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Vol. 23,No.1


Launching Pad


Moving Toward Entropy: Anna Kavans

Science Fiction Mentality



Earthmother/Witchmother: Feminism and

Ecology Renewed



Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death:

The Feminism and Fatalism of
James Tiptree, Jr.



A Female Man? The Medusan Humor

of Joanna Russ



Octavia Butlers Black Female

Future Fiction



Time Travel as a Feminist Didactic in

Works by Phyllis Eisenstein, Marlys
Millhiser, and Octavia Butler

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When Women Rule: Defamiliarization

and the Sex-Role Reversal Utopia

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Science Fiction and the Fact of Womens

Repressed Creativity: Anne McCaffrey
Portrays a Female Artist



Myth-Adventure in Leigh Bracketts

Enchantress of Venus



Women in Science Fiction: An Annotated

Secondary Bibliography



Farsighted Females: A Selective Checklist

of Modem Women Writers o f Science
Fiction Through 1980


Thomas D. Clareson
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Star Cluster

ISSN: 0014-5483

Octavia Butlers Black Female

Future Fiction


The mythology that Octavia Butler creates in her first three books, P atternm aster (1976), M ind o f M y M ind (1977), and Survivor (1978), has
elements o f familiarity. She writes about a future society wherein a network
of telepaths control the Earth and occasionally get out o f control themselves.
She writes of colonists who settle on an alien planet and battle hostile, furry
creatures. She writes o f strange, micro-organisms brought to Earth by astro
nauts that threaten the existence of human civilization. She writes of genetic
evolution and selective breeding. Like most contemporary women authors,
she writes o f women in nontraditional roles.
From the start, her work has been labeled fine, old fashioned sf. Re
viewers consider her a vigorous, nimble storyteller, erratic and gifted, and
an author who may give us something really first rate one of these days. Her
characters are judged surprisingly adaptive. Her ideas have intrinsic ener
gy.^ In short, reviewers consider her a speculative fiction writer who is
adequate, potentially outstanding, but at present neither particularly inno
vative nor interesting. However, Octavia Butler is not just another woman
science fiction writer. Her major characters are black women, and through her
characters and through the structure o f her imagined social order, Butler
consciously explores the impact of race and sex upon future society.
Ironically, many speculative fiction scholars have been lamenting the ne
glect of those very areas with which Butler has been dealing. Marilyn Hacker,
for example, has declared it a serious drawback that speculative fiction has
devoted so little attention to the vast area o f human experience which
includes fam ily structures, child-rearing, and child-bearing, sexual
relations and relations between sexes {not, as some men would have it, the
Extrapolition, Vol. 23, No. 1
0014-5483/82/0231-0005 $01.00/0
Copyright 1982 by The Kent State University Press


Frances Smith Foster

Octavia Butler

woman character Ihem L m in s e t o f f , S

o to w ttn t'T m S '

breeding o f t h o s T S
whic^h compels these persons to manifest them selvesind to take a more direct

o fo r d k S J ^ S is.T ^ & r c o L ^
the American way o f life. The storv eoes likf.
now, our first starship will return to ^ r th r
heretofore disciplined
to their communities and soreaH n h


their quarantine, return

ottho world'* popuMon and mnmm S i T t o f

' X c 2 ' h'

It IS characteristic o f Clayark disease as it will h

wiU be compelled to spreL


c o r d o n enemy o f every healthy h u iS i bdng c ; n S r


had been

selves. Doro, a genetic rnu

assume the body o f any human allowed h '^ *
to consume the vitality and
bred these people partially to insurTTimsdf 1
thousands o f years, had
revitalization and partially to satisfv his intpn"t
^*rce for his own
these telepaths hade i n f l u e d c ^ ' ^ X t
mid-twentieth century that their aoDetitL for^n
. u
nisms were controlled enough to allow them m

-n n o o d L v .


she the strongest, but through the pattern, Mary was able to neutralize the
inherent hostilities o f actives, to discern satisfying outlets for their special
skills, and to relieve the suffering o f latent telepaths by facilitating their
transition and thus ridding society o f much o f its violence and crime.
The Pattemist society is a total hierarchy, from Pattemmaster, as Marys
position came to be known, to Housemaster, to journeymen and apprentices
of various rank, down to mutes, or those with no telepathic powers at all.
Because of their limited mental capacities, until the revelation precipitated by
the Clayark crisis, the mutes will have no idea that their actions and thoughts
are not their own. Programmed to supreme loyalty to Pattemists, they freely
perform such mundane activities as producing and selling goods, providing
governmental services, and rearing children (both their own and those o f the
Pattemists). Though subjugated, mutes will continue to operate within their
own class with relative autonomy. Their activities, values, and prejudices will
remain essentially those of twentieth-century America, but violence and crime
will be obviated by removal o f troubled latents, by the mutes recognition of
the higher authority o f the Pattemists, and by the Pattemists programming of
mutes for docility.
The Clayark crisis will not only cause the Pattemists to reveal themselves
but will necessitate their dividing Earth into sectors protected and mled by
Housemasters. This will create new governing units, new loyalties, and new
cultures, for so insidious will be the Clayark micro-organism that the survivors
of sectors decimated by Clayarks will not be admitted into other Households,
but will become wild humans who spend their lives hunting and being hunted.
The new elite will be determined not by color, sex, or national origin, but by
extrasensory powers. Having no special mental powers, the mutes cling within
their own group to their notions of superiority based on physical appearance.
Since Clayark disease changes the human form to that of a four-legged beast,
some mutes will develop cults that worship the form. Pattemists will some
times reward faithful mutes by allowing groups o f them a one-way trip to
search for new planets upon which they might be able to continue their race.
One such group, the Missionaries o f Humanity, will find a second earth,
hut it is inhabited by Kohn, furry creamres of various hues from rare blue to
most common yellow. The Kohn have a humanlike form, but because their
fur, color, and culture are different, the Missionaries will consider them
primitive, inferior, and tractable. This ethnocentricity will allow one of the
tribes, the Garkohn, to enslave the Missionaries as easily and unobtrasively as
the Pattemists had, thus giving a clue that it is not entirely their lack of
extrasensory abilities as much as their limited concept of humanity that jeop
ardizes the survival o f most o f the human race. These colonists will receive
another chance to continue Earths culture when Alanna, a wild child saved
from execution and adopted by a Missionary couple who dared defy custom,
liberates the colonists from the Garkohn. However, given their history, it is
hy no means certain that the Missionaries will be able to develop the necessary


