Book Review: Mind of My Mind by Octavia E. Butler
This was a surprisingly short read, which I picked up as part of the Seed to Harvest series, but have read before Wild Seed.
I’m not sure what I ultimately expected, but what was there was a bit of a let down. There were many themes and issues raised, but none truly pursued. Most notably so was the issue of race. For the most part, characters physical appearances were only vaguely described. Most times, when we came to know someone was Black, it was because Mary was making a comparison or wishing/pleased someone was so (ie wanting to know why Doro had chosen a White husband for her, or being pleased that Doro appeared to her in a Black body). Rachel’s race is introduced as a non sequitur that serves no further purpose but to add to Jan’s “Oh god, niggers,” comment later (we learn earlier that Jan is racist when a Black boy happens past her and therefore we assume she is White, as there does not seem to be any other option but Black or White).
Later, Emma angrily raises the issue of non-telepaths being referred to as “mutes,” which she compares to “niggers.” Beyond her brief tirade, this is not addressed again beyond the obvious comparison of mutes being used as slaves to the Patternists (though here, the mutes are all very content and mistreatment by Patternists is punished). Emma’s tirade is particularly hypocritical since she is as much a slave to Doro as all the rest of Doro’s children whom he keeps in line with violence and threats of death.
Overall, this was a very disturbing theme. The notion that one man is working to breed people with super human powers, particularly telepathy. Those who are failed experiments are left to die, while the successes eventually come together thanks to Mary, who is Doro’s ultimate success and thereby becomes his ultimate rival. Between the two of them, there are thousands of people running around the country with the ability to control minds, or inflicting horrible violence against others because they can’t control their own minds. Apparently, domestic violence is caused by this lack of control in active and latent telepaths.
There is an attempt to offer a mother/father juxtaposition, where Doro is the cruel male figure whom his children love, though they know he cares nothing for them and would quickly kill them. Mary is the mother figure whom we assume is the representation of nurturing, but in fact, while she displays much greater conscience than Doro, she’s most certainly not a Mother Theresa figure.
One thing I did appreciate was the fact that there was no good vs. evil. Doro might have been considered an evil worthy of destruction, but how much of Mary could truly be considered “good?”