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When you first meet Doro, you'd think he was an ordinary man, the same as you or I. But Doro has a unique gift: he can survive the death of his body by transferring his essence into the body of another. Unfortunately for those he takes over, there's only room for one consciousness in the human brain, and so when Doro takes control, the previous owner is evicted. He's survived this way for thousands of years, hopping from body to body, and leaving a trail of the dead in his wake, for his gift does not allow him to inhabit bodies for long, necessitating the frequent claiming of new victims.
Wild Seed begins in 1690 in Africa, when Doro discovers another immortal by the name of Anyanwu, though Anyanwu is not the monster Doro is. While his powers are tied inextricably to death, Anyanwu's are tied to life; instead of stealing new bodies, she is able to manipulate her body to heal any wound, make herself appear forever young, or even shapechange into different creatures altogether. When Doro first meets Anyanwu, she appears to be an old woman serving as shaman to the village. But when he discovers her true nature, he embarks upon a quest to find others like her "wild seed" and selectively breeds them in order to foster the development of these seemingly magical talents. This multigenerational genetic engineering project takes the pair from their starting place in Africa in to the American colonies and beyond.
To describe the plot as above surely doesn't do justice to Wild Seed, which is easily one of the finest science fiction novels ever written; but more than that, it is a great work of literature, period, that explores deep philosophical issues and vividly explores the extraordinary long lives of two fascinatingly-drawn characters.
For a book as brilliant as this, it would be easy for a narrator to just convey the text and get out of its way, but Dion Graham somehow manages to add yet another layer to an already rich and complex narrative by giving voice to it with such emotion and gravitas. Graham provides a variety of character voices to the extent that he seems to be a vocal chameleon; the character of Doro alone requires him to change his voice into a number of different accents, all of which Graham ably handles. But perhaps what makes this performance truly stand out is the intensity of Graham's narration in between dialogue, which really drives home the power of Butler's prose.As both a novel and an audiobook, Wild Seed stands as a sterling example of science fiction, literature, and performance art. Utterly compelling, and completely unforgettable. John Joseph Adams
What did you love best about Wild Seed?
The villain is so powerful, single-minded and so apathetic, without being at all campy or forced. He only had one main superpower and it wasn't blowing stuff up or moving objects, but it made him so frightening. This was the most creative story I've read in a long time.
What other book might you compare Wild Seed to and why?
I'ts not like anything I've read before, but I have to choose . . . For the protagonist, it most reminds me of Roots because mucn of the story takes place during the time of slavery, and the protagonist is enslaved, despite being so very powerful. For the antagonist, I think of the Exorcist because the villian is so evil.
What does Dion Graham bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?
This is the advantage of the audiobook. The narrator does his job so well, that each character is more than just an image in your imagination. They are a presence. In particular the antagonist of this story was a special challenge because he required different voices from time to time and there were several accents.
Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?
No. I did not laugh or cry but I felt very proud and connected. This is a sci-fi story by an African-American woman in which the main two characters are African. True, one of them is pretty messed up, but hey. He's the bad guy. It's the first book of that kind that I've come across.
Any additional comments?
I really loved this book. Octavia Butler is now one of my favorite writers.
20 of 20 people found this review helpful
The concept of this book is quite interesting. Two seemingly immortal people have very different perspectives on what they should do with their powers. One is a healer while the other is a killer. One sees people as only possessions to be used while the other sees all people as deserving to be free.
This book seemed at times to move very slowly, which made it difficult to get through. That said, the characters and the concept of the story kept me coming back to it. I do plan to read the next book in the series.
The narrator did a great job. Switching between male and female and between northern and southern accents was seamless.
18 of 18 people found this review helpful
There's a little smack of oddness to it i can't put my finger on, and i was afraid the accent would kill me - but no. it was nice. And original. which you don't get much these days. Reminded me a little bit of Niel Gaimon's Anansi boys only much darker and a different point of view. Again, not one of my all time best hits, but a good solid creative story with a little something for everyone. And that ain't bad.