Frances Smith Foster

Octavia Butler

a future influenced by continued development o f our cur

ren scientific inquiry, but one which is also determined by diance nature or
estiny. For example, Doro is a genetic mutant who comes to teniis with his
unique powers. He combines self-preservation and in te llL m ^ T u r ir st
explore the possibilities of an existing phenomenon. Mary is his creation ^but
the pattern that develops around her is inexplicable. The Clayark diseaseis a

sSrprir r ^' ^


Stoships are also the means o f possible salvation. Humans will not control
nature but they will be able to develop knowledge o f Z T f l u l T T
natural occurrences in both positive and negative ways
About social relations, Butler is more explicit, though here too she an

^chical society with no extraordinary personality devdlopmLts Octfvia But

accommodating the tributary of women.

mainstream is

concerns is the possibility of a society in which males

excellent example o f B p tlefs use o f tpinor fetnak c h

' Z

ambiance within which the major characters exist. Jansee is the only sibling
that Rayal did not kill during his struggle to gain the Pattern. Jansee, the
strongest sister, had chosen not to compete with him, not through fear, but
through a strong reverence for life. She chose instead to be Rayals con
science. As such she risks his wrath continually, steadfastly lecturing Rayal
about his duties to his subjects and goading him into critical analyses of power.
Rayals reply to a taunt by Jansee, that perhaps he would prefer her to worship
him as did many of his people, shows that he recognizes her value and
strength. Not that you would, he says, . . . but it doesnt matter. There are
times when I need someone around me who isnt afraid of m e. Jansees
knowledge o f her own worth is clear when she replies, Lest your own conceit
destroy you (p. 10).
Another example of a minor character who gives insight into the possible
roles o f women is Gehl in Survivor. Gehl is a Garkohn huntress with whom
Alanna, the protagonist, has exchanged language lessons and friendship. Like
so many of the Butler women, Gehl is ambitious but realistic. Im going to
challenge the Third Hunter, she tells Alanna. I can beat him. I know I
can. . . . Natahk [the FirstHunter]. . . says my ambition will kill me. He knows
that if I beat the Third Hunter, I will take on the Second. But Gehl has no
intention of sacrificing her life in pursuit of ultimate power. She does not, for
example, plan to challenge Natahk, for, as she says, I only challenge where
there is a chance for me to win (pp. 17-18). Gehl does become Second
Hunter in the tribe and the mistress o f Natahk, thus forming a union with
power. Of course, their relationship is not without problems. Natahk covets
Alanna, and this contributes to, but is not the sole cause of, a rupture in the
friendship between the two women.
Among the ideas garnered from secondary characters is the possibility that
society will eventually allow open access to jobs and positions of authority;
that while some women will be defeated by their ambitions and jealousies,
many will exhibit an unusual resistance to self-destructive power quests; and
that one way women will compensate for their physical limitations is by
forming liaisons with persons o f power. While such alliances may be sexual,
Butler makes it clear that these women, powerful and purposeful in their own
right, need not rely upon eroticism to gain their ends.
A brief analysis of the evolution of her three major women characters
facilitates further understanding of Butlers speculations on the future. The
-first book, P atternm aster, gives us Amber as a significant and complex
individual who functions as a symbol, a catalyst, and a mentor. The plot,
however, centers around the struggle between an older brother, Coransee,
and his younger brother, Teray, for the inheritance of the Pattern. Amber
discerns in Teray a power to heal as well as to kill, and in teaching him to
develop his humane tendencies, she teaches him the skills he needs to ultimately
defeat his brother.


