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Wild Seed by Octavia E. Butler

Wild Seed (original 1980; edition 1999)

by Octavia E. Butler

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1,542434,760 (4.13)77
Title:Wild Seed
Authors:Octavia E. Butler (Author)
Info:Warner Books (1999), Mass Market Paperback, 279 pages
Collections:Your library, Illinois library

Work details

Wild Seed by Octavia E. Butler (1980)

  1. 20
    Clay's Ark by Octavia E. Butler (aaronius)
    aaronius: If you liked Wild Seed but don't necessary want to jump into other novels in the series, this is a short but great alternative by the same author with equally interesting characters and themes.
  2. 00
    The Silent City by Élisabeth Vonarburg (Sarasamsara)
    Sarasamsara: Wild Seed takes place in the past while The Silent City explores a post-apocalyptic future. Thematically, however, they are eerily similar. Vonarburg and Butler share similar sensibilities.
  3. 00
    Bones Become Flowers by Jess Mowry (thesmellofbooks)
  4. 11
    More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon (thesmellofbooks)

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Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
I spent the majority of this book trying to decide whether or not I liked it, and debating whether or not I would want to read the rest of the series. The omnibus containing this series had been on sale for $1.99 earlier this month, and I bought it, so I already had the next book available.

Early this year I’d read the author’s Xenogenesis trilogy, also sometimes referred to as Lilith’s Brood, and I really enjoyed it. This book shared a lot of similar themes, although the story and setting are quite different. Slavery is a particularly big theme in this book. With this book, unlike with the Xenogenesis series, I didn’t feel like there was much of a story beyond the themes being explored. It’s very possible I would have appreciated Wild Seed more if I’d read it first.

The story in Wild Seed is set in our world, ranging from the years 1690 through 1840. There are two main characters: a woman named Anyanwu and a man named Doro. Anyanwu is a caring, warm woman for whom her family and community mean everything. She’s able to see inside her body and makes changes to it. For this reason, she’s been able to heal herself and remain alive for hundreds of years. Doro has been alive even longer, but he has different “talents”. He wears a body until it dies or until he gets tired of it. He then takes over another body, killing the original owner in the process. Doro’s entire existence is devoted to seeking out people with special abilities and breeding them with each other. He’s completely amoral, concerned only with meeting his own objectives. To whatever extent he treats people kindly, it’s only because doing so will help him meet his goals more effectively. Shortly after this book begins, Doro discovers Anyanwu. Her abilities far surpass that of the other people he’s collected, so naturally he wants to start breeding her ASAP.

Most of the story consisted of different people being mated with each other as dictated by Doro. I wouldn’t call this a romance novel exactly, especially since some of the relationships in the story were quite disturbing and not at all romantic, but it sometimes felt like one because the story focused mainly on relationships. I definitely wouldn’t say this book didn’t have substance, though. It absolutely had substance, and it brought up important issues in a non-preachy way. These issues aren’t new to a modern audience, though, and I wanted a more interesting story to go along with the exploration of those issues.

The book did have interesting aspects to it, and I wasn’t really bored by it. Since I already have the rest of the series, it’s tempting to keep reading and see where the story goes next. To try to make up my mind, I read a little bit about the other books and ultimately decided to stop here. There are too many other books I’m more interested in reading. ( )
  YouKneeK | Oct 15, 2016 |
It's been too long since I immersed myself in one of Octavia E. Butler's magical-biological-genealogical-alien-witchcraft-historical-futuristic-mind-blowing series. I always forget, until I'm deep into one, how much I love them, love her way with language, with imagery, with storytelling, with poetry, with imagination.

Wild Seed begins a series I've long had my eye on but had long avoided because my local public library didn't have all of it: the Patternmaster series, a late entry in which (Survivor) I accidentally picked up there many years ago. I have since learned that it is not specifically sequential, and that I could have enjoyed the books in any order, but now that I have them all in one convenient e-book file, my serial compulsion can be satisfied and I can submerge myself without anxiety.

Which is to say that I'm going to be picking up where I left off and starting the "next" Patternmaster book, Mind of My Mind, immediately after finishing this blog post.

