Reading: Survivor, by Octavia Butler Part Two

200px-SurvivorButlerOne thing I’ve noticed about Octavia Butler’s writing is that she tended to write protagonists who end up with a self-imposed mission of saving people who might not actually want to be saved. Lilith from the Xenogenesis series is one such character, the protagonist of Parable of the Sower is another.

Alanna’s self-appointed mission is to free the Missionaries from Garkohn influence, though it might be better said that she wants to free her foster parents from Garkohn influence. It’s pretty clear that Alanna has very little attachment to the other Missionaries. Her primary focus is for her foster parents who “civilized” her and treated her with compassion.

Chapter Three: Diut

This chapter follows the same first person past recollection and third person present narrative, only this time the first person recollection is from Diut’s point of view. Diut is a “Hao,” and the leader of the Tehkohn community. Hao are bright blue mutants that look even less human than the average Kohn, and are occasionally born from judge caste Kohn or other Hao. (I cannot resist thinking of him as looking like Beast from the X-Men. This is not a Star Trek Novel, it is a Marvel Universe novel, okay.) Hao are considered to be sacred in some sense because of their shade of blue. Other Kohn generally feel compelled to obey Hao, even Hao that don’t belong to their community or tribe.

Diut is responsible for the raid that captured a number of Missionaries including Alanna, and a few Garkohn. His intent is to detox the Garkohn and the humans. He intends to do this even though detoxing will kill the Garkohn, and possibly also the humans. (He’s hoping they won’t die so he can find out more about them.)

Alanna is the only one to survive, apparently because she is just that stubborn. So stubborn in fact that she manages to find a door out of the room! (Her plan involves getting revenge on the people who put her through detox. It is not much of a plan because the instant she finds the extremely well hidden door, she faints.) Instead, she’s taken in by a couple from the judge and hunter castes, Jeh and Cheah. They’re assigned with taking care of Alanna while she recuperates from the detox. Diut thinks Alanna will prove to be a useful emissary since she’s the daughter of the Missionary leader.

In the present, Alanna is extremely unhappy to be re-addicted to the meklah. We learn a little about what meklah withdrawal is like and then we’re taken on a trip down memory lane. Alanna’s birth parents were of African and Asian descent and they died covering Alanna’s escape from clayarks. Alanna was about eight and she spent most of her childhood living an extremely feral existence until she was shot by Missionaries while she was raiding their crops. Jules Verrick took her in mostly because he had just lost his last child to the Clay’s Ark plague. (This is left so open I kind of wonder if this implies that Jule’s wife was infected by the plague–which is very not likely–and the kid was therefore a clayark mutant, or if the kid caught the plague from another source somehow).

Alanna adjusts quickly to the Missionary community, learning language and Missionary mores with lightning speed. Through Alanna will learn about what the Missionaries are Missionaries of and their beliefs. (It’s basically idolatrous by the way. They worship the idea that God created humans in his own image. This is completely understandable, given they have cannibal mutants on one side, sociopathic telempathic Bee People on the other and feral humans up the middle, but it’s still pretty much idolatry all the way down.) Given the Missionary’s xenophobia, they don’t really adapt very well to Alanna, and the Missionary kids try to bully Alanna with limited success because Alanna beat the crap out of them when they tried to corner her.

If you can’t tell, I am not fond of the Missionaries, even if I can understand why they are so messed up.

We learn that various groups of Missionaries are being provided with spaceships that will take them to some other world. The folks providing the ships are Patternists, which is something of a surprise. Both that the Patternists are creating the ships and the Missionaries actually trust the Patternists enough to accept the gift. The theory here seems to be that since the Patternists are too closely networked to be able to leave the planet themselves, so they’re doing the next best thing and allowing humans uninfected by the plague to leave instead of say, killing them all so the clayarks can’t infect them. (I think this is another way that this could be thought of as a “Star Trek novel.”)

So! This colony of Missionaries ends up on a very Earthlike world and settle in a lovely valley…that is already inhabited. The first contact comes shortly after young Garkohn hunters kill all of the Missionaries larger domesticated animals, supposedly by accident. (Due to the fact that the Garkohn do not keep domestic animals because none of the animals they’re familiar with can be domesticated.) I am slightly doubtful about the accident part. It seems more likely that this was planned out from the first.

In the present, Alanna learns that the town is now aware that meklah is addictive and that the Garkohn did this to them on purpose to control them. Jules is a very unhappy man! Alanna sees his resentment and anger and realizes that Natahk had done most of her work for her. (Meaning, Jules is going to be more open to being convinced to talk to the Tehkohn leader.) Alanna makes the attempt, but Jules is not willing to be convinced because he believes that the Tehkohn have been kidnapping other people. Alanna reveals that this is not the case–it’s the Garkohn who’ve been doing the kidnapping.

After some more argument and some emotional manipulation on the part of Alanna, Jules agrees to speak to Diut.

Alanna is a fascinating character, mostly because of the way she thinks and solves problems. She’s a chameleon with the ability to assimilate into a given society with little or no difficulty (except where interpersonal interactions are concerned). She goes from being half-feral to more or less civilized-by-Missionary-standards very rapidly. When she discovers that certain behaviors of hers are breaking Missionary norms, she immediately complies with those norms in a way that seems extremely analytical. Alanna’s talent sets her apart, even as she uses it to fit in.

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Filed under Octavia Butler, Reading, science fiction, Survivor

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