Wild Seed by Octavia Butler

Title: Wild Seed
Author: Octavia Butler
Genre: Sci fi / fiction

Rating: 5 / 5

Goodreads | Powell’s

Another winner from Octavia Butler, who continues to deliver thought-provoking and entertaining stories. Upon finishing it, I thought I did not love this one as much as the Parable books or Kindred–probably because it was more of a struggle to accept how the story played out/ended. But the more I think about it, the more complex it is, the more angles I see, and the more I appreciate it. The main examination in this book is of power–I must have used the word “power” five or six times when trying to tell Peter what this book was about–and Butler’s treatment of it was well handled.

Anyanwu is magic, a shapeshifter centuries old, and has long since been fearful or surprised by anything; however, Doro is millennia old and has a terrifying power of his own (after killing people at will, sometimes across miles, he “wears” their bodies–lives and walks around in them). I finished this book in basically two sittings, biting my nails and flipping the pages. It was a gripping story. Butler’s writing doesn’t call attention to itself–instead it directs all your attention to the story it’s telling. While it’s true that beautiful writing usually increases my enjoyment of a story, even if it’s mediocre and bland, I greatly prefer Butler’s approach: she has so much story, such good characters, and so much she’s exploring in terms of themes and relationships that the frills are quite unnecessary.

Some thoughts (WARNING: spoilers in this paragraph): Doro is a super creepy dude who controls many settlements of people with special powers or sensitivities, and he wants Anyanwu as a brood mare. He is very abusive—controlling, entitled, needlessly and carelessly killing even those most loyal to him (like Voldemort). Part of me really wants Doro to have had his comeuppance, for Anyanwu to be free and happy and have everything she wishes for; but in this tale, with the constraints of the in-story “reality,” how would that have been possible? I can’t really imagine what it would begin to look like. Although I thought the ending was quite satisfying in that unsatisfying literary fiction way—creepy but fitting—I did appreciate how the epilogue showed us Anyanwu’s influence, how she was able to finally influence Doro. But here I think Doro is basically a stand in for all forms of oppression: Anyanwu (or any of us in the “real world”) will never be truly free until it is dead. But how can you kill something that doesn’t truly live in a body, that has been picking up steam for millennia, that can bend people to its will so easily through custom, fear, or both? Anyanwu chose life (I wrote “and compromise,” but what other choice was there?) was able to look out for her children and mitigate some damage, but even so and even with all her strength and resilience, it is still heartbreaking that she is in that situation at all.

It’s well worth the read. Now to see if I can rustle up some academic analysis of it because I’m not ready for the experience to end 🙂

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