Frances Smith Foster

In M ind o f M y M ind. Mary gradually emerges as the protagonist; however

a cenhral issue m this work concerns the effect of extraordinary mental powers
upon individuals and their social relationships. Mary is the most developed of
Doros several children who people this book. She comes into her own when
she overthrows her father; but Doro, his experiment, and his use o f power are
as much a focus o f this work as Mary, who defines the limits o f and represents
an alternative to Doros power.
It IS not until the third novel, SMmVor, that Butler presents a heroine From
beginning to end. Survivor is Alannas story. Unlike Mary and Amber
A la ^ a has no extrasensoty powers. Alanna (the etymological meaning of this
word is My Child, and it is. a term of endearment) is an archetype, the kind
of human who can survive in the future. Her attempts to overcome her
weaknesses, to know and protect that which is vital, and to accept necessary
changes inform our sensibilities concerning the potential o f ordinary human
beings and constitute the plot.

Octavia Butler

schoolmaster. Knowing that he was not mentally strong enough to keep her as
his lover once she entered transition, the schoolmaster manipulated a situation
wherein Amber had to kill a Housemaster. Though it was clearly in selfdefense-, her crime was exacerbated by the shame of the other Housemasters
that a child, not yet in full possession of her powers, could be strong enough
to kill one of their number. The heroic efforts o f Kai, a female Housemaster,
save Amber from death, and Amber subsequently lives as an Independent,
.welcome in any House because o f her superior healing skills but refusing to
|oin any Household permanently.
When Amber chooses to become Terays mentor, she is choosing to join her
power with his. She chooses further to become his lover, and finally, without
consulting him, she conceives their child. But she will not marry him. Consid
er this exchange:
[Teray] Stay with me. Amber. Be my wifelead wife, once I have my House.

it does, at times,
affect their attitudes and influence their social situations; however, racial
conflict or even racial tension is not the primary focus of the novels. Butler
explains that she feels no particular need to champion black women, but that
she wntes from her own experience and sensitivities;

Black women I write about arent struggling to make ends meet, but they are
the descendants of generations of those who did. Mothers are likely to teach itheir
aughters about s iy iv a l as they have been taught, and daughters are likely to learn


WiU this statement she affirms her place in Afro-American literary history
without excludmg her work from a larger context. Butler is theorizing upon
the same questions that Ursula Le Guin, for example, has raised: WhaUbout
die cultural and the racial Other? Like Butler, Le Guin affirms the inextricability of humankind:
ff you deny any affmity with another person or kind of person, if you declare it to
wholly dfiferent from yourself_as men have done to women, and class has d^ne
to class, Md nation has done to nationyou may hate it, or deify it; but in either
case you have d e m ^ its spiritual equality,^ and its human reality. You have made
this v^

relationship is a power relationship. And

^ impoverished your own reality. You have, in fact, alfenated

Butler explores the future implications o f racism and sexism by focusing upon
relationships between powerful persons who are various kinds o f Other.
In P a tte rn i^ ste r Amber, a golden brown woman with hair that was a cap
o small, tight black curls, is not only a healer of special skill, but also a
temfyingly efficient killer (p. 56). As a child, she had been victimized by her

She shook her head. No. I warned you. I love y o u .. . . But n o .. . . Because I want
the same thing you want. My House. M ine.. . . I could have given my life for
yom . . . But I could never give my life to you.
Im not asking for your life, he said angrily. As my lead wife youd have
authority, freedom .. . .
How" interested would you be in becoming my lead husband? she asks.
(p p .;0 8 -9 )

a Not only does Butler introduee a rarity in science fiction, a major character
who is ap independent and competent woman, but she makes this woman
J^sexud. Teray questions her, Which do you prefer. Amber, really? Amber,
Comfortable with her sexuality, explains, When I meet a woman who attracts
I prefer women. . . . And when I meet a man who attracts me, I prefer
fie n . Butler implies that bisexuality will not be the taboo in the future that
it is today, for Teray, after brief thought, decides, If thats the way you are,
I dont mind (p. 108); and thereafter, sexual preference is not an issue
Jhetween them.
Some members of the Patternm aster society may be more sexually tolerant,
but women are still sex objects and even Amber can be sexually exploited. For
instance, the lust of her schoolmaster, Coransee, complicates her life. When
Amber and Teray become his prisoners, Coransee uses her to strike at Teray.
Be orders Teray to send Amber to his bed. When informed of this. Amber
replies, Im sorry Teray.. . . Sorry to be of use to him against y o u . . . . He
doesnt give a damn about me now exeept to break me. Hes doing this to
humiliate you (p. 128).
The relationship between Amber and Teray shows how males and females
may relate to each other in the future, but it is seeondary to the inevitable
confrontation between Teray and Coransee. Amber has taught Teray to use his
killing powers and to discover his healing strength as well. She, as mentor.


