Since my reading list is always so short (not), sometimes when I go to pick out a new book I enjoy browsing through the Prime Reading section of the Kindle library to see if there are any interesting books that I can read for free. The answer is usually no, but every now and then I come across something that I’m really glad to have found. That’s how I first discovered the Cradle series, for instance. In this case, I came across Wild Seed, and the description, which mentioned two immortals/demigods-by-different-means in an off-and-on struggle across the centuries, sounded fascinating, so I decided to read it. I knew when I saw that the table of contents was separated out by historical time period that I had made the right choice.
Granted, how I interpreted the description was nowhere close to what the book ended up being, which is part of why I enjoyed it as much as I did. I surmised that the “demigods” were probably aliens, who had ended up on Earth for different reasons and at different times, which was both closer to and further from the true plot than I could have anticipated. There are no aliens in Wild Seed, unless you count mutations within the Homo genus. Instead, the story is about the relationship between Doro, who is immortal because whenever he dies his spirit jumps to the nearest human form and takes it over, and Anywanu, who is immortal because she has the ability to rapidly and accurately repair and change her own body at a sub-cellular level. If that description isn’t enough to convince you that you should read this book, then I hope that the rest of this post is persuasive.
This book reminded me of Ursula K Le Guin’s writing. Something about the descriptions, the pacing, the plotting, the characters, echoed that author’s mode and style. Not that I think Wild Seed is derivative in any way – it is one of the most unique stories I’ve come across recently – merely that the author happened to have similar style and preferences to Le Guin. Also like Le Guin, Butler takes a fairly common concept – that of immortals interacting with mortals – and follows through on it in a way that makes it compelling and original. This is, in many ways, what I’ve always wanted to see in a book that tackles that concept.
I found out after reading this that while it is in-world the first book in the Patternist series, Wild Seed is not the first book to have been published in that sequence. Most of the time, I like to read books in the order that they were published, rather than in accordance with whatever in-world chronology they happen to have, but I’m not disappointed that I read this book without knowing that there were other books associated with it, as I think it stands as a compelling piece on its own, and honestly the descriptions of some of the other books in the same world don’t sound nearly as interesting. The mix of history with the immortality concept was one of my favorite parts about this book, which would I think be missing from the other stories in the series.
While I’ve written in several recent posts about how much I enjoy science fiction idea stories that don’t mess around with complicated characters, Wild Seed was an example of ideal fusion between idea and character. Where the ideas and characters of Blindsight were related in plot but conflicting in storytelling, in Wild Seed the characters and the idea were inseparable, and positively contributed to both the storytelling and the plot. This would have been a weaker book if either of those components were missing. In fact, the only thing I can think of that might have strengthened this book is if it were longer. I think there could have been any number of additional, interesting vignettes to convey along the centuries spanned by a story like this, and I would have enjoyed reading more of them.
Still, when your biggest complaint about a book is that you wish that there were more of it, that’s a pretty good sign. With that in mind, I encourage you to try Wild Seed, and maybe I’ll go and report back on the other books in the Patternist world.