Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Wild Seed (Octavia E. Butler)

Wild Seed
(The Patternist series, Book 1)
Octavia E. Butler
Open Road Media
Fiction, Sci-Fi
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: For thousands of years, the predatory spirit Doro has crafted himself a god, scouring humanity for "special" people - those gifted in mind-reading, telekinesis, healing, and other talents - to add to his seed villages as breeding stock, creating ideal hosts as he jumps from body to body. After so many generations, he thought himself beyond surprise... until he met Anyanwu. Herself centuries old, though a child compared to Doro, she can recraft her own body at will, even taking animal form, though mostly she lives a modest life as she hides her gifts. With guile and threats, Doro takes Anyanwu from their native Africa to the New World, adding her to his American seed stock. But her spirit resists breaking. Doro may finally have found a will as strong as his own; will they become allies, or mortal enemies?

REVIEW: A sci-fi classic, Wild Seed presents some very interesting ideas. Doro's nature may be beyond his control, but time has turned him into something less than human, a cruel and predatory god who nevertheless compels obedience and even devoted loyalty from his mortal victims. Anyanwu is initially more sympathetic, using her gifts to heal and help, though she finds her own morals compromised by association with Doro and the demands of her seemingly-immortal lifespan. The story takes on the concept of humans as commodities quite directly, tied intimately to the slave industry, delving into deep, dark levels of abuse, manipulation, and worse. These are not pleasant people, in thoroughly unpleasant circumstances. It was often a chore to push myself into reading further, so repulsed was I by what was going on, and the helplessness of those trapped in Doro's inescapable web... but the main characters are not ordinary humans, and their extraordinary nature necessitates a different worldview, one that flirts with amorality at the best of times, when it doesn't outright obliterate the traditional lines between right and wrong. Doro and Anyanwu struggle with their own natures as much as with each other, building to a moment of revelation that didn't quite ring true, given what they'd been through before and what they intrinsically cannot change about their respective natures. Wild Seed is a pioneering work of speculative fiction, dealing not only with race issues but gender fluidity and identity (both Anyanwu and Doro can and do swap genders at will, and the former can even change species), though ultimately I found it an uncomfortable read, with characters I don't expect I'll want to revisit in future volumes.

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