Mind of My Mind, a Patternist Novel by Octavia E. Butler
As "Mind of My Mind" opens, it is now the 20th century, and Doro's breeding program, which has been going on for thousands of years, is proceeding apace. He has a new child, named Mary, whom he expects will be something highly unusual. The problem is that every time he has attempted to make whatever it is she is supposed to be, things end badly. In hopes that it will help her survive her transition (the period when a latent psychic becomes an active psychic), Doro marries her to one of his active psychics, Karl.
Karl has a nice life. He has a nice mansion that was given to him by someone who was planning to sell it anyhow, and, according to Karl, didn't really need the money. He has a nice housekeeper, a nice cook, and a nice gardener. He also has a nice mistress. All of the above are somewhere on the continuum between pets and puppets. Karl has the ability to read, and affect, the minds of non-gifted humans.
In addition to Karl, we meet five more actives:
Rachel Davidson, a healer who gets the energy that she uses to heal from the crowds who attend her healing sessions. She uses the trappings of Christianity, but has no actual religious beliefs, Christian or otherwise.
Jan Sholto, who could not cope with the psychic interference from the people around her, so she shielded it all off. She enjoys (and as a result has retained) one skill, though. She practices psychometry, which is the ability to "read" the history of objects.
Jesse Bernarr (I wonder if his name was inspired by Bernarr MacFadden) has an entire town under his thrall. He cannot drive, however, because he gets distracted by thoughts from passing drivers.
Ada Dragan psychically manipulated a man to marry her, but couldn't bring herself to make him love her. As a result, he knows that he didn't choose to marry her, and so he hates her. She also is hurt by the thoughts of people around her who are in mental or emotional pain. She cannot stand to sit around and experience a child who is being abused and not do something about it. Unlike a lot of psychics in this series, Ada hungers to know more people like herself.
And finally there is Seth Dana. Seth has a very close relationship with his brother, Clay, who is a latent, and cannot handle the thoughts that he occasionally picks up. In fact, we find out later on that part of why Seth keeps Clay close is that he has been unconsciously shielding his brother.
When Mary comes through her transition, she finds that she is connected to all six of these actives -- Ada, Jan, Jesse, Karl, Rachel, and Seth -- in what she refers to as a "Pattern." When she connects to them, each heads for California to find the person who is connected to them, and kill him or her.
Doro is never very explicit about what Mary was supposed to have turned out like, but he does seem surprised by her ability to connect to these people. Mary further discovers that she can read the minds of these six people without their knowledge, even when they are shielding her out. She can also draw energy from them. In a way, she needs to draw energy from them.
Mary discovers that her ability to draw in actives is not limited to these six. She can draw in any actives anywhere in the world. She can also draw in latents and push them through transition. The first time she pushes a latent through transition, the latent in question is Clay. She also becomes a healer, a skill she learned from picking through Rachel's thoughts. She may be able to pick up other skills from the people in her Pattern, but Butler never outright says whether she can or not.
When Doro gives Mary two years to see what she can build, she surpasses his expectations. This is where things begin to go badly for Mary.
As with all of the other Butler novels I have read, I really enjoyed "Mind of My Mind." I was very surprised to find that this was not the first book in the "Patternist" series. It seems like it should be the centerpiece, but it is not. Like "Wild Seed", "Mind of My Mind" is a prequel. The first book of the series written, and thus the core of the series, was "Patternmaster." "Mind of My Mind" is simply the prequel that explains where the Pattern came from.
Since some of the actives in the Pattern have the ability to make pets or puppets out of non-gifted humans, the issue of slavery comes up here, as well. This time, one of the major questions is how far one can ethically bend a person's natural inclinations -- in at least one case, a "mute" (an ungifted person) who naturally loves children is forced to love a specific child. The characters also debate the morality of forcing a slave to enjoy his or her slavery. Most of the Patternists see no harm in it, but Emma takes a stand against it. I wonder if Emma was a sort of surrogate for Butler, since Emma ended up becoming a professional writer in the 20th century.