Wild Seed by Octavia Butler (1980) – I will admit up front that I am a big Octavia Butler fan and have always enjoyed her books. Her organic science fiction is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I find it a refreshing break from space ships and little green men. Plus, her stories are complex without being incomprehensible (my daughter might disagree), but I find I can slip into her worlds easily and be amazed by them.
Wild Seed was one of the first Butler books I read. I can’t help picking it up and rereading it on occasion just to cleanse my palate from some of the B-movie sci fi I enjoy so much. I just finished it again and am surprised how different it was from what I remembered. It’s an interesting premise. In Africa, an immortal man who lives by taking over other people’s bodies (and then killing them) meets an immortal woman who can change into animals and other people. He wants to use her for breeding stock for his “people,” more breeders with special gifts that he protects and controls unconditionally. She wants him to be her husband, grateful to find a man she doesn’t have to bury.
She leaves her community and her family to travel with the man to America with the special slaves he’s purchased. En route she discovers how cold and calculating her new husband is. He threatens her family (some enslaved on the boat with her) and marries her off to his son, a telekinetic who moves the ship. If she refuses, he’ll kill her family.
In his community of mixed races in America, all with the potential for special abilities, Doro controls who breeds with whom, killing the culls and taking a new body whenever he wants. Anyanwau submits to protect her new children and her husband but lets it be known she thinks Doro is a madman and an abomination. He, being the petty god he is, forces her to mate with strangers. She, however, is a healer as well as a shape-shifter so she does more good than harm when she encounters the men he picks for her. Doro, outraged, prepares to kill her but she slips off to become a dolphin for a few years. All-powerful Doro cannot detect her in her animal form.
When he finally catches up with her, he finds she’s a white man who owns a plantation and has an extended family of freed slaves and white “witches” (people with special abilities).
Threatening her family as always, he sends some of his breeders to the plantation, one which attempts to rape her small daughter and kills her son. She decides the only way to escape Doro and his eternal manipulation is to kill herself.
This is where the story takes and unexpected – and typical Butler – turn. Instead of killing the bastard (when he’s killed, he takes over the nearest body so it might not be possible), Anyanwau tries to save him. He’s lost his humanity and if he wants to continue a relationship with the only other immortal on the planet, he better shape up. Otherwise, she’ll kill herself, and he’ll lose any hope of breeding another immortal.
I really wanted a nice revenge story ending. Through the entire book Doro’s only command to her has been “submit” and she’s done it. She might run and posture but basically in the end she has all the children he requests and does everything he wants. I hoped she’d fight him to the death. But that’s not Butler’s style. It’s too expected. Her character would have had to develop a completely different personality (like Doro’s) to defeat him and that’s just not who Anyanwau is.
Truly excellent writing and incredible tale of slavery and life in Africa, exposing the cultural and geographical differences. I don’t know why I didn’t have her sign a copy when she was still alive.
I don’t put many books on my Reread Eternally shelf, but this is one of them.