Review: Seed to Harvest by Octavia E. Butler

seedharvestbutlerSeries: Patternmaster #1-4 (Wild Seed / Mind of My Mind / Clay’s Ark / Patternmaster)
Published by: Headline (and many many others)
ASIN: B00F0LUXOW
Published: 1976
Pages: 784
Format reviewed: iBooks thanks to Alex
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Recommended
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Women of Speculative Fiction

This is part of my reading challenge for 2017, to expand my woeful knowledge of women in speculative fiction by reading at least 24 books by women that were and are instrumental in our genre.

A very kind gift from Alex was part of the idea that spawned my need to expand my knowledge into the classics side of speculative fiction. All I knew of this book going in was the sneak peek I accidentally saw on goodreads when getting the data needed for the draft of this review:

‘The Patternist series is a group of science fiction novels that detail a secret history continuing from the Ancient Egyptian period to the far future that involves telepathic mind control and an extraterrestrial plague.’

And of course, that only made me all the more excited to read. It also helped that there’s currently a book club for reading our way through Butler’s work, which can be found here.

Wild Seed

Took a while for me to get into it, but suddenly I was so captivated that I was reading whilst knitting or cooking as I just couldn’t put it down. The character of Anyanwu is complex and addictive, as she is able to achieve so much and yet still has believable and honest failings or weaknesses. She’s an immortal who is hunted down by Doro, who is also immortal, and much, much older than she is. Their powers differ, as well as their beliefs and morals, and this is what drives the novel onwards as the main point of conflict. They are so well matched and yet intrinsically different that they both can’t survive together, nor apart.

What I find most interesting is how they choose to live their lives, and what they do with their gifts. Doro lives his life hunting down those with a variety of gifts (usually either his or Anyanwu’s descendants), or he finds Wild Seeds (such as Anyanwu and the title of the book) who can be new breeding stock in his incested villages. Whereas Anyanwu is only contend when surrounded by family, who are loved and cared for. Doro throws away those who are defects, or who don’t obey his every rule – where Anyanwu takes in those who need her help and is above all else, a healer.

There are a variety of secondary characters throughout that you come to care for, even though they appear and leave so quickly compared to Doro and Anyanwu, because normal human lives are so short compared to theirs. We see the world change and still remain the same (so much war and slavery), and where it leaves us makes you want to pick up the next novel immediately, to see what changes will bring them next, as they’ve gained an almost steady peace together.

Mind of My Mind

This was such a fast read and although I finished last night and waited until the following morning to try sum up my thoughts, I’m still absolutely blown by how this book ended. I’m also very glad I read in the order that I did – apparently Mind of my Mind was published before Wild Seed? I certainly feel I’ve got more out of it by reading in this order – learning about Doro and Emma/Anwanyu from the start of their stories and the family/ies they’ve built, before coming to this book and their lives many generations on.

This book seems mostly about Mary, although we see a few chapters from Doro we mostly witness how he responds and coordinates those around him to do what he demands without as many words. What I’m vastly enjoying about this series is the complexities of how they show the powers they all have – their differences and the subtleties in how they each have more or less power than each other in both their strengths and how they choose to play the game. Whilst they have power, they also are staggeringly human at the same time, and easily brought down by seemingly simple things. Love. Ego. Loyalty.

Having seen a little of Clay in this book, I’m now really excited to pick up the next as it’s called…

Clay’s Ark

This book jumps forward again in the timeline – in the first book it seems like we’re in the very start of America being colonised and yet in this book we have spaceships and a desolate America that’s sieged by clans and feels quite like Mad Max. Although we have mention of Clay who we met in the previous book (but didn’t show up in this one other in passing unless I missed something clever, which is a shame) the only other connection is how even without Doro’s influence, his people will still have the compulsion to impact, spread and procreate, and with that the factions that comes with it.

I read this book over a holiday of much travel, so bits were snatched on planes or tour buses (the traffic was horrific, so even though it was a hop-on hop-off bus I didn’t feel the need to stare out the window at the same view after half an hour of waiting!) It worked well for this style of reading as it jumps back to the past and then to the present as we see Eli start with his infection from the spaceship, and his initial urge to spread this to anyone and everyone he meets – and how he battles this initially or how he chooses to utilise this. It jumps to the present where Eli is established with his clan, and has now captured Blake – father to two girls, who are also captured, and we see the same thing play out again.

Overall it’s an interesting and compelling piece to the series that extends the idea on a global scale. Though I do wish we had some characters from the original…

Patternmaster

Here we see the destruction of the disease we see in Clay’s Ark, and fittingly it’s now known as that, Clayarks and these people know how to avoid or work with it. This is apparently the first that Butler wrote in the series, and it both shows and it doesn’t – I honestly can’t imagine reading in this order, as I doubt I’d be anywhere near as sensitive to their side of the story if I hadn’t followed it from the beginning with Doro and Anwanyu – I wouldn’t be able to care for these characters, and think they’re all parasites.

The social status fight back and forth is what drives this one. People are now so much more easily dominated as the disease has reached paramount, and the characters given their divine right to rule don’t question it. Ultimately, these characters are selfish and desperate beings, and I only wish that this book was longer, and served Teray the same realisation that Doro came to have. Instead, Amber and Iray suffer for his choices, and the reader is left with the discussion of what dangers lurk when the young have too much power. It’s sad to see that women are to be treated as inferior (as we see them treated so much better in the books earlier in the omnibus), and that there’s the prediction that sexuality is still such an issue.

~

Incidentally, if you love Butler’s work then you may be interested in a non-fiction book that Twelfth Planet Press will be bringing out later in 2017. Following the success of Letters to Tiptree, we are currently working on a similar project now revolving around Octavia E. Butler. More information can be found here, and Twelfth Planet Press plans to publish the volume in time for Butler’s birthday on the 22nd of June 2017.

Also, if you read this in time, Twelfth Planet Press are hosting a book club for Butler’s books. You can find out more about it here. Currently we’re about to discuss Wild Seed at the start of March. The next books will be Fledgling; then Dawn; then Parable of the Sower. Each book club will be on the first Sunday of the month.

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