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Wild Seed, a Patternist Novel by Octavia E. Butler
I first discovered Butler's writing because of the music of Dionne Farris. Farris's song, "I Know" became a huge hit in the United States, but I adored almost the entire "Wild Seed, Wild Flower" album. Farris said in an interview once that the title came from this book. Since Farris was at least familiar with Butler's writing, and I loved Farris's album, I figured I would give Butler a chance. I was not disappointed.
"Wild Seed" was actually the fifth novel written in her "Patternist" series, but it is the first one in the internal chronology of the series. There are now only four novels in the "Patternist" series, because Butler was displeased with how "Survivor," the fourth book in the chronology, came out and she withdrew it from publication. I have been ambivalent about reading it. I tend to be a completist, so I would like to read it. However, I also believe that the desires of authors should be respected. As a result, at this point, I have no plans to read, or, thus, to review it.
I prefer to read books in the order in which they take place, rather than the order that they were written, so "Wild Seed" is up first.
In the book "Mind of My Mind", we meet Doro and Emma, who are both apparently immortal. There are hints of their history together, but nothing is spelled out. "Wild Seed" fills in at least some of these blanks.
Doro was born around four thousand years ago in Kush, which later became Nubia, and which is now southern Egypt and northern Sudan. When Doro turned thirteen, he became an active psychic. His talent was the ability to jump from one body to another. An unfortunate effect of this power is that, when jumping, he "consumes" the person inside the body, so when he leaves that body, the body is dead. His first two victims were his parents. Naturally, he found this traumatic and blocked out the next fifty years.
By the time he adjusted he realized that he actually craves the experience of jumping from body to body, and if he goes too long between jumps, he suffers what he describes as "hunger." He also discovered that people with psychic ability "taste" better than others do, so he begins breeding them as a food source. One of the drawbacks of his breeding program was the discovery that psychics don't always make the best parents. As a result, he frequently has to have the children of his breeding program fostered by other, more stable (and thus generally non-psychic) families. More than 3,000 years after he begins his breeding program, he began shipping some of his people from Africa to villages in North America.
While searching for signs of one of his African villages, which seems to have disappeared (he later finds that the residents of the village have been sold into slavery), he "smells" something new to him. He follows this sense for miles across Africa, eventually discovering Anwanyu, a 300-year-old woman living alone in a small village. He is intrigued by her, particularly after he learns that she is a shapeshifter. She looks like an elderly woman because that is what the people of her village expect; she actually stopped aging at around 20 years old, and when she goes back to her natural appearance, that is what she looks like.
One thing follows another, and Anwanyu agrees to become Doro's wife and to go to "the New World" with him. On the way, and once she is there, she begins to understand the full extent of Doro's breeding program. Doro takes latent psychics from all races and cross-breeds them, often while "wearing" the body of one of the participants. In that way, Doro considers himself, and not the original owner of the body, to be the parent (not necessarily the father, though, since sometimes the body he is wearing is female) of the child.
We time jump through one hundred and fifty years during the course of this novel. Anyanwu marries someone other than Doro and raises a number of children, both her husband's and Doro's, with him. Then, later long after her husband has died, she changes herself into a white man and buys a plantation where her descendants can live in safety. She marries a white woman and they have a number of children together, as well. Finally, as the Civil War looms, Anyanwu takes the name Emma and plans to move her family to California.
The story is fascinating and I fell in love with some of the characters, particularly Isaac, a telekinetic who is one of Doro's sons. But the most intriguing part of this book is the question about the nature of slavery. Doro prides himself on not having slaves in his villages, but in a very real way, everyone, both black and white, in his villages are his slaves. They live where he says they must live, they marry whom he says they must marry, and they reproduce with those he says they must reproduce with. And if they make Doro unhappy, they are next on the menu.
Butler not only did a good job filling in the blanks that existed in her "Patternist" series; she also did an amazing job of creating a story in its own right.