Reading: Survivor, by Octavia Butler Part Three

200px-SurvivorButlerIt would be interesting to know what Butler meant by Survivor being her “Star Trek novel.” (Mostly because there are many Star Trek writers whose non-Star Trek work is really good.) Does it mean simplistic themes or worldbuilding? I can see traces of both in the story, in the way that Alanna has an almost suspicious ability to adapt to other communities and the way the Kohn are able to hide due to the natural camouflage of their fur. (This is followed by Alanna realizing that she is more comfortable with the Tehkohn than she had been among the Missionaries.) There’s also the white/black morality of the Missionaries versus Alanna’s more pragmatic feral upbringing. (And how it compares with the way the Tehkohn assimilate her into their community.) This juxtaposition of similar situations does have the feeling of a Star Trek type morality tale–too simple, too neat, and maybe too obvious.

This speculation is not meant to be a judgment on whether Butler was right to disown the book. This is just an example of one of the questions I’d like to ask her, if I could.

Chapter Four: Alanna

In the first half of the chapter, Alanna describes how the Tehkohn assimilate her into their tribe. She spends some time with Jeh and Cheah, and once she learns more of the language she’s sent to live with an artisan couple, Gehnahteh and Choh. She ends up really liking Jeh and Cheah even though Jeh was the Tehkohn who had captured her, but ends up having a more rocky relationship with Gehnahteh and Choh. And by rocky I actually mean violent. There are situations where Gehnahteh attempts to beat Alanna, only to run into Alanna’s very violent insistence that she not be beaten.

Though she experiences some culture shock and extreme discomfort at being the only human in the community, Alanna turns out to be extremely comfortable with the Tehkohn way of life. In other words instead of just trying to fit in, she is actually “going native.” The process of “going native” is emphasized by Alanna’s feelings about the differences between the way Alanna is accepted by the Tehkohn versus the way the Missionaries (except for Jules and Neila) treated her. Even with incidents where Gehnahteh loses her temper, Alanna feels as if she fits in better among the Tehkohn than the Missionaries.

In the second half of the chapter, Diut is brought to Jules’ and Neila’s cabin. Alanna’s former friend Gehl tries to sit in on this conference but Diut successfully gets Gehl to leave. There is a moment to describe the Uncanny Valley that is Diut’s physical appearance, which is more alien than the average Kohn’s. (Because of the Missionary’s religious beliefs, they’d managed to talk themselves into thinking of the Kohn as cartoon caricatures of God’s Image. With Diut’s presence, Jules and Neila finally realize that the Kohn are Actual Aliens Who Think Like Aliens. Sadly, they won’t learn anything from this.)

Diut points out some hard truths to the Verricks. Among them being the truth that the Garkohn have them by the short hairs and have already begun the process of turning the Missionaries into Garkohn. This is something that Jules does not want in any shape or form, but again, Diut points out that this is a thing that is already happening, and reveals that the kidnapped Missionaries have created a tie of marriage between the Garkohn and the Missionaries. (Note: The Kohn only marry if they have kids with their sex partner.) Diut very wisely doesn’t mention the part where he knows humans and Kohn are cross-fertile because he’s married to Alanna.

Once the situation is laid out for Jules, Diut proposes that the Missionaries detox from the meklah and then head off toward the north, which has good but empty land. Jules does not like this idea as he might lose some of his people to withdrawal. Diut however insists that this is Jules’ only option. He tells Jules that the North is unoccupied territory, and if they go far enough, the Garkohn will not be able to go after them because of the lack of meklah. After some arguing back and forth for a while, Jules’ eventually relents and agrees with this tentative plan.

Before Diut returns to where he’s being kept, he tells Alanna that she needs to go through withdrawal to show her people it’s possible. Alanna’s response is basically “duh.”

The chapter ends with a report that Diut has escaped.

Chapter Five: Diut

In Diut’s narrative we learn that part of Alanna’s assimilation into the Tehkohn community is going to be an arranged relationship of sorts. Diut originally planned to have a judge enter a liaison with Alanna, but then he decides that he himself will have a relationship with her. (He wants to get with her for extremely creepy and gross reasons! Diut it seems is basically a privileged dudebro under all that Lord of all he surveys schtick. This is not actually surprising!)

So! Alanna basically proves she is not a noncombatant by clobbering a hunter with a rock when he attempts to bully her. (Everyone was already certain of this but the hunter-clobbering was kind of irrefutable evidence.) Fortunately, Diut is around to keep her from getting clobbered in turn by one of the hunter’s friends. Diut tells her to pack her things and move back in with Jeh and Cheah, which she does. There is also some exposition that reveals that Diut is kind of nonplused because Alanna is afraid of his physical appearance, and is not particularly awed by his blue coloring. (My response as a reader is basically, “duh.”)

In the second half of the chapter, Alanna is dismayed to learn that Dr. Bartholomew, the only doctor in the community has died. His replacement is a guy named Nathan James and is not someone she knows very well, which puts her off balance.  What puts her even more off balance is the part where Nathan James has an implacable hatred and contempt for the Tehkohn, which means she will have a really, really hard time convincing him of anything.

There is a conversation about methods of withdrawal from the meklah in which Nathan shines as a beacon of deeply ignorant bigotry concerning the Tehkohn. Nathan and Jules are both very astonished to learn that Tehkohn actually have a concept of the scientific method and have written language and conduct experiments and research. Alanna realizes this is going to be a tough sell, but she eventually indicates that the Tehkohn believe that the best way to get through the withdrawal is via hypnosis.

Nathan attempts to hypnotize her but is not actually successful! She gets through her withdrawal and awakens to discover that Natahk has come over for a visit. There is a bit of ominous conversation between her and Natahk, and then the Garkohn leader leaves the room to have an argument with Jules.

Jules comes back to talk to Alanna and explain how Natahk found out about the withdrawal experiment. They also discuss getting food to the Tehkohn prisoners and the fact that Jules is also going through withdrawal. (It turns out that Nathan was successfully able to hypnotize Jules so he isn’t having nearly a bad a time as Alanna.)

In the next chapter, we’re going to find out how well Alanna’s blind date goes with Diut. (Hint: Badly. It’s going to go badly.) We also get a confrontation between the Tehkohn prisoners and Alanna.

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Filed under Octavia Butler, Reading, science fiction, Survivor

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