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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Mind of My Mind and Wild Seed by Octavia Butler

Mind of My Mind (1977) and Wild Seed (1980) by Octavia Butler. Mind of My Mind: New York: Warner Books, 1994 (paperback). Wild Seed: Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, 1980. ISBN: 0-385-15160-8.

These are the other "Patternist" novels I mentioned when I blogged another Octavia Butler title, Clay's Ark, back in August of this year. The events portrayed in Wild Seed, although written later, take place much earlier, in the 16 and 17 hundreds, while the events in Mind of My Mind, while written first, take place in the 20th century. It doesn't really matter in which order the books are read, as the stories are essentially independent, although related.

Both books revolve around a man named only Doro, a sport, a genetic mutation if you will, who has lived since the times of ancient Egypt. He has the psionic ability to transfer his life, his spirit, so to speak, from body to body, extinguishing the life force and killing those whose bodies he appropriates. This ability makes him invincible, immortal, unkillable.

Over the centuries he has masterminded what are essentially human breeding programs, attempting to breed others with abilities similar to his own. Any kind of psi ability: telepathy, teleportation, or any other psychic or psionic powers are what he aims to achieve. In so doing, he has become a kind of monster, devouring others and deriving pleasure from so doing. Those with powers akin to his own give him the most psychic pleasure, and his initial attempts at grouping and breeding them were designed from his own desire to have plenty of good feeding stock handy whenever he needed it.

In Wild Seed, he discovers another powerful mutant living in deepest Africa, a woman who can "see" into the cellular level of herself and others, and who possesses the ability to transform her own flesh into a duplication of any other entity she has experienced. Let her taste a dolphin's flesh, and she can literally reshape her body into that of a dolphin, or a tiger, or an eagle, or any other human shape, for that matter. Doro attempts to make her into one of his own people, those he keeps near him, and over whom he exercises the ultimate power of life and death.

But Anyanwu, as she calls herself, is too powerful to be entirely manipulated or controlled in the way he controls others. Inevitably they become rivals, and much of the suspense in the story comes from wondering whether Doro will be able to accept her as a kind of equal, a partner whose longevity is capable of matching his own.

Mind of My Mind takes us into modern times, as Doro's century-long breeding programs are finally beginning to succeed, and genuine telepaths and others with psi talents are finally emerging, people who can control their powers, and use them to control others. Anyanwu, now calling herself Emma, is but a minor character in this story. One of these people emerges who has the ability to control the other psi folk, and to mold them into her own community in a much more direct fashion than even Doro has previously been able to manage.

Once again, her power becomes too great, and Doro is sorely tempted to put a stop to her by killing her. But by the time he finally decides to take action, she has a large community of fellow psi talents under her control, and can pull her power from their massed minds. Will Doro be able to master her, or will his centuries-old domination of humankind finally be broken?

The idea of psi powers has been a standard science fiction theme since the birth of the genre. To the non-science fiction reader, these ideas may seem bizarre, even grotesque. But what ultimately makes these books so readable is the skillful storytelling ability of the author. Octavia Butler is a master of her craft. Start one of these books, and I can almost guarantee you won't be able to put it down. Highly recommended.

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