Book Review Time: Wild Seed

Wild Seed, by Octavia Butler is an ingeniously crafted tale of two immortal beings, Doro and Anyanwu, brought together by their shared fate. Doro has existed for millenia. Although he began life as a young boy in Africa, his spirit is inextinguishable. His powers allow him to transmigrate from one body to the next, killing its predecessor in the process. Doro has grown so accustomed to his power, that the human lives he regularly takes, render no emotional toll. Killing is a necessary process; a way to provide fresh housing for his ancient spirit. Over his many years of existence, Doro has established colonies around the world where he breeds humans with supernatural abilities. These individuals abide by his every word. And once they have outgrown their usefulness, most will become Doro’s prey. Yet, these colonies still maintain an unwavering loyalty to Doro. He is their God. 

Anyanwu is another being with exceptional gifts. She is like Doro, in the sense that she has existed for a long while. For 300 years, she has lived in her West African village (a mere child compared to Doro). In those years, she has had many husbands and birthed many children. Her descendants span the surrounding area, creating villages and towns of their own. Anyanwu has acted as a caretaker and medicine-woman for her community; using her healing powers to cure illnesses and injuries. Her longevity is due to her ability to heal herself. She can look within her own body, diagnose what ails it, and eliminate it. Anyanwu also has the ability to change her physical form. Like clay, she can mold herself into a desired configuration, black or white; man, woman, or animal. When these two powerful forces meet, the tension is palpable. Doro desires Anyanwu, and that feeling is initially reciprocated. But when Anyanwu discovers that Doro’s ultimate motive is to use her as a breeder, in order to create others that he can control, she quickly revolts. This initiates a battle between Doro and Anyanwu that will last a century and a half, moving from the coast of Africa to upstate New York and onto the bayou of Louisiana.

Wild Seed is an epic sci-fi fantasy love-hate story (wow, that was a mouthful!) Octavia Butler creates a world of interesting and complex superhumans. People with various capabilities: mind-reading, thought-manipulation, clairvoyance, super-strength, and regenerative as well as destructive powers. These powers come at a tremendous physical and psychological cost. And that creates much of the conflict within the story. I appreciated how Butler, in using 17th to 19th century America as a setting, was able to address the country’s problematic history. The realities of slavery and racism are ever-present in the narrative. I also found the interaction between Doro and Anyanwu immensely fascinating. Two heavy-weight characters indeed. Although they are both able to inhabit bodies of either gender, in their personalities, they each represent traditional gender archetypes. Doro is masculine, predatory, domineering. He expects to be shown deference, and to always have his way. His single objective is procreation with no emotional attachment. Whereas, Anyanwu, is very maternal. She has given birth to hundreds of children, and she loves and cares for them all. Unlike Doro who takes life, Anyanwu longs to heal those who suffer. She winces under Doro’s demands, and will fight tooth-and-nail to gain the peace that accompanies freedom. Her abilities, as well as her inherently independent nature, make Anyanwu a perfect foil for Doro. And it makes her an ideal literary heroine in my estimation.


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