1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: Wild Seed (Gollancz SF collectors' edition) (Paperback)
From Butler's debut with `Patternmaster' in 1976 one would never have suspected that she would produce a novel - a prequel at that - of such power and intensity as this.
Perhaps of all Butler's work, this is the novel that so deeply explores the concept of slavery, a theme that runs through nearly all of her work like a dark thread.
The story begins in the late eighteenth century, in Africa, where Anyanwu the shapeshifter has already lived for three hundred years.
It is here she is discovered by Doro, a creature far older than herself, and a human life-force able to move from body to body, killing each one in the process.
For over three thousand years he has been seeking out those humans with special gifts: telepathy, telekinesis, psychometry, the whole panoply of psychic abilities, and bringing them together to breed. They have become both his children and his slaves, in some cases quite literally since Doro has become heavily involved in the slave trade, using it as a cover to bring the residents of his `seed villages' to America.
For Doro, Anyanwu is a very valuable find, mentally stable, unlike many of his people, terrifyingly strong and able to change sex at will, or into a leopard, eagle or dolphin.
Doro promises not to harm any of her people if she will return to America with him. However, as Anyanwu discovers, Doro considers her to be `Wild Seed' and plans to kill her once she has served her usefulness by providing children for his people.
This book certainly deserves its place in Pringle's `100 Best SF Novels' since, like all the best SF novels it employs the conventions of SF to explore the depths of human nature. Butler understands, more than many writers, the capacity for humans not only to enslave others in various ways, but to willingly submit to that slavery in some cases. There are also many deaths in `Wild Seed' and yet, each one is keenly painful to those who have to deal with the grief or other consequences.
Above all, Butler writes characters with all the flaws, warts and all. This makes for a novel not, as one might expect, doomful and depressing, but one that is full of power and fury, mining gold from the depths of the human soul.