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Mind of My Mind by Octavia E. Butler

book cover of Mind of my Mind

I felt that this book was a bit messier than Patternmaster, and I enjoyed it slightly less despite still finding it a gripping, fascinating book.

Mind of My Mind is set a long time before Patternmaster, in contemporary southern California. If you’re reading in publication order, you’re introduced to Doro, a shadowy and sinister man who can switch bodies by killing the former occupant of the body he’s switching to. Seemingly immortal, he has spent generations “breeding” people. The purpose of this is initially unclear, although it is apparent that most of the products of this breeding program are mentally unstable – they hear voices, and are prone to sudden violent outbursts.

Then the reader is introduced to Mary. She’s one of the products of this breeding program, but she’s different – stronger – than all the others have been. As the book goes on, Mary’s role becomes clear: she is to be the first-ever Patternmaster, a position that will be familiar to publication-order readers from the first book.

This book deals with many of the same themes as the first: power, control, submission, freedom. There is a recurring argument in both books about whether or not it’s worthwhile to sacrifice a little bit of your autonomy – to allow someone else some level of veto power over your own mind – in exchange for guaranteed happiness and all your material needs (and dreams) being met, with Butler’s protagonists always coming resolutely down on the side of “hell no”. Power imbalances between the sexes are looked at here as well.

The central conflict between Mary and Doro is extremely well-written, and probably the most compelling thing about this entire book for me. Heading into the climax I really wasn’t sure what was going to happen, and I zipped through the pages in my impatience to find out.

The rest of the characterisation, though, felt weaker than in Patternmaster. There are a lot more characters, and most of them aren’t fleshed out enough. This book is really about Mary and Doro, and every page that follows a different character (except for Karl, I guess) feels like it’s more about advancing the setting/worldbuilding than it is about developing the core story. That’s fine, but it did mean the story lacked the tightly cohesive quality of its predecessor.

Overall, this is a really good book, and a worthy instalment of the Patternmaster series. I think I’ll read a palate cleanser or two before tackling the reputedly excellent Wild Seed, but I will definitely move onto it soon.

Books in the Patternmaster series (publication order)

  1. Patternmaster
  2. Mind of My Mind (you are here)
  3. Wild Seed
  4. Clay’s Ark

★★★★

photo of Jessica Smith is a left-wing feminist who loves animals, books, gaming, and cooking; she’s also very interested in linguistics, history, technology and society.