Frances Smith Foster

Octavia Butler

by winnine the Parrpm Th


desires to subjugate her anrf m

Temy h t ^ t o e d t o T aT

tells L . t s

from Coransee, only

woman. Coransee

n>Pl=men.s the malehem.

y ^ r sh r

Amber agrees to set ud her H n ^ e

represent a good power Ravat in
always be ! b e t o healer i o n w
she won-, ever sn a : i l ^ Z " v l T T
abilities (p 160) In R n tle r

^ ^er will

combination of

and dtns 4^s r e d t ' d r r e r ; " ^ ^ : ; ! ? , ' r r

h ' a S t e t r p ^ r other ha^d
First Family.
a . . i r : e t v t ? s : ? o T e l r : . " ?
that power, the resolution o f ha '
overSl dieme MW

order to establish the

eyes the n n w eleo m ^ r^ m in t,sT rer

wearing a whiK mans h o d r T h
>, a
eease when heTs whhe, S i k l S a


<' eonflictmg manifestations o f

"> 8 >< ia vital to the
coneeived when Dorn was

" T


Z 7 S : ''z r y ~ L
r k
matter what color you take on (pp 60-61)

is no, his primaiy objection. He tells Maty -You 7 7 a

I dislike you because youre black
^^^o^ldn t get the idea that
what color you were (p 20) Karl vnl
ference. In spite of th ^ ' a n l o s S KarT H m
no interhighly developed telepaths, realizF tkt u n lm thfvTan^^^^^^ T
is doomed. As they work towarH i h o , v
cooperate, the Pattern
something that is working and that tr y T a v f S o ^ T ^ u n h ^
that they have come to resnect tmt anH
, ^ ^

decide te cmate a cbtldT^"



Mary is neither of the two basic black female characters which Daryl Dance
so aptly describes in her essay, Black Eve or Madonna: A Study of the
Antithetical Views of the Mother in Black American Literature." Mary does,
certainly, exhibit Madonna characteristics. She is a figure of courage,
strength, and endurance. As mother of the Pattern, she does give birth and
sustenance to positive growth and advancement among her people. But her
people, Mary decides, are of every race. Nor is she a stereotypical Madonna
in other ways. As a child she would steal anything that caught her fancy,
particularly books, for she declared, If I didnt have anything to read. Id go
really crazy (p. 2). She is violent. When a man tries to force his way into her
house, nineteen-year-old Mary breaks his head open with a cast-iron skillet
and calmly walks out of the house, leaving him for dead. Throughout her life,
Mary is impetuous and often fights those who offend her, including Doro, her
father, and Karl, her husband. Though she becomes more disciplined as she
matures, her pugnacity remains. Yet, Mary is not an Eve, the sin symbol of
sex and seduction. Though she succumbed to the tempting allures and wiles
of her father and became one of his lovers, Mary does not share hiS casually
murderous attitude, and she, in fact, has the social conscience that Doro lacks.
It is Doro, not Mary, who gives birth to the sins of the world which destroy.
It is Mary who destroys Doro for the good of society.
Mary is a tough-talking, hard-fighting woman who can be physically over
powered but not defeated. Her competitiveness and aggression are tempered
by a fine compassion. When she discovers her ability to create a means
through which pain-crazed people can gain peace, she fervently incorporates
them into the Pattern. At the same time, she recognizes that her desire to
succor is intertwined with her desire to control, and she accepts this:
Why did I want to see as many latents as possible brought through transition?
So I could be an empress? I wouldnt even say that out loud. It sounded so stupid.
But, whatever I called myself, I was definitely going to wind up with a lot of
people taking orders from me, and that really didnt sound like such a bad
thing. . . . Altruism, ambitionwhat else is there? Need? (pp. 104-5)

Mary discovers that her strength is insured by her power to tap the energy of
others. Though she believes herself a parasite, she is well aware that she also
brings peace, unity, and purpose to the Patternists and to the society which
they control.
Mary and, to a lesser extent. Amber are women of special mental abilities
and purpose. They are complex and independent women, combinations not
only of Eve and Madonna, but also of God and Satan, and as such they
represent a new kind of female character in both science fiction and AfroAmerican literature. The men with which these women associate are also
powerful. Their relationships provide occasion for Butler to explore closely
die various forms and combinations o f power available to persons of unusual
ability. Through them, she is able to speculate about new human values which


Frances Smith Foster

recognize differences in physical appearance, sexual preferences, and person

al skills and which are ultimately concerned with insuring the survival of
human beings by developing the best uses o f power. Mary represents the best
use o f a superior mentality. Before his defeat Doro realizes this:
M a ^ . She was like a living creature of fire. Not hum an.. . . He saw her now as she
really was, and She might have been his twin.
But, no, she was not his twin. She was a small, much younger being. A complete
version of h im .. . . She was a symbiant, a being living in partnership with her
people. She gave them unity, they fed her, and both thrived.. . . And though she had
great power, she was not naturally, instinctively a killer. He was. (p. 165)

