This book is one of the best stumbled upon moments in years. I was reading a book review
by Orson Scott Card and he was waxing lyrical about Octavia Butler in general and this book in particular. Wild Seed is science fantasy as opposed to science fiction as a lot of the fantastical elements are scientifically improbable, though biology plays an important part in the story also. The story is about two immortals, a man and a woman; while they are both immortals the nature of their immortality is very different. The man jumps from body to body, evicting and killing off the body's original owner by the act of possession, the woman has the ability to control and manipulate every molecule of her body and is able to shape shift and heal herself at will. They are essentially mutants with “psi” powers, and much of the story concerns their lifelong project of raising and protecting psi powered other mutants.
There is a lot of subtext in this novel. The theme of slavery and freedom is prevalent in this book, and there are some thoughtful rumination about morality, racism and the human condition. The prose style is similar to the aforementioned Orson Scott Card in clarity; the difference is that Octavia Butler's prose is more lyrical and evocative. Anne McCaffrey would probably be a closer comparison.
Her character development skills verges on the magical. It seems like she can create believable characters in just a few sentences, almost as soon as she names them. The villain of the piece Doro is a terrible monstrous tyrant, yet like real people he has other facets, a caring side, and a tragic back story. Given his back story, his loneliness and callousness is understandable, even if the latter is not justified. The female protagonist with the lovely name of Anyanwu has an almost equally tragic back story but she has a strong moral center and is the foundation of the story.
When I see people write "this is a beautiful book" in reviews I tend to roll my eyes, dismissing such statements as people being overly impressed by some purple prose nonsense. But you know what? This is a beautiful book.