Review: Seed to Harvest by Octavia E. Butler

seedharvestbutlerSeries: Patternmaster #1-4 (Wild Seed / Mind of My Mind / Clay’s Ark / Patternmaster)
Published by: Headline (and many many others)
ASIN: B00F0LUXOW
Published: 1976
Pages: 784
Format reviewed: iBooks thanks to Alex
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Recommended
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Women of Speculative Fiction

This is part of my reading challenge for 2017, to expand my woeful knowledge of women in speculative fiction by reading at least 24 books by women that were and are instrumental in our genre.

A very kind gift from Alex was part of the idea that spawned my need to expand my knowledge into the classics side of speculative fiction. All I knew of this book going in was the sneak peek I accidentally saw on goodreads when getting the data needed for the draft of this review:

‘The Patternist series is a group of science fiction novels that detail a secret history continuing from the Ancient Egyptian period to the far future that involves telepathic mind control and an extraterrestrial plague.’

And of course, that only made me all the more excited to read. It also helped that there’s currently a book club for reading our way through Butler’s work, which can be found here.

Wild Seed

Took a while for me to get into it, but suddenly I was so captivated that I was reading whilst knitting or cooking as I just couldn’t put it down. The character of Anyanwu is complex and addictive, as she is able to achieve so much and yet still has believable and honest failings or weaknesses. She’s an immortal who is hunted down by Doro, who is also immortal, and much, much older than she is. Their powers differ, as well as their beliefs and morals, and this is what drives the novel onwards as the main point of conflict. They are so well matched and yet intrinsically different that they both can’t survive together, nor apart.

What I find most interesting is how they choose to live their lives, and what they do with their gifts. Doro lives his life hunting down those with a variety of gifts (usually either his or Anyanwu’s descendants), or he finds Wild Seeds (such as Anyanwu and the title of the book) who can be new breeding stock in his incested villages. Whereas Anyanwu is only contend when surrounded by family, who are loved and cared for. Doro throws away those who are defects, or who don’t obey his every rule – where Anyanwu takes in those who need her help and is above all else, a healer.

There are a variety of secondary characters throughout that you come to care for, even though they appear and leave so quickly compared to Doro and Anyanwu, because normal human lives are so short compared to theirs. We see the world change and still remain the same (so much war and slavery), and where it leaves us makes you want to pick up the next novel immediately, to see what changes will bring them next, as they’ve gained an almost steady peace together.

Mind of My Mind

This was such a fast read and although I finished last night and waited until the following morning to try sum up my thoughts, I’m still absolutely blown by how this book ended. I’m also very glad I read in the order that I did – apparently Mind of my Mind was published before Wild Seed? I certainly feel I’ve got more out of it by reading in this order – learning about Doro and Emma/Anwanyu from the start of their stories and the family/ies they’ve built, before coming to this book and their lives many generations on.

This book seems mostly about Mary, although we see a few chapters from Doro we mostly witness how he responds and coordinates those around him to do what he demands without as many words. What I’m vastly enjoying about this series is the complexities of how they show the powers they all have – their differences and the subtleties in how they each have more or less power than each other in both their strengths and how they choose to play the game. Whilst they have power, they also are staggeringly human at the same time, and easily brought down by seemingly simple things. Love. Ego. Loyalty.

Having seen a little of Clay in this book, I’m now really excited to pick up the next as it’s called…

Clay’s Ark

This book jumps forward again in the timeline – in the first book it seems like we’re in the very start of America being colonised and yet in this book we have spaceships and a desolate America that’s sieged by clans and feels quite like Mad Max. Although we have mention of Clay who we met in the previous book (but didn’t show up in this one other in passing unless I missed something clever, which is a shame) the only other connection is how even without Doro’s influence, his people will still have the compulsion to impact, spread and procreate, and with that the factions that comes with it.

I read this book over a holiday of much travel, so bits were snatched on planes or tour buses (the traffic was horrific, so even though it was a hop-on hop-off bus I didn’t feel the need to stare out the window at the same view after half an hour of waiting!) It worked well for this style of reading as it jumps back to the past and then to the present as we see Eli start with his infection from the spaceship, and his initial urge to spread this to anyone and everyone he meets – and how he battles this initially or how he chooses to utilise this. It jumps to the present where Eli is established with his clan, and has now captured Blake – father to two girls, who are also captured, and we see the same thing play out again.

Overall it’s an interesting and compelling piece to the series that extends the idea on a global scale. Though I do wish we had some characters from the original…

Patternmaster

Here we see the destruction of the disease we see in Clay’s Ark, and fittingly it’s now known as that, Clayarks and these people know how to avoid or work with it. This is apparently the first that Butler wrote in the series, and it both shows and it doesn’t – I honestly can’t imagine reading in this order, as I doubt I’d be anywhere near as sensitive to their side of the story if I hadn’t followed it from the beginning with Doro and Anwanyu – I wouldn’t be able to care for these characters, and think they’re all parasites.

