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A book review by Steven Wu
May 31, 2004
|Rating: 5 (of 10)|
It is on one of his scouting trips to find new sources of talents that Doro discovers the second immortal, Anyanwu. While Doro's immortality is based on death, Anyanwu's is based on life: she has an innate understanding of biology and a corresponding power to modify it, with the consequence that she can change her own body in whatever way she wants, and she can create cures for other people based on her inspections. Anyanwau has never aged because she simply prevents her body from aging, but (at the risk of being branded a witch) she has decided to help village after village in an attempt to spread her own good fortune.
It's clear from the outset that Doro and Anyanwu have drastically different personalities. Doro is a tyrant who sees other beings as tools; Anyanwu wants to see them free and happy, not bred with their siblings and relatives to purify a strain of talent. But it is also clear from the outset that Doro has the upper hand. Not only is he more eager to use violence than Anyanwu--and also more willing to do unmentionable things to force her to his will--but his power is also such that he could always invade her body and destroy her spirit. Only two things prevent him from harming Anyanwu directly: first, his fear that if he takes her over, he will lose all knowledge of her special talent; and second, his fear that if he kills her, he will have lost the only immortal who would ever understand him.
Thus, the central dynamic of the book is between both Doro's and Anyanwu's desire for companionship, on the one hand, and their utter loathing for each other, on the other hand. Unfortunately, while Butler does a compelling job characterizing her two immortals, this central dynamic falters throughout. For long stretches of the book there are intensely frustrating stalemates, with Doro doing ever more inhumane acts, and Anyanwu either breaking down or throwing up her hands or fleeing. These long stalemates are punctuated by sudden bursts of reconciliation (including one near the end), all of which seem fairly implausible. Now, there's nothing wrong with a book that tries to explain how hopeless things are. But even if your book wants to say that nothing has changed, there has to be some definite arc in the way you describe the stalemate. The problem with Wild Seed is that there is no such movement. Rather, the book just seems to sit still for lots of its very few pages--and those passages, frankly, are damned dull.
It's too bad, really. Butler has a tremendous imagination, and an interesting style of writing: her voice sounds like an oral storyteller's, complete with a slightly detached style and plenty of stilted language to go around. But too much of Wild Seed feels like the same idea being played out over and over again. The central dynamic between Doro and Anyanwu is interesting. But it really needed to do more than just announce itself for the book to be a winner.
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