, deals with a colony of people who have been mutated by a disease that astronauts brought back to Earth from outer space. The group struggles to keep itself isolated enough to keep the disease from spreading throughout humanity.

“A Necessary Being” (2014)[edit]

“A Necessary Being,” a short story found in Butler's papers written in the early 1970s but posthumously published in her Unexpected Stories collection, deals with the world explored in the repudiated Survivor before the humans arrive from Earth.[4][5][6]

Survivor (1978)[edit]

Survivor, the now out-of-print book in the series that Butler later disowned, depicts the Clay's Ark disease ravaging the Earth, and Doro's telepathic descendants asserting control over what remains of humanity. One group of regular humans decides to escape Earth to a new planet, where they struggle to co-exist with the species that already live there.[3]

Patternmaster (1976)[edit]

Patternmaster, the first book to be published but the last in the series' internal chronology, depicts a distant future where the human race has been sharply divided into the dominant Patternists, their enemies the "diseased" and animalistic Clayarks, and the enslaved "mutes", regular humans without any enhanced abilities. The Patternists, bred for intelligence and psychic abilities, are networked telepaths. They are ruled by the most powerful telepath, known as the Patternmaster. Patternmaster tells the coming-of-age story of Teray, a young Patternist who learns he is a son of the Patternmaster. Teray fights for position within Patternist society and eventually for the role of Patternmaster.

Patternmaster explores the creation and maintenance of social and genetic hierarchies. For Gregory Jerome Hampton, Patternmaster "presents several questions about how race works in a social structure and how gender works in the function of race."[7]


Butler on her goals in the series:

"I was trying to tell a good story about a strange community of people. I find myself doing that over and over again. That's not all I was trying to do. In each book, I was trying to do something a little different. But overall to gather these people and start this community that didn't work very well, if you noticed. There are people who think that they've won, so everything's fine. But they were really not very nice, the Patternists. When you get to Patternmaster, you'll see that. Really they were pretty awful. You wouldn't want to live in that society. And why were they so awful? Well, they were so awful because they had, shall we say, a bad teacher. And it didn't really occur to me until I had been working on the series for awhile that I might have been making some comment on Black America. Once the thought came to me, I realized that I probably was commenting on Black America. Then I had to ask myself how I felt about that – that I was perhaps making a comment on learning the wrong thing from one's teachers. I realized that maybe it was something that I needed to think about and maybe it was something that I needed to say, so I certainly wasn't going to stop saying it or deny having said it."[8]


Wild Seed, Mind of My Mind, Clay's Ark, and Patternmaster were published in a single volume titled Seed to Harvest in 2007.


  1. ^ Hine, Darlene Clark, ed. (1993). Black women in America : An Historical Encyclopedia. Vol. 1 (4. pr. ed.). Brooklyn, N.Y.: Carlson Pub. p. 208. ISBN 0926019619. Retrieved 20 October 2014.
  2. ^ Littleton, Therese. "Octavia E. Butler Plants an Earthseed". Amazon. Retrieved 2006-12-14.
  3. ^ a b Walton, Jo (February 5, 2009). ""My Star Trek novel": Octavia Butler's Survivor". Retrieved 20 October 2014.
  4. ^ "Unexpected Stories". Publishers Weekly. 5 May 2014. Retrieved 26 Oct 2022.
  5. ^ "Short Stories and Novellas".
  6. ^ "Octavia Butler's "A Necessary Being"".
  7. ^ Hampton, Gregory Jerome. Changing Bodies in the Fiction of Octavia Butler: Slaves, Aliens, and Vampires, Lexington Books, 2010, 52.
  8. ^ Rowell, CH & Butler, OE (1997) "An interview with Octavia E. Butler." Callaloo, 20 (1), 47–66.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bogstad, Janice. “Octavia E. Butler and Power Relations.” Janus 4.4 (197879): 2829.
  • Buckman, Alyson R. "“‘What Good Is All This To Black People?’: Octavia Butler's Reconstruction of Corporeality." FEMSPEC 4.2 (2004): 201-218. "Octavia Butler." For Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy, Vol. 2. Ed. Robin Reid. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2007. Octavia Butler. “Kindred.” In The Facts on File Companion to the American Novel. Edited by Abby H. P. Werlock. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 2006.
  • Colema, Letetia F. "Octavia E. Butler's Patternist Series: A Cultural Analysis". Dissertation Abstracts International, Section A: The Humanities and Social Sciences (DAIA): 58.6 (1997 Dec.), pp. 2201. 2004&res_dat=xri:pqdiss&rft_val_fmt=info:ofi/fmt:kev:mtx:dissertation&rft_dat=xri:pqdiss:9737929
  • Ferreira, Maria Aline. "Symbiotic Bodies and Evolutionary Tropes in the Work of Octavia Butler." Science Fiction Studies 37.3 [112] (2010): 401415.
  • Gant-Britton, Lisbeth. "Butler, Octavia (1947– )." African American Writers. Ed. Valerie Smith. 2nd ed. Vol. 1. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2001. 95110.
  • Holden, Rebecca J. "'I Began Writing about Power Because I Had So Little': The Impact of Octavia Butler's Early Work on Feminist Science Fiction as a Whole (and on One Feminist Science Fiction Scholar in Particular)." Strange Matings: Science Fiction, Feminism, African American Voices, and Octavia E. Butler. Ed. Rebecca J. Holden and Nisi Shawl. Seattle, WA: Aqueduct, 2013. 1744. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 1 Feb. 2016.
  • "Patternmaster." Novels for Students. Ed. Sara Constantakis. Vol. 34. Detroit: Gale, 2010. 258281.
  • Pfeiffer, John R. "Butler, Octavia Estelle (b. 1947)." Science Fiction Writers: Critical Studies of the Major Authors from the Early Nineteenth Century to the Present Day. Ed. Richard Bleiler. 2nd ed. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1999.
  • Pfeiffer, John R. "The Patternist Series." Magill's Guide To Science Fiction & Fantasy Literature (vol. 3). 1996.
  • Pfeiffer, John R. "Octavia Butler Writes the Bible." Shaw and other matters: A festschrift for Stanley Weintraub on the occasion of his forty-second anniversary at the Pennsylvania State University. Ed. Susan Rusinko. Selinsgrove, Pa.: Susquehanna University Press, 1998. 140–154.
  • Salvaggio, Ruth (1984). "Octavia Butler and the Black Science-Fiction Heroine". Black American Literature Forum. 18 (2): 78–81. doi:10.2307/2904131. JSTOR 2904131.
  • Smith, Frances Foster. “Octavia Butler’s Black Female Fiction.” Extrapolation, Vol. 23, No. 1, Spring, 1982, pp. 3749.