The social status fight back and forth is what drives this one. People are now so much more easily dominated as the disease has reached paramount, and the characters given their divine right to rule don’t question it. Ultimately, these characters are selfish and desperate beings, and I only wish that this book was longer, and served Teray the same realisation that Doro came to have. Instead, Amber and Iray suffer for his choices, and the reader is left with the discussion of what dangers lurk when the young have too much power. It’s sad to see that women are to be treated as inferior (as we see them treated so much better in the books earlier in the omnibus), and that there’s the prediction that sexuality is still such an issue.

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Incidentally, if you love Butler’s work then you may be interested in a non-fiction book that Twelfth Planet Press will be bringing out later in 2017. Following the success of Letters to Tiptree, we are currently working on a similar project now revolving around Octavia E. Butler. More information can be found here, and Twelfth Planet Press plans to publish the volume in time for Butler’s birthday on the 22nd of June 2017.

Also, if you read this in time, Twelfth Planet Press are hosting a book club for Butler’s books. You can find out more about it here. Currently we’re about to discuss Wild Seed at the start of March. The next books will be Fledgling; then Dawn; then Parable of the Sower. Each book club will be on the first Sunday of the month.

Discussion Post: Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

Through 2017 and 2018 Tsana and Katharine are reading The Vorkosigan Saga (in more or less chronological order), starting with Shards of Honor all the way through to Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, including novellas. Tsana is re-reading, and Katharine is brand new to the series and together they’ll be discussing themes, characters, worldbuilding, and anything else that sparks their interest.

You can read our reviews here:

Tsana: Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

Katharine: Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

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Katharine: So I have to confess, I have read one other thing by Bujold and that was “Dreamweaver’s Dilemma”… back when I was serious about reading everything and then got overwhelmed by it all.

Tsana: I read that one too, but not close to when I read most of the other books. I felt a bit meh about it, from memory. I originally read all the books that existed at the time in 2011, starting from Warrior’s Apprentice and ending with the Cordelia books we decided to start with. Let me tell you, reading Shards of Honour first instead of second last was a very different (and superior) experience. Starting from Shards of Honour (and yes, I’m going to keep writing it with a u) gave me a better appreciation for both Cordelia and Aral as characters, unlike the first time around when I couldn’t get out of the mindset of seeing them primarily as Miles’s parents and through his eyes. It was easier to relate to them this way and I’m interested to see how that will effect my re-reading of the later books.

Katharine: I want to write it with a ‘u’! American spelling looks so mispronounced. I’m glad I’m getting the superior experience – usually I’m a hard and fast ‘publication’ order reader, but Alex had some strong feelings on the subject. Coming the series brand new, I’m loving starting off with main characters who aren’t spring chickens – Aral and Cordelia are excellent at what they do, and it’s believable because of their rank and experience.

Tsana:  So we’ve discussed the characters a little bit. Before we get into some of the meatier topics, let’s chat about the setting. What did you think of Sergyar? Apparently I didn’t take it in at all the first time I read it. Gentleman Jole is set on the same planet and I noticed a lot more setting when I was reading that one. Coming back to Shards of Honour and discovering that actually the weird wildlife had been there from the start was a bit of a surprise.

Katharine: I haven’t taken in much, somehow, other than to picture a type of FernGully style planet – I liked that it seemed rough and wild, desperate and dangerous. So keep this time mind for the end of the series as the ferociousness will play a part later on?

Tsana: Something like that. I don’t want to spoil anything. ;-p

Katharine: Excellent :p I did really like the differences they showed between the ships – the idea of courier ships, and the technology they all had even though this isn’t exactly a new series. I especially liked Cordelia’s marking of time based on how many rations she’s consumed upon delivery – imagine not having a natural light source to have any clue of what’s going on.

Tsana: The only thing that amused me about the technology — and this is a product of having been written in the 80s — was how static and monolithic the computers were. I gather no one really saw iPhones coming from that far away, but more modernly conceived science fiction tends to have, er, more modern views of the future. Which is maybe obvious. But I didn’t really notice that the Vorkosigan universe was a little dated until I was really paying close attention, so that’s a point in its favour.

Katharine: I did like how they had tablets and laser stylus’ though – that actually seemed like a good attempt for the time, but then I guess I’m not sure what was really available back then anyway in certain circles. Like how email was ‘available’ in the 70s but wasn’t really used (here, at least) until, what… very late 90s?