41 of 43 people found this review helpful
This was my first book by Mrs. Butler and it took me on a fantastic journey into a possible world of the past full of wonder, pain, learning and purpose. It reminds me that despite what we think are unwinnable odds, we can still rely on our humanity to guide us. She developed good character arcs while letting us have anticipation before she divulged bits we'ed been waiting to hear. A talented and deep author. Good read!
9 of 9 people found this review helpful
Wild Seed is now the fourth book and the start of the second series I have read by Octavia Butler. She is a good writer and creates interesting (and wildly different) settings and characters.
But Butler is also hard to read at times. Not particularly unusually among fantasy and science fiction authors, she uses her settings to create alternative social structures and explore issues of ethics and morality.
Butler is known for her feminist writing. While not all men are evil, all of the books I have read from her so far have explored the ideas of male oppression of women.
Wild Seed is about two long lived people. Doro has the power to move from one body to another, living forever, but needing to ‘feed’ on those around him both to stay alive and because of an innate need. Because of his long life (he has been alive for over 4000 years), he has created breeding programs to breed special powers into his ‘children’. These settlements, first in Africa and then later in the Americas, are scattered, but allow him to live as a God. Worshiped by his children, who will willingly give up their bodies for their God.
Doro meets Anyanwu in the mid 17th century in Africa. She is already several centuries old. She has the ability to change herself and heal her body and to some extent heal others. When Doro finds her, she has already outlived 10 husbands and has dozens of children. After spending time with Doro she in her own way also creates a community around her. But one that where she can protect and heal those that need her.
When Doro finds her, he does not realize the extent of her powers, but tries to draw her into his plans. He uses her love of her children and all people to try to force her to do his bidding.
Set over several hundred years, Doro and Anyanwu are lovers, friends, enemies and opponents. He is cruel, living a life that is only about himself. She is kind (although not perfect) and tries whenever possible to bring about healing and wholeness. He becomes a less cartoonish villain toward the end, but if there is a weakness it is in the characterization of Doro as villain.
This was a hard book to really enjoy. Butler can write and she creates compelling rich characters. But it took me quite a while to make my way the whole way through it because it can be so heavy. Heavy subjects are important, but also need to be balanced with lighter subjects. So I need to wait a few weeks before reading another Butler book.
I should note a content warning on this book. Because a significant theme is the breeding of humans, there is a lot of sex in the book. Most of it is off screen, and it all consensual (of a sort), but it is also treated with far less important than what Christian theology treats sex.
49 of 54 people found this review helpful
Oh, I couldn't stand Doro, but I like Isaac. Anyanwu's powers are awesome. What is she? How did she come into powers like this? I'll will be buyin the rest of the series.
12 of 13 people found this review helpful
You can tell the quality difference in writers by how well they handle potentially lecture-y subjects such as slavery, women's rights, gender equality, racial equality and power inequity. Butler tells a story here that includes all these subjects, explores them, makes us frustrated with them, and yet never makes us feel like we're attending some sort of educational retreat, or listening to a sermon.
The story is good versus evil, nature versus nurture, male versus female... it's engaging and worrying and you just want to grab Anyanwu and Doro and smack their heads together... I had wondered, as the end drew closer, how Butler was going to be able to wrap up a story that involved immortals - and I think she did an excellent job of doing so - the conclusion was logical.
I'm not saying the story didn't slow down a bit in the middle while Butler tried to emphasize Doro's "evilness" - but it was only a short blip before the story carried on. I've not read any other books from this "series" but plan to do so now.
The narrator did a good job. The characters were distinct and the pacing nice.
29 of 33 people found this review helpful
t's hard to pin this book down to just one thing. It's science-fiction mixed with historical fantasy add a little romance and a generous helping of social issues (racism, gender issues, ethical issues). Even describing it like that, I don't think I've capture the essence of this book. This books takes so many conventional ideas and presents them in such an unconventional way as Butler uses words to weave this tale that can really take her readers on an emotional roller coaster. I love a good light, quick, fun speculative read, but there's nothing like speculative fiction that uses the medium to really transcend expectations of the genre. Butler managed that this with book.