Wild Seed concerns a sort of battle of body and mind between two all but supernatural beings in the colonial era, when black slaves were Africa's greatest export and white settlements in the New World depended on them utterly, north and south of a certain arbitrary boundary that would be drawn in a hundred years or so. Living and ruling several settlements in America (and elsewhere) is one Doro, thousands of years old, a being who takes over the bodies of others (sadly killing the original occupants in the process) and who has been breeding pockets of humanity in semi-captivity to produce individuals with unique abilities like telepathy and telekinesis -- with the attendant responsibility to protect them from the rest of humanity who would regard his human livestock as witches and torture and burn them as such. And in Africa, living quietly but treated with reverence as an oracle is Anyanwu, an immortal shape-changer, a woman with such minute control over her body that she can analyze and overcome any pathogen or poison, can alter her very DNA to become any creature she has "analyzed" (by eating), and who has thereby lived for a good 300 years. Anyanwu turns out to be a "wild seed" -- the descendant of some lost or escaped members of one of Doro's earlier captive populations, whose talents are beyond Doro's wildest dreams. He Must Have Her and breed her with his other stock, whether she is willing or not.

If you're guessing that Butler has found in this science fictional/magic realistic story a way to comment on gender, slavery, race, free will, coercion and class, you're guessing right, but if you're guessing that she ever beats the reader over the head with these heavy notions, you're not. As Doro and Anyanwu struggle for control, these ideas and problems naturally occur, but only subtly. Butler is too deft a hand to preach at the reader. While she is often regarded as Zora Neale Hurston in genre fictional disguise (and Butler does have some of that lyrical quality for which Hurston is praised), Butler never feels like she is writing polemics or parables, even when some of her novels have "parable" in the title.

That being said, there is often a slightly creepy quality to Butler's work. I trace it to its explicit physicality, its minute focus on biology and how biology can be manipulated. Thus the Oankali of Lilith's Brood/Xenogenesis trilogy fame are some of the most fascinating and frightening aliens I've ever encountered, and here in this book we find that Anyanwu herself is one of the most compelling heroines, very nearly omnipotent, but cowed by Doro's threat to round up and all but enslave* her descendants (two of whom were caught in the same net she herself was, and whom Doro promptly bred to one another over her objections that this was incest; Doro forces his populations to breed incestuously all the time and just kills off any babies born with too many undesirable traits). Her power just makes her subjugation all the more desirable, and Doro is just the being to try to keep her in check -- and to keep her from realizing that she alone in all the world could actually oppose him if she dared.

Despite it all, though, this pair has a kind of love, and Octavia E. Butler is one of the very best novelists in the world when it comes to writing about love -- agape, filia or eros, it doesn't matter which. Reading one of her novels is like gorging oneself at a feast, but without the bellyache afterwards. She leaves me wanting more.

Good thing there still is some. But I probably should hoard those works of hers I haven't read yet and ration them out like EssJay and I do with Philip K. Dick. That's what I should do.

But, you know, I'm weak, and silly, and don't always do what I should.

*Doro's people do not live like slaves, happily dwelling in rich and prosperous towns and villages here and there, thriving and free to exercise their weird talents within those carefully controlled and defended enclaves, but their apparent freedom is that of pampered zoo animals, who don't even really get to choose their mates. ( )
  KateSherrod | Aug 1, 2016 |
This book is one of the best stumbled upon moments in years. I was reading a book review by Orson Scott Card and he was waxing lyrical about Octavia Butler in general and this book in particular. Wild Seed is science fantasy as opposed to science fiction as a lot of the fantastical elements are scientifically improbable, though biology plays an important part in the story also. The story is about two immortals, a man and a woman; while they are both immortals the nature of their immortality is very different. The man jumps from body to body, evicting and killing off the body's original owner by the act of possession, the woman has the ability to control and manipulate every molecule of her body and is able to shape shift and heal herself at will. They are essentially mutants with “psi” powers, and much of the story concerns their lifelong project of raising and protecting psi powered other mutants.

There is a lot of subtext in this novel. The theme of slavery and freedom is prevalent in this book, and there are some thoughtful rumination about morality, racism and the human condition. The prose style is similar to the aforementioned Orson Scott Card in clarity; the difference is that Octavia Butler's prose is more lyrical and evocative. Anne McCaffrey would probably be a closer comparison.

Her character development skills verges on the magical. It seems like she can create believable characters in just a few sentences, almost as soon as she names them. The villain of the piece Doro is a terrible monstrous tyrant, yet like real people he has other facets, a caring side, and a tragic back story. Given his back story, his loneliness and callousness is understandable, even if the latter is not justified. The female protagonist with the lovely name of Anyanwu has an almost equally tragic back story but she has a strong moral center and is the foundation of the story.

When I see people write "this is a beautiful book" in reviews I tend to roll my eyes, dismissing such statements as people being overly impressed by some purple prose nonsense. But you know what? This is a beautiful book. ( )
  apatt | Dec 26, 2015 |
‘Wild Seed’ is the first book in the famous ‘Patternist’ series (though it was not written first). It is also the first book by Butler that I’ve read but will definitely not be the last: this was a book that kept me reading far too late into the night because I just could not put it down.

