Top critical review
Reviewed in the United States on April 19, 2006
Nebula Award winning Octavia E. Butler published PATTERNMASTER in 1976. Not being much of a science fiction fan, I had never heard of her until I received a pitch from one of my favorite writers, Pete Hautman. I was looking for a change of pace, so I figured, "Why not?"
PATTERNMASTER takes some getting used to. For instance, Octavia doesn't tell you where the story takes place until well into the novel. She also doesn't tell you when. When she mentions "humans" you can pretty much guess we're talking about the Earth well into the future. The Patternmaster is a character named Rayal who is sort of the big Kahuna. He is "connected" telepathically to all of the other Patternists, and he can use their energy. The Patternists can also use their minds as weapons. The PATTERNMASTER reminded me a bit of BRAVE NEW WORLD in that there was a definite hierarchy. The Patternists are evolved humans; the mutes are ordinary people who have become slaves to the Patternists. The Clayarks are part human and part animal; they hate Patternists and try to kill them at every opportunity. Way back in time a spaceship left the Earth; years later, when it returned, it brought back a disease and the Clayarks are the mutant results. Among the Patternists you also have Householders, Outsiders, journeymen, and apprentices. Think the Middle Ages; it's a bit like feudalism. Householders are like feudal lords; Outsiders are "controlled" by the Householders; journeymen and apprentices are youngsters who haven't been labeled as yet.
In the prologue Rayal and his lead wife, Jansee, are discussing their two sons. Jansee is worried one of them will eventually kill the other to replace Rayal as Patternmaster. Rayal isn't worried at all; mother love is a mute concept.
The story starts when Teray, the youngest son, and his wife Iray graduate from Redhill School. Teray has arranged an apprenticeship with a Householder named Joachim. What he doesn't know is that his brother, Coransee, controls Joachim. Eventually Coransee forces Joachim to surrender Teray's apprenticeship to him in trade for an artist. If Coransee can control Teray mentally, his road to becoming Patternmaster will be a lot easier.
Teray refuses to surrender control; he runs away to Forsythe, his father's "sector," with Coransee's "healer," Amber. She's an independent woman with ambitions to become a Housemaster herself. Coransee gives chase; Teray and Amber battle Clayarks along the way, Amber teaching Teray better fighting methods. Coransee is gaining on them. A showdown is inevitable.
I'm curious enough about Butler's Patternmasters to try another more recent novel. She's written eleven according to her bio. She won the Nebula in 1999 for PARABLE OF THE TALENTS; so she's still at it. The PATTERMASTER is a bit lacking in verisimilitude and the story is pretty predictable, but I'll definitely give her another shot.