Dion Graham was such a powerful, amazing narrator choice for this book. The emotion and voices that he used for the characters captured me as much as the words did themselves. Butler's characters were already so powerful. I love characters that can really shake me to my core. There was nothing simple about any of them. Even the ones you hated had this part of them that you still recognized as human, and Butler was able to convey so much of their humanity in less words than many author's use to get you to care about characters in books twice this size. These characters combined with Graham's narration was fantastic. I'm hoping that he'll be narrating the other books in this series.
Despite all the ugliness in this book, it was counteracted with so much beauty. This was my first read by Octavia Butler, and it took me so long to read her because others had told me she could be a heavy read. And while I expected something amazing, something that would probably affect me on a profound level given how many people I know read her books and praise how she touched on issues, I hadn't expected the incongruous beauty that waited for me or the feelings and thoughts that was this book.
10 of 11 people found this review helpful
What a story! She wrote the stuff great movies are made of. This is the first book that helps you understand what type of subject matter her future books would be about.
10 of 11 people found this review helpful
If you could sum up Wild Seed in three words, what would they be?
Anyanwu and Doro. Both characters are fascinating; Doro with his cold approach with maintaining his bloodline and Anyanwu's desire to keep her "family" safe from the regular world (and Doro's hands). Although their special abilities and their approach towards building their nation are different, they are alike.
What other book might you compare Wild Seed to and why?
Butler's Xenogenesis trilogy have similar themes of family, internal/external racial adversity, slavery and no-so-normal romantic relationships. Also the general characteristics of Anyanwu could be compared to Lilith.
Have you listened to any of Dion Graham’s other performances before? How does this one compare?
Not that I know of but I did enjoy his performance with this book.
Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?
Moved isn't the right word for the moment, but I did savor in the moment when Anyanwu discovered dolphins. This moment and her return to the sea allowed me to relish the thought of being able to go anywhere (or be anything) at a moments notice.
9 of 10 people found this review helpful
mind blowing . left me speechless. so good!!!!!
the characters were very complex. hate love relationship
This book had promise. A very interesting idea but never amounted to much. I tried the book years ago and didn't finish it and thought the ebook might give me the impetus to complete the story. It didn't. The ebook suffered from an irritating performance that killed the best experience for me. The reader has a very annoying habit of using exactly the same intonation over and over again, his voice pitching up at the end of every clause. So unchanging is this idiosyncrasy that it destroys the immersion of the story and you are all too aware of the reader's voice.
If this book wasn’t for you, who do you think might enjoy it more?
I think the book's flaws transcend personal taste, though I can see that other reviewers didn't always even perceive the flaws that so irritated me.
What will your next listen be?
Iain M Banks, Excession, narrated by the excellent Peter Kenny. Already bought and waiting to go.
What do you think the narrator could have done better?
Every sentence was read with almost identical cadence - it became truly irritating very quickly. Yes, Dion Graham has a very pleasant vocal timbre, but unless he learns to inject variety of emphasis, he's not doing the book a service.
What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?
Apathy - The author failed to give me a reason to care for either of the protagonists in the first hour of listening. They were two spoilt immortals engaging in selfish dominance games.
Any additional comments?
Too much infodumping and didactic exposition. The author has forgotten about showing rather than telling.
1 of 5 people found this review helpful
In true brutal Octavia Butler form this book pushes the boundaries of obscenity, forgiveness, acceptance and the yearning to connect. Great storyteller narrator and author alike. Can't wait to read the next 3!
This vast book is fascinating, horrifying and inspiring all in the space of one chapter
An important book and atypical spec fic. It's a character story, so the science fiction ideas can feel pushed into the background and the pace sometimes slow if you're expecting an idea or event story. It's not my favorite flavour of spec fic for that reason, but it's well written and ably told, and easily stands apart from other spec fic works. The narration in the audiobook I listened to was good quality but some of the voices irritated me.