Unlike Mary and Amber, Alanna, in Survivor, has no extrasensory powers,

bhe IS a human of the future, one the Pattemists would call a mute. Alanna
neither supports her chosen man nor battles her father for power. Alanna is a
survivor. Her parents died in a Clayark attack when she was eight years old.
She existed as a wild child. When she was fifteen, a Missionary guard shot her
for stealing food. Jules Verrick rescued her from execution. Alanna lived as
the Verncks alien foster child and was taken with them to colonize another
planet. She was among a group captured by Tehkohn raiders and was the only
pnsoner to endure. After two years, she returned to the colony and was able
dirough her skills, intelligence, and alliances to save the Missionary colony
from complete subjugation by the Garkohns.
Alanna is Afro-Asian, but she is treated by the Missionaries as a black.
Physically, she is a perfect balance of the two races, created from a loving and
apparently equal relationship, for of her parents we are told that they protect
ed each other, these two, and together, they protected the child they had
created. Even m the end when the Clayarks came to loot and kill, the man and
woman held them off long enough for the child to escape (p. 27). She is thus
an outsider to the colony, both racially and culturally. She is self-sufficient
meets people and events with intelligence and courage, and assumes the risks
involved in equal felationships. Though she is able to understand and to accept
the M issionm es, they are never able to accept her; and they feel no need to
understand her or any other non-Missionary. It is the absence o f ethnocentncity that insures Alannas survival. She is the only one who will bother
to leam the Garkohn language and customs. When captured by Tehkohn she
wins foeir approval, because though she is clearly secure in her private belief
that [they] were the ones malformed and ugly, she evidences not only person
al strength o f character ,but a profound respect for their being. Alannas
tolerance, we understand, was acquired because she learned to distinguish
between what is truly valid for humans and what is merely surface. And
0CC3US6 she accepts herself as she is.
Alannas strangeness and assurance intrigues Duit, the big, blue Hao
supreme leader o f the-Tehkohn. When Duit sees this captive knock out a
hunter who needlessly provoked her and fearlessly stand off his two defenders.

Octavia Butler

Duit determines to take her as his consort. Alanna has no choice but to enter
the relationship, but Duit finds her unconquerable. He describes their early
days thus: When she behaved foolishly and I beat her, she fought back. No
Tehkohn would have done that___ She behaved like another Hao, this furless
one. She thought she was blue. And though that made me angry sometimes,
it also pleased me (pp. 110-11).
Theirs is such a tempestuous association that Alanna wears a knife to
compensate for her lesser physical strength. Eventually, she finds Duits size
and strength, his sensitivity and adaptability more impressive than his strange
blue fur. The turning point comes on a hunting trip when Alannas care
lessness results in her being attacked by a Jehruk. Weaponless, Duit risks his
life for her by fighting the enormous beast. Alanna, in turn, saves Duits life
by making a spectacular kill with her bow and arrow. After this, Duit relates:
I did not beat her again. Not once. And most of the time, she obeyed. When
she did not, we talked sometimes very loudly. But in spite of our disagree
ments, our nights together became good again. I lay with her contentedly and
her knife remained in its sheath (p. 114).
Butlers females are usually healers, teachers, artists, mothers. Yet, they
are not the traditional literary Earth Mothers or Culture Bearers. They exercise
-direct authority. They excel in a variety of careers (motherhood is rarely their
major occupation), and they do, when necessary, kill bratally, efficiently, and
even joyfully. Note the description of Marys defeat of Doro: Doro fought
>desperately, uselessly. He could feel Marys amusement now. He had nearly
: killed her, had been about to kill the man she had attached herself to so firmly.
Now she took her revenge. She consumed him slowly drinking in his terror
and his life, drawing out her own pleasure, and laughing through his soundless
The women represent a future, perfect use of power, but this does not
suggest a future female monopoly nor a world of strong women alone. Mary
killed Doro to solidify her position as sole ruler of the Pattern and to protect
the Pattemists; however, the needed thrast, her final surge of strength came
when Doro started to kill the one individual with whom she had intimately
allied herself. Each of Octavia Butlers major women characters choose to
form intimate attachments with strong, humane males. If, like Amber, they
refuse'marriage because they want to head their own Houses, they, like
Amber, also compromise, cooperate, and often, as Duit terms it, obey their
male consorts.
The best summary of Butlers speculations on race can be seen through the
relationship of Duit, the gigantic Hao, and Alanna, our archetypal human,
biological child of an Asian woman and an African man, foster child o f the
European-Americans, Jules and Neila Verrick. Alanna tries to explain her
marriage to her Missionary-of-Humanity foster parents and to gain their bless
ing for the union: Tm a wild human, said Alanna quietly. Thats what Ive
always been.. . . I havent lost myself. Not to anyone.. . . In time. Ill also be

Octavia Butler
Frances Smith Foster

a Tehkohn judge. I want to be. And Fm Duits wife and your daughter
(p. 168). The Verricks cannot accept this. Alannas relationship with the furry
blue alien is beyond ttieir tolerance. With tears in her eyes, Alanna accepts
their limitations and says, For a while, I was your daughter. Thank you for
that anyway (p. 185). The Verricks represent those for whom racism may
prove to be inextricable. For them the future is uncertain. We leave them
following their cartload of possessions, searching for a place where they may
live as they have historically. Alanna, able to reconcile the reality of her
heritage with the demands of the present, survives.
The Earth peoples failure to be humane is contrasted to the behavior of the
Kohn at the naming ceremony o f Alanna and Duits daughter, Tien. Tien is
a thickly furred, deep-green little girl who to the Kohn is strangely shaded
and has wrong hands and feet. But in their ritual, they accept her, saying,
We are an ancient people. The Kohn empire was the handiwork of our
ancestors.. . . We are a new p eop le.. . . In each child we welcome, we are
reborn (p. 180).
For the feminist critic, Octavia Butler may present problems. Her female
characters are undeniably strong and independent; but whether, as Joanna
Russ insists is crucial, the assumptions underlying the entire narrative are
feminist, is uncertain, for who wins and who loses*^is less clear than that
a compromise has been made which unifies the best of each woman and man.
For Afro-American literary critics, Butler can present problems as well, for
their attention has been focused upon the assumptions and depictions about the
black experience of the past and the present; yet the implications of Butlers
vision should be a significant challenge. For the science fiction critics,
Butlers work offers numerous areas o f inquiry, but there should exist no
doubt that in her contribution this writer has already given us something
really first rate.

