Updated: Feb 4
Hello and welcome back to the #SHELVED book review series. This past week's Weekly Miss Read was WILD SEED by the iconic science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler. If you're unfamiliar with Butler's works, no shame! Wild Seed is the chronological first in the Patternist series written by Butler -- it is an excellent way into a lush and evocative world. Of course, Butler has written a slew of classics -- from the Patternist series, to Kindred, to the Xenogenesis series and more. Much like how Butler defied the conventions of her time by both being successful black woman, and a successful science-fiction writer, her works too feature female protagonists that buck social convention and stand in their power.
Which brings me to Wild Seed.
What. a. read! For these reviews, I usually allot myself a week to read and then review each book for you, dear readers. And usually with how wild my week gets, I need to take advantage of every moment I can in order to reach my goal. But with Wild Seed I FLEW! Y'all I finished this thing in two days, even with what I would consider a crazy week going on. Butler's a captivating writer -- her prose is precise and striking, always just enough to color disparate worlds to life, whether they be in Africa or in the Americas. But to me, what I think in particularly draws me into Butler's works are her characters.
Protagonist of the book, Anyanwu is a brilliantly wrought character. She's an immortal, gifted with the ability to change her shape into nearly any person or animal she desires. But more than that, Anyamwu uses her abilities to be a healer. She is drawn to all who are hurt, whether it be physically or in spirit and compelled to aid them. This key element of her personality is part of why her relationship with Doro is so deeply contentious.
Doro, Anyanwu's match, mate, enemy, and foil throughout the book is another immortal being. Unlike Anyanwu who remains anchored to her own physical form, Doro has become more spirit than man. His gift of immortality comes with a heavy price that sentences him to being essentially a serial killer -- for his spirit to survive, he must travel from body to body. Much older than Anyanwu, he's embarked on a journey that she becomes involved with later down the line -- Doro breeds gifted humans with each other with the goal of creating a master race of empowered beings. When Doro becomes aware of Anyanwu, he hunts her down relentlessly determined to make her a prize breeding subject.
Despite the breadth of Anyanwu's power, she still feels very human. She's experienced many things in her life, but when Doro comes across her path she begins to experience the vastness and alienness of a life she hadn't even been aware of. Anyanwu still experiences fear and vulnerability, much like we all do when faced with traumatic revelations and truths we might previously been unaware of. That's not to say she's not balanced however! Anyanwu is not a scaredy cat by any means. Even though Doro is the only being capable of killing her, Anyanwu resists him in her own way. Doro breeds people like cattle and desires essentially the same for Anyanwu -- all he cares about is creating a future of people like him. Anyanwu, despite occasionally loving this other immortal being so similar yet different to herself, never forgets his dehumanization of her. She insists on her humanity, on being allowed the freedom to determine how she wants to live her life.
Anyanwu's insistence on preserving human dignity -- or rather retaining one's free will, is the driving force behind the wedge splitting into her discordant relationship with Doro. Doro's long lived life has destroyed the empathetic parts within him to the point at which he thinks nothing of how he treats his loyal subjects (re: his slaves), but Anyanwu the healer is compelled to discover if there is still a man left to save. After all, in light of Doro's evils, perhaps saving the man within means future trauma can be prevented. And so Anyanwu and Doro go back and forth across the centuries, one determined to heal, the other determined to subjugate.
Regardless of where and when Wild Seed is set in time, it remains a stunningly relevant exploration of the consequences and intersections between of unchecked power, human dignity, and free will. Despite the impossibilities happening to the characters and the powers they wield, they struggle with deeply human themes.
Tldr; Wild Seed is a wild ride. Buckle in and get ready for Octavia E. Butler's brilliant meditation on power, dignity, and free will. If you like science fiction -- especially the kind the deals more with biology and anthropology -- that poses interesting ethical questions and even more interesting solutions, you'll dig this book. Also the character work is just *mwah* *chef's kiss* incredible -- these are compelling characters you won't be able to forget.
What book from the Miss Read shelf should I read and review next? Comment your suggestions below!