It was recently announced that Dawn, the first book in Octavia Bulter’s Xeogenenis series, is slated to be turned into a TV series. Now for those of you who know anything about her, that is pretty dope news! And not just for geeks like myself.
Octavia, was an amazing writer who had the uncanny skill of covering a wide range of futuristic, high concept, heavy, dark, epic, metaphysical and complex themes, while doing so in a way that was unbelievably entertaining. Another of her strength’s was the ability to tell stories that wove character’s of all races together without it coming off as forced or contrived. Everyone is who and where they are because that’s who and where they’re supposed to be. It’s for these and many other reasons that she’s won the prestigious Nebula and Hugo awards twice, as well as a the McArthur Fellowship.
I’ve been a fan for two decades now and read most of her books, but the one that initially introduced me to her unique world was Wild Seed. That introduction though, had nothing to do with word of mouth, or my own research. It was purely random. As in, one day in the library, the cover caught my eye, random. For starters, it was kinda rare to see a black face on a book cover in the 90’s, well minus the Romance section. But what also caught my eye was the fact that this woman did not appear to be human, not fully human anyway.
I picked it up, staring at it for longer then I’ll admit here…it was a striking image and I was captivated! I immediately recognized distinctly African features, and a gaze with the kind of quite confidence and an inner strength that I had come to know in my own interactions (I would later find both observations to be true). This woman, whoever she was, emanated an intense beauty and I had to know more.
I was also intrigued by the fusion of a number of animals into what could only be described as her headdress. Was she some kind of shapeshifter? Was this a reboot of the tired old voodoo, totem thing? I had to know. And with cover art like that, this book had to be good. It just had to be. I didn’t even bother reading the inside jacket, I was checking this bad boy out.
This random act turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I flew through the book in two days and later went on to read most of her other works. A big part of why I began dabbling with writing has to be credited to her. Her ability to create unique and fascinating worlds that are still believable was uncanny, and this is coming from a cynic who despises most Hollywood tales.
Lets get on with the review. As the clear protagonist of this story, Anyanwu reminded me of so many African woman I’ve known, who somehow balance the characteristics of unbowed strength and cultural submission. My grandmother, my mother and so many others.
But unlike the women I know, there was something amazingly unique about Anyanwu. She was unlike anyone else in her village, in a part of Igboland that would later become part of Nigeria. Although she appeared to be old and decrepit, that guise was a complete deception. There was a significant amount of power that emanated from her, but only to the few who could sense it.
Doro was one such person. In fact, he was one of only a few who could, and it was that power that drew him halfway across the African continent to the edge of a clearing on a small coco yam farm. Where he found himself stalking Anyanwu from the concealment of the bush–or so he thought. Doro had been alive for 3000 years, long enough to know that his eyes alone could not be relied on to access who or what he was observing.
She’d heard him clumsily stumbling through the forest for some time now–her enhanced hearing helping her track his exact location. This man had to be a stranger. Her reputation preceded her in this area and as such, she was worshipped by some, but feared by many. This man was either very bold, or a fool and she hadn’t survived for three centuries by being the later.
But then he surprised her. Anyanwu couldn’t remember the last time she’d be surprised by a man, or anyone for that matter. Doro unexpectedly revealed himself, approaching her with a boldness that was completely counter to his prior stealthiness. Something about his confident manner unsettled her, in a way that she hadn’t felt in more than a century. She turned to face him as if she’d just become aware of him.
“You are something more than an old woman. Perhaps you are not an old woman at all”. She drew back, masking her fear with anger in her response “I could be your mothers mother”. He appeared to be in his late 20’s, tall, with skin as dark as hers. Handsome, but in an unsettling way. “I could be your mother’s father” he smiled.
He spoke with an accent she hadn’t heard since she was child. It reminded her of the way her people used to speak long ago. And it was. Doro has ‘seeded’ Anyanwu’s ancestors nearly a century before she was born. It was one of hundreds of such communities he had created over a millennia. Long after his birth in Ancient Kush, long after he realized that he wasn’t like everyone else he’d ever known, because unlike them, he couldn’t die. Whatever he was, he wasn’t bound to the body he was born in and when he died, he found himself in the body of another.
With the passing of time, his repeated deaths eventually became deliberate actions. No longer involuntary impulses, Doro had come to master this ability, using it to advance his own desires. He became a callous killer, taking the life of whoever suited either his short or long term needs. And he had indeed developed needs over the millennia, to seek out and create communities of people who were like him. People who were in possession of special abilities, people who might eventually evolve to point of immortality.
This burning desire had taken Doro around the globe, seducing or forcing his will on those whom he had identified with his own sensing abilities. He had lived as every race known to man, and even worn the bodies many women, manipulating men through sexual prowess as only a woman can.
But for 3000 years, everyone he had ever known had died….until now. It had been centuries since he had encountered a wild seed, someone with unique abilities that did not belong to him. But wild seed’s were difficult to tame. It was clear that Anyanwu’s ancestors had been decimated by the slave trade, but she had survived, and he had to have her! Imagine the offspring she would produce!
Against her better judgement, Anyanwu revealed her true form to him–a beautiful, supple, not quite 20 year woman. She demonstrated her strength for him, effortlessly crushing a large rock in her bare hand. Like Doro, she could also take on the form any human (or animal) she chose, but she did so my changing her own body. And the body she currently wore was that of a large man.
She had just been confronted with the idea of living with a man, a people who, like her, would not die and leave her behind as so many had. But her people, her children and their children’s children were all she had ever known. And this man, this spirit was…what was he?
“Shall I kill you then, Anyanwu. Why? Would you kill me if you could?
“Perhaps I can!”
“Here I am”
She had killed 7 men at one time before….a memory that haunted her. She took no pleasure in it. But she knew that whatever sat across from her was far from an ordinary man. She also had no reason to doubt him when he threatened to return wearing the body of one of descendants, in an almost seductive way. It was a skill he had mastered perfectly.
She took his measure, eyeing him until he even he became uncomfortable.
She changed back to her true form and he took her that night. It was to be one of many unions the two would share over the next hundred years, but for now, she was headed to the British Colony of New York. To a world and new set of circumstances that she couldn’t have begun to fathom.
She had no way of knowing the extent to which Doro’s ruthlessness would descend, but in time, Anyanwu would come to see him as the kind of threat she had to mitigate for the benefit of others–using his love and need for her to rein in his murderous impulses. Interestingly enough, she would also come to feel a certain companionship with him as the result of their shared (if often horrible) experience; Doro, at the end of the day and with all of his many flaws, would not die on her. Their’s was a complex, unsettling relationship that, as it turns out, was the beginning of an amazing saga that would be played out in the rest of the Patternmaster series.
This is a gripping tale that I highly recommend. I’m not all that fond of the more recent Wild Seed covers, but the link (to the right) will let you check out reviews (as to opposed to the one above). There is also a kindle version available for download. If you’re looking for a collectors item, I’d go with the original cover above.
So check it out. I’d love to hear if you ended up digging this book as much as I did.