Thursday, March 27, 2014

Civilization is the way one's own people live. Savagery is the way foreigners live

Sometime between Thanksgiving and early January Amazon ran a whole bunch of discounts on Kindle books. Actually they run deals like that all the time, but during this period they ran deals on a bunch of books I want to read. Which is unusual for them. During this time I picked up Octavia Butler's Patternist series. The whole thing: Wild Seed, Mind of My Mind, Clay's Ark, and Patternmaster. So that's pretty exciting. And it's been some time since I read Butler.

I don't really know what order I'm supposed to read this series. See my copy puts it in the order above. According to Wikipedia they were published Patternmaster (1976), Mind of My Mind (1977), Survivor (1978, which I don't have cos Wikipedia says she grew to hate the book and wouldn't let it be published), Wild Seed (1980), and Clay's Ark (1984). So that's confusing. I think (but as I haven't finished the series I'm not sure) that my book put the series in order that it takes place.

Anyway, the first book. That I read. Wild Seed. It's going to get a little weird. With the exception of Kindred, Butler's books do that. Not bad. They're really wonderful, it just means it might be a little hard to describe.

The book starts out sometime in the 18th century Africa where we meet the main character, Anyanwu, something of a medicine woman in her village. Except there seems to be something strange to Anyanwu. She's not the old woman she appears to be. It's hard to say she's really human. Or maybe she's a mutant, the next stage in human evolution and whatnot. She's being watched by someone. Something. And then we meet the next main character, an immortal Doro. Doro is thousands of years old and he can sense people who are different. Who are special. And he was drawn to Anyanwu. He learns she's also immortal, or at least is a few hundred years old. And she can heal herself. And also transform to look like other people or even animals. So she's like the mutant that got ALL THE POWERS.

Doro is the one with the power though. It's not really clear what his powers are, only that he controls a lot of people. He's drawn to them. He's trying to make more special people. He finds them, brings them together and pairs them based on the way he thinks they'll make the best offspring. Sort of like breeding animals. He convinced Anyanwu to go to North America with him and have children. Perhaps finally Anyanwu will get children she won't have to watch die.

Eventually it comes to light that Doro kills pretty constantly. He jumps from one body to another, keeping his self and his personality. The body is just a husk. This doesn't sit well with Anyanwu, although his other children/creations/people don't seem to mind. They worship him. A living god, someone they fear and love equally.

Anyanwu doesn't love and fear Doro the way he wants. she's a wild seed, someone who just seems to have the powers he's trying to breed in his people. But the wild seeds can't be controlled like his people and he tends to put those people down. But there's something more to Anyanwu. He's never met anyone like her. And I realize this is sounding like a romance, but yeah, don't get that idea.

That's the basic plot, without giving away anything. Of course the plot is important but it's also the things that Butler uses the story to explore. Control and free-will. Slavery. Anyanwu, an African woman (at least that's what she look like although the whole immortal, healer, transformer, deal it's difficult to say woman) comes over to America on a slave ship. And Butler plays with gender and sex.

There's a definite style to Butler's work. Anyanwu reminds me of Lilith from Butler's Lilith Brood trilogy and Shori from Fledgling. Maybe even some Dana from Kindred. They're strong, stoic, serious women. There's not a lot of humor in Butler's work, nor is there a lot of emotion. This does mean it can sometimes be difficult to connect with the characters, and while I admire her characters they're unlikely to become favorites. THAT SAID, her books are excellent and Wild Seed is no exception. We'll see how the rest of the Seed to Harvest series goes.

Title quote from page 96

Butler, Octavia E. Wild Seed, part of the Seed to Harvest collection. Grand Central Publishing, 2007. Originally published 1980. Kindle edition.