Saturday, November 13, 2010

Excerpt from Wild Seed by Octavia Butler

Octavia Butler was one of very few black women science fiction writers. Her work is also understood to be afrofuturist, meaning it queers notions of time, race, and often has supernatural themes. Wild Seed is the first book in the plot development of her first book series know as the Patternist Series.

Anyanwu is an African healer who lives in a small village in the middle of the African content. She is discovered by Doro who is drawn to her magical abilities of healing and transformation. When introduced in the story, she is already 150 years old though she naturally looks like a young woman in her twenties. Doro is thousands of years old, his spirit jumping from body to body to stay alive. He convinces her that she should come with him to meet other unique people with special powers like them. She agrees and they set out for the new world, America.

Though she goes willingly, she soon realizes that Doro does not have good intentions. They are lovers but then she realizes that he wants her to marry his son Isaac and have babies that have both her powers and those of Isaac (he can fly). She reluctantly agrees but realizes that Doro has breeding plantations all over the world where he is trying to create a master species of beings like him. He is mean and makes people have children with their relatives. Often these magical children suffer because of their gifts and they take on too much from the world around them. They can never escape Doro because he can hunt them down where ever they go.

She does escape! Because she is able to transform into animals, Doro is unable to find her because he can only track her when she is human. We begin reading after he has found her, over a hundred years after she escaped. When he finds her he is surprised that he doesn't want to kill her immediately. He learns about her new life as a White Plantation owner name Edward Warrick. Through her neighbors, he finds out that she takes the shape of a black dog and had been married to a white woman for some time and that they had kids.

When Doro arrives at her plantation, he meets her son who knows who he is and tells him about his own ability to heal. Doro meet Anyanwu and they have a long talk about her life since she escaped him. She tells him of her time living as a dolphin and how she and her white wife married despite their fear of the racial and gendered taboo of their relationship. She tells him of the other people with powers who live on her plantation and their relative freedom compared to the lives of the people who live on his plantations.

As she is telling her story, you can tell how much power Doro has and his never ending desire to control her. She's defeated but she tries to negotiate some protections and some freedoms for her people, that they be able to marry once and that they get to decide who they marry. He grants her these small things and she tries to be ok with it. The excerpt highlights his absolute power and her small acts of resistance, her resignation to her identity as a slave but also her disidentification from that role in its entirety. She is both female and male, black and white, human and animal, even as she resists the animal like breeding Doro wants to force on her people. She is also a slave owner even as she grants her people more freedom than he would. Her existence troubles all binaries and dichotomies and even the notions of what's good and bad.

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