My book reviews are written as a discussion of a book, and not as an advertisement. Please be aware that there may be information that some would consider spoilers and continue on at your own risk!
I started the year with Octavia Butler’s Lilith’s Brood trilogy, and it was fantastic. I read all three books back to back and reviewed them as one. I have decided to take a different approach for her Seed to Harvest series. It contains four books and instead of reading them all at once, I am going to try to read a different book in between each installment. I also plan on reviewing them separately. Here are my thoughts around the first in the series, Wild Seed:
This book is about the journey of Anyanwu. She starts in Africa, during a time period that people were being sold into slavery. She is living peacefully among her people- although separate from them because they know there is something strange about her. She is ‘special’, she has lived hundreds of years and has immaculate control of her body. She can change her body shape and understand everything that is going on in her body. Her ‘specialness’ attracts Doro, who is a collector and breeder of special people, and he convinces Anyanwu to move to America with him. Anyanwu must learn to adjust to a new land, new ways, and to Doro’s philosophy.
I did not feel this book contained a lot of action, it felt like a set up for a longer series.
Plot Score: 3/5
Location, Location, Location
The story takes place in Africa, then travels to New York and eventually Louisiana. This story starts during slavery, and I assume the overarching series will come into the present. It was interesting to see Anyanwu’s cultural adjustment from Africa to the US. When she initially leaves Africa, her loneliness almost drives her to suicide. I believe she missed the land itself as much as the people.
I enjoyed her observation of the how Africans tend to co-exist with nature, but the towns in the US seem to impose upon it. “The villages of the towns were well-organized, often long-established, but they were more a part of the land they occupied, less of an intrusion upon it.”
Location Score: 4/5
Characters and Relationships
When Doro meets Anyanwu, he realizes she is the most special person he has come across. He offers her the opportunity to come with him to America and help him breed and create his race of special beings. She agrees, for several reasons, including protection for her children and her own desire to be among other ‘special’ people.
Doro is a ‘body thief’- meaning he doesn’t die, he just takes over other people’s bodies. One interesting point, is that no matter what body / voice he takes, people can recognize him by his voice. Doro has plans to breed a special race of people. The people that he breeds treat him as a God, “They believed that since he was their god, it was his right to do whatever he chose with them. “Jobs” she called them in her thoughts. Like Job of the Bible, they had made the best of their situation. They could not escape Doro, so they found virtue in submitting to him”
Anyanwu’s relationship with Doro evolves over the book, she is a ‘wild seed’ (a ‘special’ person that was not breed by him), and does not revere him like his own people. She starts out curious, then she is resentful, then I believe she learns to tolerate him. Anyanwu had a hard time forgiving “Doro’s unnecessary killings, his casual abuse when he was not courting her, his open contempt for any belief of hers that did not concur with his, the blows for which she could not retaliate and from which she could not flee, the acts she must perform for him no matter what her beliefs”
At one point, Anyanwu escapes Doro and lives as a dolphin before coming back to Louisana to live as a human. At this point she realizes “…even when I hated you, I believed in what you were trying to do. I believed that we should have people more like ourselves, that should not be alone. You had much less trouble with me than you could have because I believed that. I learned to turn my head and ignore the things you did to people. But, Doro, I could not ignore everything. You kill your best servants, people who obey you even when it means suffering for them. Killing gives you too much pleasure. Far too much”
Characters Score: 4/5
Life Lessons (fka Bigger Meaning)
When I read the Xenogenesis series, it was obvious from the first book the meaning of the series (humans are intelligent, but hierarchical). In this series, the bigger meaning is a little less obvious. Here are some threads of meaning throughout the book:
1- Religion is a way to control people. Doro’s people worship him since he is the one in charge of bringing them together and taking care of them- and because of his long life, and because of that are happy to sacrifice themselves for him. There is also a side comment that illustrates how religion is used to validate slavery. “We don’t pretend as your slavers do to be acting for the benefit of our victims’ souls. we don’t tell ourselves we’ve caught them to teach them civilized religion.”
2- Science vs. Morality. Doro is breeding a special race of people. This sometimes means he puts relatives together to have children. Anyanwu believes this is an abomination, but Doro just sees the end goal. I’m not yet sure whether the author is siding with Science or Morality- and maybe she never makes a stance.
3- Assimilation vs. Tolerance. Anyanwu has to determine when to let go of her traditions and ‘evolve’ to new standards, and when to hold on to her feelings of right vs. wrong. Doro leans towards rapid assimilation: “You know you must change to suit the customs here. You have not lived three hundred years without learning to accept new customs.” But Anyanwu, in some cases, holds to her beliefs and customs, in one case after eating food made with milk: “Their shame is their own, But now you want me to shame myself, make myself even worse than they. How can you ask it of me, Doro? The land itself will offended! Your crops will wither and die!”
“Civilization is the way one’s own people live. Savagery is the way foreigners”
Bigger Meaning Score: 4/5
I enjoyed the writing style of the book. I always feel like Butler is ahead of her time with the concepts in her books.
1- Microbiology- In this story Anyanwu was able to heal her self, and make antibiotics with her own body. She can analyze infections by tasting them and bringing them into her body. “As soon as I know them, I can kill them within myself.”
2- Natural healing- “She rechecked familiar substances, found that as simple a thing as garlic had some ability to help, but not enough”
Style Score: 4/5
– Does Anywanu have any hope of escaping Doro?
-Can Doro really change?
-Once Doro creates his people (and with his long life, it’s only a matter of time), what does he plan to do with them? Conquer the world?