Response to Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed

Wild Seed is a novel written by Octavia Butler.  It belongs to the science fiction genre and was published in 1980.  The book belongs to what the author calls the Patternmaster series – a sequence of novels that expand or continue a common storyline. The book is set at a period when the peoples of the world are not yet completely civilized and people strongly believed in mysticism and magic.  One of the protagonists of the story is Doro; and it is his telepathic and special powers that starts him off in a path of adventure.  It first leads to an old lady called Anyanwu, whose age is stupendous by modern standards.  As the lives of Doro and Anyanwu intertwine, their relationship goes through unexpected several ups and downs – all adding to the sense of thrill and suspense in the novel.  At different points in the novel’s narrative, the two lead characters take up antagonistic positions toward each other.  As the narrative builds up their mixed emotions of love and rivalry toward a grand confrontation, the author applies an unexpected twist to the plot and provides a suitable resolution of the climax.  In this aspect this book meets the standards set by other prominent examples of the genre.  Indeed, certain qualities of the novel find strong resonance with the works of Anne Rice – an accomplished science fiction writer herself.

There are a couple of aspects of the novel that particularly drew my attention.  Firstly, one recurrent motif in the novel is the powers of patience and perseverance shown by Anyanwu.  Through the plot of the story, Octavia Butler is trying to show the readers that there is a place for these virtues even in a fantasy filled story such as Wild Seed.  In a very broad way, the author is hinting at the universality of challenges confronted by human beings.  This is a valid point, for what gives value to a novel is its transcendent quality beyond the here and now.  In other words, although the novel is science fiction, it embodies in it enduring literary qualities that can appeal to generations of readers in the future.  I particularly appreciate the author’s bold attempt at bringing questions of morality to far-off characters set in history.

Secondly, it is obvious that the author has striven to place the novel in the backdrop of the tragic history of indigenous people of Americas.  Without being a direct condemnation of the atrocities meted out to the Native American population, the author indirectly alludes to these historical injustices through the characters and situations we find in the book.  Butler should also be lauded for making obvious her indignation at the institutions of slavery and oppression.  She provides enough hints in the novel to suggest that the early European settlers of the Americas acted in the most immoral manner as they systematically eliminated much of the native peoples of the land.  And through the characters of Doro and Anyanwu she plays out other moral conundrums facing modern societies.  For example, at certain passages in the book, Butler likens the dangers posed by unfettered capitalism to that of Doro and Anyanwu’s greedy behavior.  In this sense, I would say that the novel has multiple layers to it and the hidden depths of it are revealed to the scrupulous reader.

Overall, I found the experience of reading through Wild Seed a highly rewarding and stimulating one.  And this book along with Octavia Butler’s other Patternmaster books is a must read for all science fiction aficionados.