Title/Author: Wild Seed by Octavia Butler (read in Seed to Harvest, a compilation of all 4 books in the series)
Publisher/Year: Grand Central Publishing (Hatchette Book Group), 2007 (Wild Seed originally © 1980)
Where I got it: At a cute little independent book store
Why I read it: Read it for my English class, but I already liked Octavia Butler
Summary (from Goodreads):
Doro is an entity who changes bodies like clothes, killing his hosts by reflexor design. He fears no one until he meets Anyanwu. Anyanwu is a shapeshifter who can absorb bullets and heal with a kiss and savage anyone who threatens her. She fears no one until she meets Doro. Together they weave a pattern of destiny unimaginable to mortals.
I had only read one story by Octavia Butler prior to this one, but just from that story, I knew I would love her writing. Wild Seed is less science fiction-like than I expected (though when I mentioned that to a scifi fan, she strongly disagreed and called it “biological science fiction”…I would call it a bit closer to light fantasy), but, given that I don't have any particular interest in hardcore scifi, that was fine for me. Wild Seed is a bit complex and therefore difficult to describe, but I enjoyed the progression of the novel, which spans over hundreds of years (beginning in the late 1600s) as Anyanwu struggles to live her life and have a family by many different means, both apart from and with Doro. I liked getting to see the changes faced by Anyanwu and Doro, both in the world around them, and those in themselves. One of the most interesting aspects, though, was the variety of special abilities inherited and developed by Anyanwu and Doro’s children, and their various reactions to their abilities. Interestingly, there is not very much character development outside of these two main characters, but I think that suits the novel because everyone else’s lives are so fleeting in comparison—they are not (cannot) be around long enough for us to get to know them because Anyanwu and Doro are the only immortals.
Though it is not, as my professor said, particularly “literary,” Wild Seed deals with a number of heavy themes, including alienation, racism (a lot of racism), gender roles, and loss. The course I read this for was called “The Body as Text,” so we spent a lot of time discussing the changes that Doro and Anyanwu could make to their bodies—they could each change their sex, but reacted differently to that matter, and Anyanwu always maintains a very motherly role. (But I probably shouldn’t get into all of the analysis here.)
The ending did bother me a bit because it consists of a fairly sudden, somewhat unprecedented, change, and becomes a little too sappy for my liking, though, once you think about it, it is just as—if not more—depressing than the rest of the novel.
On the whole, I enjoyed Wild Seed. It’s a fairly quick read, but that does not mean that it is by any means light and fluffy. It was also technically written for a pretty specific audience, so it has a number of references about African societies that many people (like me) don’t really understand, but that doesn’t make it unreadable for most people, just not quite as meaningful.