Tsana: I had email from the mid-90s at school, and I think my mum did too at work from around then or earlier. The first personal computers like we think of them now (except bigger, slower, and uglier) are from the mid-80s. But veering back from that side track, let’s move on to another topic: rape. Although I noticed Bujold didn’t use the word very much at first, she certainly didn’t shy away from discussing the topic, mostly in the context of some Barrayaran soldiers being very steeped in rape culture and setting Aral up as opposed to that culture.

Katharine: It was certainly very present. I think I would have liked to see other characters struggling with it… At times it seemed as though only Aral was morally against it, and that was mainly to show how he’s really not The Butcher as everyone assumes.

Tsana: The whole chunk of story where Cordelia is being held prisoner and then interacting with other prisoners paints a very different picture to her experiences with Aral. Most of the other prisoners assume that all Barrayarans are rapists and don’t believe that Cordelia could’ve met a few that aren’t. But Cordelia’s been shielded by Aral a lot of the time, and by other honourable people (hey, maybe that’s where the title comes from, there are only a few shards/people with honour among the Barrayarans) that are basically Aral’s friends like Koudelka and Illyan. I felt like the story was partly making a point that soldiers are pretty rapey but then had Aral and friends there to say “well, not ALL soldiers”. But I’m partly saying that because I always felt like the Barrayaran army is the most analogous to present Earth armies (especially US, I suppose?) compared with some of the other planet-countries like Beta which is supposed to be more enlightened.

Katharine: This is probably true – those with Aral do seem pretty relieved when he puts things to rights across the war in general. What do we think of the Emperor then? And his son.

Spoilers follow – please only click on if you’ve read Shards of Honor

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Review: Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

honorvs1Series: Vorkosigan Saga
Published by: Baen
ISBN: 1476781109
ISBN 13: 9781476781105
Published: 1986
Pages: 250
Format reviewed: Paperback Omnibus
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Vorkosigan Saga Project | Reading Challenge: Women of Speculative Fiction

I’ve been meaning to read this series for so very long. Many friends in reading circles adore it and so that, plus the fact there’s 17 or so in the series meant it felt a little overwhelming to start. I wanted to adore it, I wanted to do it justice, and over the last few years between either judging vast amounts of books for Children’s Book Council of Australia, or Aurealis Awards, or the Sara Douglass Book Series Award, meant I didn’t have as much time as usual for my own books of choice.
Then it was finally 2017, and the lovely Tsana and I decided to have a reading challenge together, and here I am.

While I don’t like that one of my favourite aspects of the book is given away on the blurb (and fair enough, as it happens so quickly), I was quickly lost in the book – to the point where I read it slowly as I didn’t want it to be over. I love the term ‘heart-hunger’ – I find it such a perfect term for something I’ve understood for so long but never known what to call it (though I assume German or Japanese has a perfect word for it).

What immediately struck me about this book is how real the struggle is. I hate reading how someone gets shot but bravely struggles on to save the day. In this we see a leg wound and that it turns septic and how debilitating it really is. Realism! Finally!

The book also doesn’t entirely follow a blow by blow account of our main characters. We don’t meet our characters until they have quite a depth of experience behind them (how rare it is to meet characters who are in their 30s/40s when we first meet them), and initially we only see scenes where they run into each other – leaving gaps of a few months between what we know of them.

What I love in this book is how excellent Bujold’s turns of phrase are. ‘About eight ration packs later’ is also an excellent way to mark the passage of time, which would be pretty damn impossible without a sun or timepiece to keep track otherwise. And the following quote, from the very back of the book (in a part that was once a short story but was later added here), said by a woman who retrieves corpses from the battlefield.

‘Think of all the work he represents on somebody’s part. Nine months of pregnancy, childbirth, two years of diapering, and that’s just the beginning. Tens of thousands of meals, thousands of bedtime stories, years of school. Dozens of teachers. And all that military training, too. A lot of people went into making him.’

Overall I’m both glad and annoyed I waited this long to read this. Glad, because I feel I appreciate them more after knowing a bit more of the field and seeing how clever Bujold was and is, and also how you can see her influence in more recent work… and annoyed I could have had these awesome characters in my mind so long ago.

Reading Challenge: Vorkosigan Saga Project

Last year in 2016, I joined the lovely Ju and Steph in reading all the of Twelve Planets, a project they called A Journey Through Twelve Planets. It was manageable as it was one book a month and it worked nicely, and each book, of course, was well written and enjoyable.

For 2017 I have already committed to reading two books a month to expand my knowledge of women of speculative fiction. One of these books is ‘Shards of Honor’ by Lois McMaster Bujold. I’ve always heard how brilliant The Vorkosigan Saga is. I’ve many friends who re and re-read them, and who go to all lengths to get their hands on the new ARC when another book comes out.