,n V en .i0 .N b c .,

9. Nixon, p. 1
10. Le Guin, pp. 209-10.
U . Daryl Dance, Black Eve

, W . . 0vi. B.Cec,- E . e . .5 A . 1979, p. .2,

Antithetical Views of the Mother in
sturdy Black Bridges (New York:


1. Patternmaster (1975; rpt. New York: Avon Books, 1979); Mind o f My Mind (New York:
Doubleday, 1977); Survivor (New York: Doubleday, 1978). References are to these editions
and are noted in the text.
2. Reviews quoted are Kirkus Review, 15 May 1976; Kirkus Review, 15 Jan. 1978; Kirkus
Review, 15 Apr. 1911-, and Library Journal, lA p r. 1978. They are typical. In no review have
I found any recognition concerning the implications of the sex and race of Butlers characters.
3. Marilyn Hacker, Science Fiction and Feminism: The Work of Joanna Russ, Chrysalis, 4
(Spring 1977), 70.
4. Ursula Le Guin, American SF and the Other, Science Fiction Studies, 2 (Nov. 1975), 210.
5. Pamela Sargent, Introduction: Women in Science Fiction, Women of Wonder (New York:
Vintage Books, 1975), p. xv.
6. Quoted in Contemporary Authors, vols. 73-76 (Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1978),
p. 104.
7. Joanna Russ, What Can a Heroine Do? or Why Women Cant W rite, in Images of Women
in Fiction, ed. Susan Koppelman Camillar (Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green Univ.
Popular Press, 1972), pp. 3-20.



Eisenstein, Millhiser, and Butler

curbed halting the Industrial Revolution, and creating a culture locked into

Time Travel a s a Feminist Didactic

in Works by Phyllis Eisenstein,
Marlys lUlillhiser, and Octavia Butler

Transporting a contemporary heroine into the past serves neatly to highlight

the contrast between current freedom and past oppression. More subtle, but
equally didactic, is the opportunity this provides the author to examine mod
em, liberated woman in an often hostile and certainly more circumscribed and
primitive environment. How will she survive? Have twentieth-century edu
cation and training made her better able to cope? Will she, via her superior
knowledge, restructure the past (and potentially alter the future)? Will she,
in other words, provide a feminine counterpart to Mark Twains Connecticut
Yankee? No, says Phyllis Eisenstein of her heroine, Celia Ward:
As a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthurs Court, she was a failure. Without a
fortuitous eclipse, without the pocket lighter that invariably overwhelmed scores of
ignorant natives in as many adventure novels, and more important without the
basic knowledge to construct tools with which to build better tools, she was
helpless. She realized how empty her mind was, how ineffectual she was without
the technology she had always taken for granted.'

Celia is not alone. She has ample company in the representations o f her sister
time travellers: Shay Garrett from Marlys Millhisers novel. The M irro r , and
Dana from Octavia Butlers K in dred .
Celia Ward, twenty-year-old urban heroine of Eisensteins Shadow o f
E arth , is a resident of Chicagos North Side and a student o f Romance
languages at Northwestern University when she finds herself in an alternate
universe: North America as it might have been if the Spanish Armada had not
been routed by the British. Eisenstein speculates that if Catholic Spain had
won and colonized the New World, science and invention would have been
Extrapolation, Vol. 23, No. 1
0014-5483/82/0231-0006 $01.00/0
Copyright 1982 by The Kent State University Press


lover, Larry Meyer, has - e n . ^ ,

reveals this alternate world and permits him to enter i t t o seU
needed product of civilized times to the natives: guns. When Ceha stumbles
discovery, she is invited to don the belt which provides the mode of
transfer and to^oin him to see for herself. She arrives in a heavily forested
region, is immediately captured by brigands, physically and emotiona y

navel u. an allemale worlrl,

S h T r a r S l's ,r.spo,tion (in Millhiser-s TH. M irror) . . o ^


pected A bored twenty-year-old, living at home with her par

w "Sg
shake the dust o f this house from her heels by getting
But on the eve of her wedding, while gazing into a 7
been with the family (usually under cover) for generations >
glances with her senile grandmother at just the moment the mirror goes
As their eves met in the wedding mirror, the mirror began to hum. Waves in the
glass undulated into the room on a sea of mist and s p p e d Shay
sicioiess A cracking sound ripped the air with such force she was '^own to me
floOT. The carpet gave way beneam her and Shay fell in a blacked-out world filled
with an old woman s screams, (p. 17)

