Wild Seed by Butler, Octavia, 1980

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Octavia Butler has always been to me a refreshing breath of fresh air in the SF genre. Since Ive been spending so much time reviewing my favorite SF books I have really started to notice sometimes stark similarities between them. Sometimes the similarities are so close that I don't even trust my own abilities to review the books without sounding repetitive. Fortunately, I don't seem to notice that problem with Butler which is odd, because she tends to use the same themes over and over again. Nevertheless, everything I read by her feels fresh and new.

I like to use the term "holistic," when I'm talking about Butler, because her writing style really does not focus on one aspect of a story she has in mind. Instead she tries, and in my mind succeeds, in describing a slice of life. This story tells the story of Doro and Anyanwu. Doro is an immortal of African descent who has the ability to force the consciousness of others out of their bodies and completely take them over. Once he does this the target it dead, and the body he came from falls lifeless to the ground. He is about 4,000 years old, and has been running a breeding program for thousands of years, the goal of which was to breed undying humans who could be his companions. Doro's methods of managing his flocks of descendants were just one step short of slavery though. Doro spent all of his time traveling the earth looking for those with special abilities. Some were healers, some were telekinetics and some were psychics. Doro was drawn to them across great distances, and when he found them, he stole, bought or seduced them to join his breeding stock. Doro had absolute control over his flocks, and the members looked to him as a god.

Anyanwu was a female immortal who not only completely controlled her bodily processes in a very prana-bindu like manner, but was a shape shifter and a healer. She was of African descent, and was a witch-doctor of sorts for a clan of her descendants in Benin in the late 1600's when Doro was drawn to her. Anyanwu was the most powerful oddity he had ever found, and the only immortal person he had ever encountered. Doro convinced her to come be his wife through seduction and subtle threats to the safety of her clan. She traveled to a village he ran in New York State where Doro revealed that she was not to be his wife, but the wife of Isaac, one of Doro's sons. Anyanwu was still very beholden to her tribal beliefs, and was highly offended by being told that she should marry her still living husband's son. She also had some problem with American culture. She eventually consented to save her skin and the skin of her clan in Africa, but never forgave Doro for his crimes, the greatest of which to her was the pleasure he took in killing and body snatching, which Doro likened to feeding.

The bulk of the story is about Anyanwu's life in America and how she grew to become mother to many children and nurturer to the whole town. There are a number of complex sub themes running through this work, but I think that the strongest one, and the one most important to Butler dealt with the ways that husbands and wives "tame" each other so that they can live in peace and love. Anyanwu's husband Isaac of course dies after a normal human life span, leaving Anyanwu and Doro together in the world again. When Anyanwu was with Doro she fell in love with him and tried to be the kind of wife she thought he wanted. Doro's lifestyle just did not leave room for a wife and kids, so he mated as he pleased and passed women around like chattels. None of that sat well with the pretty independent Anyanwu, but the book took place over 150 years, and after that much time, all wounds will eventually heal. But despite the positive messages about love and marriage, I always wonder after reading this book if Bulter really was trying to say that some things just can't be fixed. After all, how many of us will have long enough to solve some of our issues with our spouses and other loved ones?

Wild Seed also takes a good look at other themes, such as the nature of bondage, genetic engineering, racial relations in society in general and in an interpersonal context, and motherly love. These themes turn up again and again in Butler's work, and are pretty much the reason she was granted an MacArthur genius grant before her untimely death last year. She is always a compelling read. Four-and-a-half stars out of five.

Copyright 2008, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 4.5 star(s)

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