Book Review: Seed Seeker – Pamela Sargent
Several hundred years ago, Ship, a sentient starship, settled humans on the planet Home before leaving to colonize other worlds, promising to return one day. Over time, the colony on Home divided into those who live in the original domed buildings of the colony, who maintain the library and technology of Ship, and those who live by the river, farming and hunting to survive. The Dome Dwellers consider themselves the protectors of “true humanity” and the River People “contaminated,” and the two sides interact solely through ritualized trade: food and goods from the River People in exchange for repairs and recharges by the Dome Dwellers.
Then a new light appears in the night sky. The River People believe it might be Ship, keeping its promise to return, but the Dome Dwellers, who have a radio to communicate with Ship, are silent. So Bian, a seventeen-year-old girl from a small village, travels upriver to learn what they know. As she travels through the colony of Home, gaining companions and gathering news, Bian ponders why the Dome Dwellers have said nothing. Has Ship commanded them to be silent, in preparation for some judgment on the River People? Or are the Dome Dwellers lying to Ship, turning Ship against their rivals?
Whatever the answer, life is about to change radically on both sides of the divide.
In some ways I feel somewhat under qualified to review this book. In others, I think my lack of qualifications might be a benefit to fair reviewing. I have never read Pamela Sargent’s work before, though I understand she developed quite the fan base with her book Earthseed and the one that follows that called Farseed. In one respect I’m not bias for/against the series like many fans may be. The good thing about Seed Seeker is that you don’t necessarally need to read the previous two books in the series to be caught up to speed on the story, which is unique enough that I was really excited when Tor sent me a copy of this book. Seed Seeker fairly stand-alone. Most of the characters are new, though Nuy does make an appearance from previous book (I learned this after doing some research).
The fairly stand-alone quality of this book is a huge benefit I picked up on right away. If I had read the previous books in the series I probably would have been more attuned to the world, the politics (as they were) and the plight of the characters both in (and out) of the Dome, though it is by no means necessary for enjoyment. By writing a sort of stand-alone but not quite stand-alone book Sargent’s book can appeal to quite a large audience.
This work is young adult, and it’s written in a way that will appeal to younger readers, while also retaining an adult fan base. Seed Seeker is, on the whole, a rather dark novel wrapped in an exploration/adventure tale and is also filled with enough angst and hope to satisfy any series fan. The dynamics between the civilizations are interesting and complex and I’m sure if I thought about it long enough I could pick out some deeper messages here. This, in truth, is where I felt I lost something by not reading the previous books in the series. While Sargent does a great job at catching the reader up to speed without any info dumps (which shocked and pleased me), I probably would have been more surprised/attached to the way the world ended up if I had read previous installments in this series. As it was, I found the social dynamics very interesting and believable for the story and world.
Sargent nicely blended fantasy and science fiction in Seed Seeker. While there was the somewhat science fiction technology, much of the world lives a fantasy sort of life where they rely on manual labor, simple music made from hand carved flutes for entertainment and candles for light at night (unless they trade for something more advanced). This created an interesting social schism and was also an important part of the book. Sargent also did a nice job at developing both societies so they had strengths and logical flaws. She played heavily on perception as well and thus, when the characters realized not everything was as they expected (on both sides of this schism) some interesting dynamics between characters begin and relationships, on the whole, shift.
While I felt that this book had many very good qualities, there were some things which did serve to hold it back. Seed Seekerwas incredibly character driven, but I felt that the world was more interesting than the characters I was reading about. Bian, who was one of the main characters, seemed very poorly developed. While I found her interesting, I never really felt like she was real. She seemed to lack a humanizing aspect that could have really made this book fantastic. And this is true, more or less, with many of the characters. While there is a decent sized cast in this book, there are only a few characters which ever seem to take the spotlight and it disappointed me that they weren’t more real. They all partook in interesting events and had lived interesting lives and had interesting histories but if you had changed Bian out for a guy named Sam, it wouldn’t have really impacted the story much.
Another thing that bothered me, which I’m not sure if I should mention or not, was the names. I have a feeling really odd names are Sargent’s trademark. While I realize that it can be important for authors, and readers, of new worlds, people and places to fill their books with unique names to give their world a more believable, well-rounded feel, there is a point where it gets to be a little too much. These names were just weird. I usually could care less about names and I think this might be the first time I’ve ever complained about a name in my life but man, did I have a hard time keeping them all straight. Plus, the names were so unisex and odd that I couldn’t even remember if, for example, Enli or Awan was a man or woman. The only real characters who had unique, but easy to follow names were characters that only appeared once or twice, like Mari. Can’t forget that one, or mistake it. Eventually I figured it out, but it did take some time and a bunch of flipping between pages to solidify the “okay, so Awan is a…” thoughts.
All in all, this book was an odd balance for me. The dynamics were interesting; the whole idea of a sentient asteroid type thing colonizing planets and promising to come back and visit the Seeds it left behind was fascinating. Not only that, but the I enjoyed how Sargent developed the societal schisms and how she handled many of the cultural divides which would inevitably take place over time. The ending was nicely done, a closer that will leave many series fans satisfied, though I wouldn’t be surprised if she touches on the “Seed” idea in other books/series in the future. While I did find the characterization to be the weakest part of the book, I think fans of Sargent’s previous work will be satisfied and well pleased. While I think this is a solid 3-3.5 star read, it has me interested enough in the previous books that I will probably read this trilogy from the start. I may end up liking this book more when I have a solid foundation with which to read it.
Editors Note: If you’d like to further discuss this book, feel free to hop into the forum discussion here!