Speed Reading

Last night I did something that’s very rare for me: I read a whole book in one evening. Specifically, I read Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed for my upcoming book discussion group. As I’ve said before, I’m quite a slow reader, usually plodding along at about 60 pages per hour, which means I can expect to spend about 7 hours going through a 400-page novel, the likes of which are common these days. Wild Seed is only about 280 pages, which means it would usually take me over 4 hours to get through it, but I finished it in about 3.

Okay, I did cheat a little bit, because I’ve read it before. I read the 4 in-print volumes in Butler’s Patternist series some years ago (I own a copy of the long-out-of-print volume, Survivor, but haven’t read it). For some reason I didn’t write reviews of the 4 books back when I read them. My recollection is that I thought they were okay but not terrific.

Which is pretty much what I thought of Wild Seed this time around: Okay but not terrific. The book concerns a pair of long-lived people, and their kin, who are all mutants with superhuman – mostly telepathic – powers. They actually seem very much similar to the comic book X-Men, only in this setting one of the long-lived characters, Doro, can jump between bodies (effectively killing any person whose body he inhabits), and is engaged in a long-term breeding program to create more people like himself. The title character, Anwanyu, is much younger, and is a shapeshifter and healer. The book is primarily about their relationship and the tension between them, as Doro expects everyone to bow to his will, while Anwanyu considers much of what Doro is doing to be abomination. The book has some powerful moments, but peters out at the end as the dramatic conclusion of their struggle is quite anticlimactic. (This is somewhat necessary as the book is a prequel to an already-existing series. But still.)

Anyway, although I did skim some of the more tedious bits (Butler often goes into a little discourse about the beckground of whatever new setting the characters are moving to, and then pretty much shoves all the background into, well, the background; there are also some less-than-illuminations digressions into the backstories of the two main characters), the book really was quite a quick read. I’m not really moved to re-read the rest of the series, although maybe I’ll tackle Survivor sometime soon to finish the arc.

Next up is Michael Swanwick’s The Iron Dragon’s Daughter. I’ve read a couple of stories recently in Asimov’s by Swanwick which I’ve enjoyed – especially “A Small Room in Koboldtown” – and I learned that they’re excerpts of his latest novel, The Dragons of Babel, which is a sequel to Daughter. So it seems like a good choice. What appealed to me about the stories is the setting: Traditional fantasy creatures (elves, goblins, trolls) whose world apparently continued developing beyond the medieval era and is now in an industrial age much like ours. A nifty idea.

I find Swanwick’s books to vary widely in quality. I liked The The Drift and Vacuum Flowers (both of which I reviewed here), but didn’t care much for either Stations of the Tide or Jack Faust. I’m hoping that these next books will be more like the former than the latter, even if I’m not generally a big fantasy fan.