The two women have changed places on the day befme

weddings .Shay goes into the past, marries her grandmother s in te n d ^ ,^ d
lives out the remainder of her grandmothers nmety-eight-year life, whil
grandmother. Brandy McCabe, is jolted into Shay s body.
Dana, the twenty-six-year-old heroine o f K indred is 7 ^ '
an outside force.^ An unpublished writer, she is wortang
job with a temporary employment firm when she meets and
and fellow J f h o r , Kevin. They are just setting up h o u s i n g m a
residence when Dana is suddenly pulled back to the year
to save a httk
boy, Rufus Weylin, from drownmg. But this tale goes far y
recitation of twentieth-century worrian
whUe Kevin and Rufus are white. Dana is black. Even more i ^ a n f r Rufos
son of a tyrannical plantation owner and his hysterical,
one of Danas ancestors; and he has a link with her so powerfu that it cdH
her back, from the present to save him from mtense
throughout his entire lifetime. Thus, a contemporary black woman comes to
e x p e S ic e the life of a slave on a Maryland plantafion
retdm to the twentieth century sporadically and briefly througho
at those moments of absolute terror when the belief in er own immi
triggers an involuntary return.
. , j k,.* in Hecree
All three women are slaves. The difference is not m
Blond Celia, who has been sold into slavery in the Spanish New World, finds


Beverly Friend

herself resold to fill the dreams o f a Marquiss egomania. Her first owner, Rio,
appears to be a man o f sensitivity: a lute player, a troubadour. And indeed he
means well by the resale, making Celia the possession of a rich and powerful
man. All she need do to assure her place in society is to bear a blond son, for
the fair Marquis has a passion to know that his heir is rightfully his. Indeed,
he has slain an earlier blond bride for bearing a dark child. No one in this
feudal society can conceive o f any other role for a woman than chattel,
protected only if there is a man to protect her. Celia is helpless in this world:
she cannot make a fire, weave, knit, or make lace. She can read, but of what
use is that? Her best use is as a breeder:
She clasped her hands tighdy behind her back, willing their shaking away. This was
it. This was what she had dreaded and fought ever since that first time in the back
seat of a Plymouth Valiant. This total stranger was going to try his damnedest to
make her pregnant. A voice inside her wailed despairingly at the thought, (p. 104)
Her intellect is not needed, and her skills are limited. She does learn to play
the lute and sing a little; and at one moment she draws up a plan for a flush
toilet and sewer system, but no one thinks the idea worth the time and effort
to execute. And thus her sole contribution to this world, aside from ultimately
bearing the desired son, is to translate Macbeth into Spanish (from memory)
so that the inhabitants of the castle may enjoy -a' theatrical evening in a
one-night performance, much enjoyed and easily forgotten.
Without birth control, Celia has no separate destiny. She bemoans her fate:
A woman, though she be a Marquesa, has no real privilege here; in my
country, the lowest scrubwoman is freer than I am. Rio answers: I am a man
and you are a woman. You cant wander as I would. Where would you bear
your children? In a hollow tree?. . . Youre not among your people now, so
you must live as we do, and among us a womans place is at home, taking care
of her man (p. 165). And Celia, having no other choice, does live as they do,
conceiving and bearing the baby, agonizingly in a time when anesthesia is
unknown and Caesarian births are almost always fatal to the mother. But
forced maternity does not engender love. Celia has no compunction about
leaving the child, escaping Castillo Quintero and returning to Evanston, Illi
nois, and the twentieth century.
Motherhood and the contrast between realistic and romantic views is also
clearly underlined in The M ir ro r. On the eve of Shays wedding, she realizes
that her mother really wants to say, If youre pregnant your father and I will
pay for you to have the baby at some home or even to have an abortion, but
you do not have to marry that man tomorrow (p. 14). This offer contrasts with
Shays grandmothers situation, for Brandy McCabe must marry and bear
children. No other role is possible for her. In fact, her father has virtually
purchased her husband, arranging a marriage out of the fear that his daughter
(who has been acting strangely due to the presence o f the mirror in the house)
may end up an old maid. When Shay, as Brandy, questions a doctor about


Eisenstein, Millhiser, and Butler

contraception, he suggests abstinence (but cannot understand why she would

not wish to conceive). When she asks a prostitute, she is told to use a large
copper penny (obviously a forerunner of the lUD). Needless to say, she then
names her first child Penny.
Shay has an advantage over Celia. She knows the future. Because her own
'mother (who will now become her daughter) has told her tales of her girlhood,
Shay, as Brandy, knows most of what will happen in her life: the fact that she
will have a second husband, and his identity; the sex and destinies of her three
children; the site of the town reservoir; and other physical changes to the
surrounding countryside. Her knowledge of American and world history is
more sketchy. She is able to warn friends and family about the stock market
crash, but is a year off on the date. She foretells Pearl Harbor, but cites
December 11 rather than the seventh as the date; and she is considered odd and
witchlike for her predictions. Her scientific knowledge appears only sporad
ically, as when she attempts to give cardio-pulmonary resuscitation to her
(lying father (unsuccessfully) or warns her children to avoid sweets and foods
high in cholesterol.
Although Shay attempts to return to the modem world, via the mirror, she
fails except for a few tantalizing and incomplete glimpses at what is happening
fo the real Brandy in Shays body. Ultimately, Shay resigns herself to living
out her grandmothers life; she learns to bake bread and cook on an oldfashioned stove, in other words to become the complete homemaker and
Brandy, on the other hand, suffers nearly complete culture shock in the
twentieth century, especially when, as a virgin, she discovers that Shay s body
is pregnant. However, when she escapes confinement (having been adjudged
ipsane) and finds refuge, she is quite able to care for herself, including bearing
twins with minimal, nonmedical help perhaps reinforcing the theme that it
U far easier to function in basic, life-essential tasks when moving from a
primitive to a more sophisticated society than when experiencing the reverse.
Of the three heroines, only Dana, from K in d re d , has the opportunity to
move between the two worlds. All in all, she makes six trips into the past,
called each time by Rufuss near encounter with death. Each return Dana
makes to the present is triggered by the possibility of her own death. Once she
returns during a hideous beating; another time she causes the return by desperstely slitting her own wrists. Each visit to the plantation accounts for from a
few minutes to several days in Danas own time, but comprises months to
years of the past. Thus, she follows Rufus from childhood to adulthood while
she scarcely ages herself. Throughout, she feels a moral responsibility for
Rufiis: Someday, he would be the slaveholder, responsible in his own right
for what happened to the people who lived in those half-hidden cabins. The
-boy was literally growing up as I watched growing up because I watched
aid because I helped to keep him safe. Dana goes on to question her role as
the guardian for Rufus: A black to watch over him in a society that considered


