Octavia E. Butler
Aspect, 2001 (1988)
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Reviewed by Hilary Williamson
reminded me of two very different series, widely separated in time and style. If you can imagine Edgar Wallace's
Sanders of the River
told from the West African viewpoint instead of the now dated British imperial one, then the tales share a sense of African culture, community and magic. When
moves its action to America, it is reminiscent of Orson Scott Card's brilliant
Tales of Alvin Maker
. Both are peopled by characters growing beyond humanity as we know it, with potential for great good and great evil.
utler's two protagonists are archetypical figures, extremely long-lived, if not immortal. Doro, the elder by millennia, is the male who hunts widely and kills easily. He has evolved beyond his own body, and switches to others at will, permanently dispossessing the previous occupant. Doro appears to have no choice in this hunger, but has found that he prefers to feed on humans with special talents, such as mind readers and telekinetics. He has been collecting this wild seed and interbreeding it for centuries. Aside from the occasional culling, he is a benign despot, who looks after his flock.
nyanwu is the female - Earth mother, nurturer and healer. She has lived through many normal lifetimes, and is able to shapechange so that she appears to age along with her current family and community. Once she eats any creature's flesh, she can assume its appearance. Anyanwu has born several generations of children by the time Doro finds her. Of course he wants to collect her, but her strength of will matches his own. She is horrified by his casual ruthlessness and ability to see people only in terms of their value to him. Though attracted to Doro, Anyanwu considers him to be '
oro exercises a slavery of the spirit upon his people, which is contrasted through the story with the physical enslavement of Africans by Europeans and by plantation owners in the American South. Doro is attracted to Anyanwu but sees her primarily as a valuable piece of property, until she becomes more trouble than she is worth. Anyanwu is drawn to him until his actions arouse her hatred. Yet in a sense Doro, through his own lack of choice, is also a slave, and that realization finally leads to a rapprochement between them.
hough Wild Seed is a prequel to the author's
saga, it can be appreciated entirely on its own merits, which are high indeed.
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