Wild Seed was the fourth of the five novels in Octavia Butler’s “Patternist” series; chronologically, however, it takes place first. The series focuses on a race of physically linked superhumans, begun by Doro many years before Wild Seed takes place and continuing into the 1970’s—in the novel Mind of My Mind (1977), in which Doro is killed by his own daughter—and on to the far future—depicted in Patternmaster (1976). Survivor (1978) and Clay’s Ark (1984) deal with groups and events extrapolated from the future world of Patternmaster.

A primary theme in Wild Seed, and all Butler’s novels, is the inevitability of power struggles between individuals and cultures. Through characters such as Doro and Anyanwu, she examines the struggles between destructive and constructive forces, as Doro seeks to build an empire and Anyanwu seeks to build places of safety and freedom. Although Wild Seed does not lend itself to easy moralizing, the novel encourages thought about the uses and abuses of power.

Butler writes science fiction and fantasy exclusively. These are richly metaphoric genres, meaning that ideas expressed in such fiction may offer commentary on the world outside the text from an imaginative distance. Although it is often described as predictive or extrapolative (imagining the future based on current trends or events), Butler’s fiction is firmly grounded in human history and experience, and it tells about the world in which the novel was written through the critical distance of fantasy figures and situations, such as the conflict of immortal superhumans seen in Wild Seed. Butler relies on fantastic rather than realistic characters and situations to encourage her readers to think in...

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