Monday, July 19, 2010

Wild Seed, by Octavia E. Butler

Sometimes you find something amazing in the most random ways.  I first discovered Octavia Butler while waiting in a mall.  I haven't really been a mall person since I was about 17, but it was Christmastime, and I suppose malls are unavoidable.  While listening to a band play holiday tunes in the center of the mall, I noticed a small bookstore I had never noticed before.  Well, the band was pretty good, but they had nothing on a store full of books.  Walking in, right on the first shelf I saw, was the book Fledgling, which promised me a vampire story.  Having barely recovered from my Twilight daze, I eagerly picked it up.  Little did I know how different this writer and this story wold be from anything I had ever read before.  When I finished Fledgling, I knew that I needed to read more of Octavia Butler's brilliant prose!


Wild Seed is the first book in Butler's Patternist series.  Well, the first book chronologically in the arc of the story, though not the first to be published.  Wild Seed tells the story of Doro and Anyanwu, two immortal beings.  Doro is amoral, surviving by casting off and taking new bodies at will.  He has traveled the world for thousands of years, finding others with special talents and breeding them to try and create someone like himself.  Anyanwu is a shape-changing, self-healing mother who has lived over 300 years as the story begins.  Her people revere her as a healer-and fear her as a witch.  When Doro senses her while traveling through Africa, he is drawn to her as to no other before her.  While Doro wants to use her for his own purposes, and seeks to control her, Anyanwu wants nothing more than to protect her people, her grandchildren and great-grandchilren.   From Africa to the American colonies, the story of Doro and Anyanwu is one of lust, power, and destiny.

Despite the amoral nature of Doro, one can't help but feel sympathy for a being that has lived for thousands of years, watching everyone he has ever cared about die.  One of his sons warns Anyanwu that without a companion Doro will lose everything that makes him human.  What is it to a being like Doro to take one life or a hundred, since he has seen thousands come and go like so much smoke in the wind?  The irony is that while he feels desperately lonely, he is not really comforted by the people he finds and manipulates.  They fear him too much to be true companions for him.  Anyanwu, on the other hand, needs to be surrounded by her family, those descendants of her descendants that give her a reason to continue living.  As much as she comes to resent Doro, her irony is that he gives her the reason to keep herself young and healthy.  When you are the only two immortal people in the world, who else do you have but each other? 

The issue of race is also present in the book, as it always is in Butler's work.  The fact that Anyanwu is a black African brought to America on a ship in the late 1600s is not coincidence, and regardless of her actual legal status as free, she feels the figurative shackles of slavery in the way that Doro is able to manipulate her.  Throughout the book, Butler points out the issue of race in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.  Doro will only take white bodies when traveling through the American south.  Anyanwu herself becomes a white male landowner to protect her people, white and black, from suspicion.  The fact that Doro uses his talented people as breeding stock much as white slave owners bred their slaves for certain traits is not an accident, I'm sure.  This novel is thought-provoking, well-paced, and so intriguing that I plan to read the next book in the series immediately.

4 comments:

  1. Darn it....now I have to go get this one! LOL! I have Fledling already. Believe it or not I also found it by accident! Thanks for the recc. :)

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  2. Wow, this sounds like a fascinating series. Off to see if I can snag a copy. Thanks for the review.

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  3. Found you via the hop! Just the other day I was looking over my bookshelf and thinking I should finish up Lilith's Brood by Butler. I read the first book of the series, Dawn, for a college class and then just never ended up finishing the other 2 books. I should probably add the Fledgling to my list as well.

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  4. Many years ago, I found Wild Seed in my teens as well. It is one of my favorite books by a favorite author. She inspired me to write speculative fiction as well.

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