BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The United States has succumbed to climate change, and the country has become a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The government is a tool used to distribute aid, while Satori, a corporation and living entity, has plans of her own to survive and thrive in the new environment. When a designer escapes Satori, an agent is brought in to retrieve the post-human to help break the entity’s hold on the country.
PROS: Compelling; dark view of the future with some fantastic imagery and concepts.
CONS: Story is splintered and frustrating throughout.
BOTTOM LINE: A disappointing debut novel.
Early word on Rob Zeigler’s Seed was pretty positive: a post-global warming story from the same publisher that brought readers Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl and Will McIntosh’s Soft Apocalypse. The book had a lot of promise, and while it does present some interesting ideas throughout, it’s hampered by a chaotic and splintered story and characters that are hard to empathize with.
Taking place in the 22nd Century, climate change has taken root. It’s a post-oil world with hints of the post-apocalyptic west and biopunk where people will do anything to survive to the next day. Satori, a sort of living entity, city and corporation, has become a dominant power in the land, distributing climate-resistant seed to those in need around the country. The U.S. Government has been broken, and when a Satori designer escapes with plans of her own, Ex-Ranger Sienna Doss is sent out to bring her in, so that Satori’s hold on the people can be broken. All the while, Brood and his brother Pollo find themselves in the midst of a bigger threat.
All of the right pieces are here for an excellent story, and while there are points where Seed shines, I found this to be a difficult book to really enjoy. Part of this came down to the technical side: the three storylines that comprise the book’s plot felt very fragmented, often holding in place until the end of the story, when everything comes together. Moreover, it felt very much as though the world had been thought out, but with minor details — such as an abandoned army base loaded with supplies — coming in all too conveniently.
The biggest issue that I had with the story is that there felt like there was too little character depth and growth over the story. Of the three storylines, Brood’s came the closest as he tracks down his kidnapped, autistic brother, stumbling onto much bigger issues. Stories with multiple, intersecting storylines have made up some of the best books that I’ve read in the past couple of years: Ian McDonald’s Dervish House comes to mind, along with Bacigalupi’s aforementioned story. But it has to be done right, and reaching the end of Seed, I found myself thinking of the book as a story of Brood and Pollo with some extra stuff thrown in. Agent Doss’s part of the story feels far too forced; a character that’s just too over the top, with not nearly enough supporting work to make her believable or remotely interesting.
What worked the best in the novel largely came from Zeigler’s portrayal of a broken country. It’s hauntingly scary, bringing to mind some of the best post-apocalyptic imagery that I’ve come across to date. The story also does a great deal towards portraying a sort of biological post-humanity, with an interesting take on genetic engineering and the lengths that people will go to survive the troubles that face them.
Ultimately, I felt like this was a book that didn’t quite know what it wanted to be. There are equal parts military science fiction, post-apocalyptic biopunk message and anti-corporate/political story elements to it, and none are really given the chance to make the point that they could have made. Seed is a promising title, but one that doesn’t quite go the distance.