So I’m finally going to read them all. One a month, or a few novellas/short stories a month, as detailed below – all the way through to mid-2018. I’m very happy to be joined by Tsana Reads and Reviews and together we’ll do a summery post after each one. Tsana comes from having read them all before so we’ll offer both sides of view, and as the months go on, be able to discuss more and more of the worldbuilding and characters.

February
Shards of Honor – my review / our discussion

March
Barrayar – my review

April
The Warrior’s Apprentice

May
“The Mountains of Mourning”
“Labyrinth”
“The Borders of Infinity”

June
The Vor Game

July
Cetaganda

August
Ethan of Athos

September
Brothers in Arms

October
Mirror Dance

November
Memory

December
Komarr

January
A Civil Campaign
“Winterfair Gifts”

February
Falling Free

March
Diplomatic Immunity

April
Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance

May
CryoBurn

June
Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen

Review: Nasty Women edited by 404 Ink

nastywomenPublished by: 404 Ink
ISBN 13: 9780995623828
Published: March 2017
Pages: 256
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Publisher Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Recommended

Nasty Women was a project on Kickstarter that ran through January 2017 after commissioning over 20 stories from women on both sides of the Atlantic in the last few weeks of 2016. They’re aiming for a release date to fall on the 8th March, International Women’s Day, 2017 and are well on their way to meeting that goal.

The contributors are:
Alice Tarbuck, Becca Inglis, Belle Owen, Chitra Ramaswamy, Christina Neuwirth, Claire Heuchan, Elise Hines, Jen McGregor, Joelle Owusu, Jona Kottler, Kaite Welsh, Katie Muriel, Kristy Diaz, Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! (in conversation with Sasha de Buyl-Pisco), Laura Lam, Laura Waddell, Mel Reeve, Nadine Aisha Jassat, Ren Aldridge of Petrol Girls, Rowan C. Clarke, Sim Bajwa, and Zeba Talkhani.

From them we have a collection of essays from these women who share their experiences over a variety of topics. Taken from the blurb; ‘From working class experience to racial divides in Trump’s America, being a child of immigrants, to sexual assault, Brexit, pregnancy, contraception, identity, family, finding a voice online, role models and more, Laura Jane Grace of Against Me!, Zeba Talkhani, Chitra Ramaswamy are just a few of the incredible women who share their experience here.’

I pledged for this project instantly because I adore the writing of Laura Lam and skipped straight to her essay to start off with. It’s a devastating story about the women in her family – how her mother grew up under the frightening rule of her mother, and the mother before her. It looks at what was considered the norm of that time, the stigma associated with mental health, and how it continues through the generations if not acted on with determination. It also speaks of a book Lam is writing with her mother that sounds like it’ll be a hard but worthwhile read – I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

Onto the other essays. Not all are included in this review edition – reading those will have to wait until International Woman’s Day – but each and every one so far are as poignant and captivating as Lam’s was. The first piece by Katie Muriel is endlessly quotable in regards to the current political rumblings in America – ‘Sometimes, however, peace has to take a holiday. Sometimes, there are battles to be fought.‘ It speaks of how politics can divide a family, and how awful some people can decide they have the right to be, even to their own family members.

The next essay discusses what it’s like to be a Black woman from Glasgow, and what this results in – white people feeling they can tough her hair as if she’s from a petting zoo, or people asking increasingly incredulous questions about where she’s really from, treading delicately as if they could be misunderstood as being racist. Except it is racist. Full stop.

Jen McGregor’s essay really resonated with me, as a person who’s constantly being told by doctors that I can’t make a decision about my own body when it comes to procreation. We need more stories like McGregor’s – we need more discussion about how we can barely decide things for ourselves and even then with medical guidance, tiny decisions can have such massive ramifications. McGregor’s health issues are severe and yet it still takes until she’s 31 until she gets the surgery she knew she wanted from a much younger age. I’ve recently turned 30, and I’m currently on a waitlist for the same surgery and even without the added bonus of osteopenia I can’t wait to finally gain the the control and serenity over my body I’ve always wanted. I too have been told that even when I’m in my 30s, surgeons may refuse the referral until I have a husband who can confirm he too doesn’t want children. Which makes me so mad I can’t even formulate an apt sentence. It’s ridiculous.

I won’t go through all of the essays as I’ve given more than enough away. I highly recommend this book as it’s easy reading – or at least easy for such hard topics. There’s trigger warnings, and the essays are written in such a warm way as if we are allies (and I hope we all are!) and they’re sharing a story between friends. United we stand, and all that. This is an important book, and I’m so glad it exists. So many of us reading will finally think ‘oh, I’m not the only one.’