Angela's Reviews > Seed to Harvest

Seed to Harvest by Octavia E. Butler
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Mar 01, 11

bookshelves: read-in-2011
Read from February 19 to March 01, 2011 — I own a copy

I always judge a really satisfying book by the way that, when I am done reading it, I put it down on the table and let out a breath I didn't realize I'd been holding.

This edition is really four books, so it's hard to review collectively.

The first book, Wild Seed, is probably the best (and longest). It tells two intertwined stories: that of Doro, a spirit thousands of years old who inhabits the bodies of humans by using their bodies as a temporary vessel as he "feeds" upon them, and Anyanwe, a shapeshifter who has lived for hundreds of years by using her supernatural abilities to heal and rebuild her own body. Doro selectively breeds humans in an attempt to create superior beings with psychic and telekinetic powers, and the book doesn't shy away from this by masking it in metaphor: Doro is a slave trader, and those he breeds and controls are all, to varying extents, his property. This alone makes the work nearly unique among SF works; the horror of the plot device is magnified by the very real American race relations of the setting. Anyanwu is forced to struggle between her desire to care for the children that Doro has fathered with her ("wearing" different bodies each time) and her need to escape his grasp. Five stars.

The second book, Mind of My Mind, is set in the present day. Doro's breeding has created a widely dispersed population of troubled psychics, many of whom succumb to mental illness or suicide because of the torment their powers cause. One of his children, at the maturation of her powers, finds that she can connect telepathically to all the others to form a network ("The Pattern") from which she can both draw power and control everyone else. Four stars.

The third book (Clay's Ark) is only tangentially related to the previous two. In it, a crashed spacecraft's escaped inhabitant spreads a virulent extraterrestrial plague to everyone he comes in contact with. The mechanism of the disease is almost certainly an intentional nod to the AIDS epidemic. Those who survive the initial infection develop mutant powers of enhanced speed and reflexes, but with a terribly desperate need to spread the infection to others. The small rural community he infects struggles to remain isolated enough to keep the rest of (post-apocalype, by the way) humanity safe while culling enough uninfected outsiders to satisfy their needs. Three stars.

The final book, Patternmaster, is my least favorite. Despite the chronology of the stories, this was Butler's first published work, and it's not that strong. It is set far in the future, where The Pattern has grown stronger and links everyone on earth that possesses psychic ability, leaving un-gifted individuals as the "mute" servant class for their psychic masters. Two stars.
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