The book starts off in 1690, in Africa, and ends in 1840s in the United States. It follows the immortal man/spirit Doro – born in Africa in the days of ancient Egypt, and Anyanwu, an African woman with astonishing powers that set her apart from everyone around her. She can heal, she can shapeshift, and when she first meets Doro, she has already been alive for over 300 years.

Doro brings Anyanwu to America, and she becomes part of his “people”: an extensive group of individuals who are ruled by, and selectively bred by Doro to enhance their various special abilities.

With that as its starting point, ‘Wild Seed’ becomes a haunting, rich, and compelling story of Anyanwu’s struggle to survive in the new world under Doro’s rule, exploring themes like good and evil, slavery and oppression, race and eugenics, family and friendship, love and the essence of life itself: what makes life worth living? what is a good life? what is worth living for? what is worth dying for?

Butler’s cast of characters add to the richness of the book: they are all complex and conflicted, and even characters that pass by only briefly in the story are so well-written that they stay with you afterwards. And Anyanwu is one of the most interesting and likable literary characters I’ve encountered. She is a good, but flawed, person, fighting tooth and nail to stay true to herself and her own convictions, and to keep her freedom and self-determination – even under excruciatingly difficult circumstances.

‘Wild Seed’ is compelling, unique science fiction, and it’s a book that lingers in the mind long after you finish reading it. ( )
  MariaHaskins | Dec 10, 2015 |
Anyanwu and Doro are two immortal beings. Doro is more of a spirit than a man. He lives through millennial by possessing other’s bodies, killing the original owners in the process. Anyanwu is a shape shifter who can constantly rejuvenate her body so that she stays young forever. Doro kills, Anyanwu heals. They are as opposite as they can be, and yet each is the only immortal the other knows. Wild Seed begins with the two coming into contact for the first time, when Doro happens upon the African village where Anyanwu’s living in the late 1600s and shows the relationship between them up until the late 1800s.

Wild Seed is easy to read, but there’s a lot going on underneath the surface. There’s so many different topics at play here – race, slavery, gender, sexuality. Basically, if it’s a topic relating to power structures, Wild Seed deals with it. It doesn’t deal much with LGBTQ themes, but I’m still listing it under the tag since Anyanwu has a wife at one point (happens between chapters) and could probably be considered bisexual.

Wild Seed deals with the difficulties of being immortal and the inherent loneliness of watching everyone you know die. This is the focal point of the relationship between Anyanwu and Doro. Anyanwu may not be able to condone what Doro does, but he’s the only person who will remain constant as the families she builds for herself die around her.

I hate Doro, but I think you’re supposed to hate him. He’s spent his extraordinary long life on a eugenics project, creating a race of people with special powers. He’s controlling and manipulative and thinks nothing of killing others. He wants people to be under his control, to respect and obey him in all things. But Anyanwu cannot respect him, and she does not always obey him. She’s wild seed – a talented person born outside his breeding programs.

I’m really not sure what to think about the relationship between Anyanwu and Doro. I really hope the ending wasn’t supposed to be an instance of the woman “changing” her man with her feminine influences, but I’m not sure. Anyanwu was also so passive. I really wanted to see her stand up to Doro and to oppose the things he did that she hated. But it feels more like she accepts powerlessness.

A large part of why I have these feelings is that I don’t think Wild Seed had a real conclusion. The book just sort of ends. There problems with Doro’s actions haven’t been dealt with. Maybe it’s because this is a first book in a series? I’d want to keep reading to find out what happens to Anyanwu, but I’ve heard she’s not the protagonist of the next one.

Do I recommend Wild Seed? Definitely. I can see why it’s considered a science fiction classic, one that I think I’d need to reread to appreciate more fully.

Originally posted on The Illustrated Page. ( )
  pwaites | Oct 12, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Octavia E. Butlerprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Barlowe, WayneCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Flynn, DannyCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Palencar, John JudeCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0446606723, Mass Market Paperback)

Doro is an entity who changes bodies like clothes, killing his hosts by reflex--or design. He fears no one--until he meets Anyanwu. Anyanwu has also died many times. She can absorb bullets and make medicine with a kiss, give birth to tribes, nurture and heal, and savage anyone who threatens those she loves. She fears no one--until she meets Doro. From African jungles to the colonies of America, Doro and Anyanwu weave together a pattern of destiny that not even immortals can imagine.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:55 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

An entity who changes bodies like clothes, killing his hosts by reflex, Doro fears no one until he meets Anyanwu, who can absorb bullets and make medicine with a kiss, give birth to tribes, and savage anyone who threatens those she loves.

(summary from another edition)

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