Wild Seed by Octavia Butler

“At these times more than any others, he felt again utterly alone, forever alone, longing to die and be finished. What was he, he wondered, that he could have anything at all but an end?”

Though it was published fourth,Wild Seed is chronologically the first book in the Patternist or Patternmaster series. It tells the story of two immortal entities. Doro, male, was born human but is able to move his spirit or consciousness into different human bodies. Being alive causes wear on the bodies he inhabits and he must constantly search for and change bodies, killing the spirit that lives within them. He wears the bodies like clothing, yet he remains himself. Unlike Doro, Anyanwu is a healer. She is able to heal herself and others by understanding the ways in which bodies function and the ways medicines work. Anyanwu is also a shapeshifter. She can take the form of any creature or person, not by killing them but by understanding their make up and the way they work and transforming her own body. Both are centuries old, both are powerful but startlingly vulnerable to the throws of loneliness yet they have completely opposite reasons for living. Interestingly these all-powerful beings genuinely need each other, even if they don’t always see eye to eye.

Th story takes place over the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries amidst the slave trade and the colonial establishment of North America. Doro has been working for years to create a perfect race of people by breeding those with desirable characteristics. Creating settlements and colonies in Africa and in the New World his settlements fear and respect him. He demands it and in some ways is treated as if a God. These are characteristics that might manifest themselves as mental illness, sensitivities and the like that are of course shunned but truly hide power. Some of his ‘children’ are his own, some are the product of inbreeding. Doro will do whatever it takes to create the perfect mix. He is not hesitant to kill if his people disobey or if they fail to produce. He has yet to succeed in breeding someone or something that is exactly like him. Many have useful powers but most are unable to successfully control them. After learning that one of his settlements has been ravaged Doro accidentally discovers and finds hope and a potential servant in Anyanwu.

Butler writes with immense insight and gives us things to think about. There is a bit of mythology, the story of creation, and filling of historical gaps. It is a story of love and family that explores tensions between gender constructions, race, religion, and ethics. I have no idea what the other stories are about or what will happen in them but whatever it is Doro and Anyanwu’s world will be shaped by the choices that are made.

Only discovering Butler last year after a suggestion from a very good friend, I’m in love. I’ve read Fledgling, Kindred, and a short story compilation, Bloodchild and Other Stories. It makes me wish I’d been blogging then so I could get down what I thought of her work. It resonates with me. Butler is able to explore social aspects that might normally go untouched. I’ve noticed (in my limited science fiction and fantasy reads) that the genre is an excellent space to explore these tough subjects, or maybe it’s just that I’ve only read the work of female authors.

Books 1,2,4,& 5 of the Patternmaster series have been compiled in Seed To Harvest published by Warner Books in 2007. The 3rd book Survivor is sadly out of print. According to the internet Butler did not like this book as it was very techy and she did not want it printed again. Thus prices for second hand copies are ridiculously high and the only copy in the library does not circulate…I’m thinking weekly reading appointments will need to be made.

  • Patternmaster (1976)
  • Mind of My Mind (1977)
  • Survivor (1978)
  • Wild Seed (1980)
  • Clay’s Ark (1984)

  • 4 responses to “Wild Seed by Octavia Butler

    • Brigindo

      I gave Seed To Harvest to Pumpkin for Christmas (last year I gave her Kindred and she loved it). It’s a great series. Wild Seed is my favorite but Clay’s Ark is really fascinating too. I love seeing how the tale unfolds across the books. I’ve thought about hunting down Survivor but haven’t yet.

      • LeaningSun

        I’ll keep my eye open. Apparently Survivor is super hard to find as it hasn’t been reprinted ever. The internet says Butler hated it.

    • BuriedInPrint

      Isn’t her work amazing? The first that I read was Dawn, the first volume of her Xenogenesis trilogy (the others being Adulthood Rites and Imago) and I was so struck by them. I did a lot of reading in feminist sci-fi and fantasy after that, but Xenogenesis still stands out. I’ve read Fledgling twice and loved it too, but am feeling now that I should “save” the rest, now that she won’t, sadly, be writing anything new…

      • LeaningSun

        I haven’t read Xenogenesis yet, but am working on Patternist now. Her work is amazing and introduced me to feminist sci-fi. I’ve read Fledgling, her short stories, and Kindred they are all really good. The huntington Library in California received her papers so I wonder if there are more things that will be published…I can only hope so.

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