My self imposed hiatus on Night Shade Books failed miserably this past weekend when I couldn’t resist their latest novel, Seed by Rob Ziegler. I was going to try to take a few weeks away from Night Shade to get at some of my rapidly overwhelming back catalog. While I did finish Diving Into the Wreck and started Midnight Riot and Shadow Prowler, they all fell to the side once I dug into Seed. Zeigler’s novel is as haunting as it is believable.
Much like Night Shade flag bearer The Wind-Up Girl (Bacigalupi), Seed is a near term science fiction novel that centers around the impacts of climate change and over population on the world’s environment. The Hugo Award winning Wind-Up Girl focused on Thailand, but hinted at the problems ongoing in America. In many ways Seed could be that story of America. That’s not to say it’s derivative of Bacigalupi, but there’s certainly similarities in tone and texture to the world playing to the current fears that Earth is reaching ‘critical mass’.
Seed is set at dawn of the 22nd century, the world has fallen apart and a new corporate power has emerged: Satori. More than just a corporation, Satori is an intelligent, living city in America’s heartland. She manufactures climate-resistant seed to feed humanity, and bio-engineers her own perfected castes of post-humans. What remains of the United States government now exists solely to distribute Satori product.
When a Satori Designer goes rogue, Agent Sienna Doss is tasked with bringing her in to break Satori’s stranglehold on seed production. In a race against genetically honed assassins, Doss’s best chance at success lies in an unlikely alliance with a gang of thugs and Brood – orphan, scavenger and small-time thief scraping by on the fringes of the wasteland – whose young brother may be the key to everything.
What struck me most about Seed is the poignancy. Right away Ziegler jumps into Brood’s nomadic life as he migrates from Mexico to the Mid-West with the imminent arrival of summer temperatures. With his special-needs brother, Brood lives just on the edge of survival. His imperative to protect crackles with emotion and his willingness to do anything to survive is heartbreaking. These threads continue into other parts of the story from the Satori lamenting the loss of their defective sibling to Agent Doss remembering her crippling childhood. Beyond the characters the world itself is bleak and desolate. Ziegler capably takes the small kindness of a drink of water and makes it a seminal moment of compassion.
Despite this being an ‘American’ novel Ziegler does a great job of integrating Hispanic culture into the pastoral fiber of the country. A pretty good amount of the dialogue is in Spanish often laced with Mexican slang. Elements of Hispanic culture are prevalent in the migrants and in many ways makes Seed not only a glimpse into the future of climate change and overpopulation, but a glimpse at the integration of culture on America’s horizon. Juxtaposing this is the Satori which is so disturbingly self-interested and antiseptic as to be reminiscent of William Gibson’s cyberpunk corporations.
Ziegler drops a pose in front a
My only real complaint stems from the lack of scientific underpinning to Satori. For a post-apocalyptic novel the science fiction felt very magical (not in the Arthur C. Clarke sense) in large part because Ziegler never takes the time to ground any of it in science. While he introduces the brains behind it all, they’re never given the opportunity to expound upon how or why it all works. In that sense the novel ‘reads’ more like a fantasy than science fiction, something I believe is becoming a trend in the post-apocalypse sub-genre. Instead, Seed never lets up in its pace, keeping a constant tension throughout that eschews any need for exposition.
As a narrative, Seed is a multi-view point third person novel that I believe stands alone and should continue to do so. Interestingly, I realized none of what I liked about it had much do with the actual prose. I didn’t find myself highlighting passages or even taking note of particularly nice turns of phrase. This isn’t a negative. Rather than flowery descriptions or particularly evocative metaphors, Seed compelled me forward with… wait for it… a great story. And a great story told well.
Seed is Rob Ziegler’s debut novel and another very good one from Night Shade’s 2011 crop of new authors. Reading this review it might seem that this is a slow and morose novel. It’s not at all. Woven in between scenes of migration and self-reflection is tons of action that culminates in a conclusion that’s both explosive and cathartic. This is one you don’t want to miss.