Beverly Friend
Eisenstein, Millhiser, and Butler


r i 2

r -

' - -d

i.t rtp:i:rs;;ir h


F*3S5H ~
" rope around my neck waiting to
sack of wheat. If I have to seem to he
freedom for Rufus sake then he ale h
me. He has to l ^ v e t e e l g h
to me than killing and dying, (p, 302)

b = a lT X " . T * 3 f

^orse or a
y. if I have to accept limits on hiy


'" -

she next visits f c p la n la h o t^ to te f T n ? .' ! " '''* '

her, and five years have gone hv f
elapsed for
north, and D ^ a l ^ n o w
when the waiting becomes unhea hi
return. At one point,
mailed her letters to Kevin she att ^
discovers that Rufus has never
What had Wevlin said? Th f

prepared her to succeed;

in my education or knowledge o T S ffu to e h ^ ^ S * ! T '

years an illiterate runaway named H aS^TT h ^
this country and lead three hundred fi v
Why wasTstill a slavt^^o
killing me. Why had I taken vet a L ^ ^
f f ig h t e n e d n o w - ttg h t e n ^ s X r ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^
to run again, (p. 215)

it e S C C t f a C | : L "
inh. hte pasl , fsa . She t s a

nineteen trips into
w h y . . . why was I so
I would have

t 1'

IS transported. A nd w hat is in the bag^ A ll the things s h f

from civilization: toothbrush, soap, com b brush kn ifr
Sleeping pills, antiseptic, pen, p a p l a n d



one of the trips she also packs a history of slavery and maps o f Maryland, but
this outrages Rufus, who demands that she bum them.
And so Dana works and survives as a slave, learning all the skills necessary
to survive as a house worker, but not showing sufficient stamina to succeed
as a field hand. Her twentieth-century ability to read antagonizes Rufuss
father, who fears education for his slaves, and causes danger to herself and
others when she teaches the slave children to read. Her knowledge of history
is no help and only stands her in good stead by preventing her from killing
Rufus until he has raped her black great-grandmother, assuring the inception
of Danas family tree.
Finally, when Dana does act, there are repercussions. She murders Rufus
(who well deserves it), but justice does not then triumph. His death causes the
end of life on that plantation, and the slaves are then sold off. Dana does not
get away unscathed, either, losing an arm in her final wrench from past to
None of these heroines emerges unscathed. Nor does the reader. For what
is unique about these books is their historical and contemporary truth. The
authors extrapolate from a what i f hypothesis: What if the Spanish Armada
had won? What if grandma and granddaughter could change places? What if
one were called into the past to rescue an ancestor? In historical truth, the life
the authors describe is the unromanticized life that women living in those times
did lead. Women did menstraate; childbirth was agonizing; biology is destiny.
Equally important is our contemporary trath. No one would intellectually
argue against the proposition that life is better today for both men and women,
but few realize what these three novels have didactically presented: that
contemporary woman is not educated to survive, that she is as helpless,
perhaps even more helpless, than her predecessors. Just as Philip Wylie
pointed out in The D isa p p ea ra n ce , a world o f men might be strife-ridden, but
it would go on; a world o f women would grind to a halt, sans transportation
(no pilots, bus drivers, train engineers), sans full grocery shelves (no farmers
or truckers), sans adequate health care (no ambulance drivers, paramedics,
few cfoctors). Men understand how the world is run; women do not. Victims
then, victims now. And Eisenstein, Millhiser, and Butler know it.
1- Phyllis Eiseikstein, Shadow of Earth (New York: Dell, 1979), p. 142; subsequent in-text
references are to this edition.
Marlys Millhiser, The Mirror (New York: Fawcett, 1978), p. 11; subsequent in-text refer
ences are to this edition.
3- It IS mteresting to note the modus operand! of feminist juvenile time travel. In both Norma
Fox Mazers Saturday, the Twelfth o f October (New York: DeU, 1975) and Mary Stoltzs
at in the Mirror (New York: Dell, 1978), the heroines are abruptly shot into the past
through their own personal upheaval during a time of extreme emotional pain and embar
4. Octavia Butler, Kindred (New York: Pocket Books, 1979), p. 77; subsequent in-text references are to this edition.