Wild Seed (as part of the Seed to Harvest omnibus)
Octavie E. Butler
2007 [originally published 1980]
Grand Central Publishing
ISBN: 978-0446698900 (omnibus)
784 pages (omnibus); 253 pages (Wild Seed)
The blurb for a different edition of Wild Seed, from Goodreads:
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 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.
My header for today’s review may look a little strange; it’s because I read Wild Seed as a part of the Seed to Harvest omnibus, which collects four of Octavia E. Butler’s five Patternist novels into one edition. Wild Seed was not the first work written in this series, but it is chronologically the first in the larger story, and and the first novel in the omnibus–so for those of you familiar with the series, that is why I read it first, rather than Patternmaster, the first published novel.
Wild Seed is the story of Doro and Anyanwu. It opens in Africa at the close of the seventeenth century, at the height of the slave trade. Doro is drawn across the continent to Anyanwu, who he learns is a shapeshifter with total control over her body and its functions; she can heal it from absolutely anything, even at the cellular level. This control means that she is effectively immortal; she is, at their meeting, over three centuries old.
For the first time, Doro has found someone like him–immortal. He is close to four thousand years old, his essence/spirit jumping from body to body as needed. Body-jumping like this means that he kills the body’s original inhabitant, and this does not bother him. Killing in such a way is necessary and intrinsic to his existence, and these bodies are the same to him as clothing is to anyone else.
Doro has been spending his very long life collecting and breeding humans with sensitivities, quirks, and special traits in an attempt to breed a race of people like him–more than human. He calls these people “seeds” and the villages where he’s settled them all over the world “seed villages.” Nothing is more important to him than finding and controlling good seeds to continue his breeding program, with the ultimate goal of producing the perfect offspring.
For her part, Anyanwu is a healer, using her long life and self-healing abilities to care for those she considers her people. She has spent her centuries growing life and saving it as she is able; marrying, having children, and becoming wise woman and healer to her people as she shepherds them. She helps the people she’s gathered to herself, and is helped by the comfort they bring her over the generations.
Their two views on treating the special race of mortals they have (deliberately or undeliberately) bred provide back-and-forth dance between two powerful immortals across nearly two centuries. Neither understands the other, but they are irrevocably linked to one another.
The pacing of Wild Seed is perfect. Doro and Anyanwu are balanced blends of unchanging immortal and immortals who are changed by each other. With these two, and the changing setting (Africa, colonial America, the antebellum South), Butler explores eugenics, the meaning of family and love, and humanity. There is enough resolution to their story to have some closure at the end of the novel, but there is also, clearly, a much larger storyline to be explored, and I’m excited to move onto the next novel in the omnibus, Mind of My Mind.
If you haven’t read Octavia E. Butler yet, do. She’s an amazing writer, and I’m really, really disappointed that I didn’t know about her writing until last year; I feel like I’ve missed out on so much. Thank goodness I get to enjoy her writing now.