What do biotechnologies – both as a scientific project and as a preoccupation of science fiction – show us about our own (changing) definitions of what it means to be human?

Module 3: The supernatural
Wild Seed Reading guide (Part 2)

Please respond to the following questions as you work through the second week of lecture materials and reading in Module 3: Wild Seed Book II, Chapters 7-10 (pp. 145-212) and Book III, Chapters 11-Epilogue (pp. 215-297). The reading guide is due to the correct D2L Dropbox by
1. At first glance, it might seem like Wild Seed has very little in common with Frankenstein or Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. In about 3-4 sentences, explain at least one common theme you’ve noticed in all three novels.

Wild Seed: Books II and III
For this Reading guide, you’ll respond to more open-ended questions, which ask you to consider some of the larger issues at play in the novel. In your response, you should write at least 150 words and include one quotation that you find especially significant for each question.
Some questions adapted from Walter Beacham, Beacham’s Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction (1994-2005). Quoted in BookRags: Wild Seed Short Guide.
2. Wild Seed is science fiction. Yet, Butler read historical accounts and contemporary scholarship on West Africa, particularly Nigeria, and the slave trade to create an historically accurate background for her fiction. What do you think of her depiction of the history of slavery? Does it seem like an accurate portrayal of historical events and personal experiences, despite (or because of?) the fantastic story? Explain your answer.

3. Anyanwu is a shape-shifter. She can assume a male form; she even lives as male. What does her biologically male identity imply about the social meaning of gender?

4. Doro has the ability to “wear” another body. We know from the story that even though he seems to be of African origins, he has inhabited white skin and fathered white children. What does this imply about the social meaning of race?

5. Grief and loss play an important role for Anyanwu. How do these emotions differentiate Anyanwu from Doro? Why do you think these emotions are portrayed as central human experiences in Wild Seed?

6. How is the psi-species different from ordinary humans? What does this psi-species show us about what it means to be human?

7. Many commentators have noted that Butler is “obsessed with history.” Walton Beacham argues that in Butler’s work “[t]he future and the present are connected to the past – unbreakably linked to the past. The heroically long lives of her characters symbolize this, to make the reader see how the past and present are connected. Inevitably Butler’s stories, Wild Seed in a major way, confront the reader with the question of responsibility for the past – especially of the crimes that ancestors profited by and by whose criminal success the wealth we inherit in the present is made possible” (Beacham 7). Beacham then asks us to consider our own role: are we responsible for what has happened in the past? Guilty for actions we did not commit, even though we profit from those past crimes today? Should we attempt to right past wrongs? Can we even know precisely of what we are guilty?

8. Issues of race are still divisive in the United States today. The massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, is just the most recent example in an already violent history. Do some research on the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. What is its history? Why is it an important site in the history of slavery and civil rights? Don’t forget to cite your sources! How might Wild Seed give us another perspective through which to talk about the attack on June 17, 2015?

Visions of the Future: The Biotech Revolution
Although in many ways very different, Frankenstein, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and Wild Seed all challenge us to think about what it means to be human and what it means to create life. These are questions central to science fiction, in particular, and to literature, in general. But, as we have seen, these are also questions central to scientific research and scientific ethics. In this documentary, we’ll further explore the link between science, science fiction, and the human.
* If you’re not able to access the video, that’s okay. Instead, please do some research on biotechnologies, such as personalized medicine, genetic engineering, and regenerative medicine, to see what connections you find to the novel! *
9. What is biotech? What are some of its pros and cons for humans?

10. In Wild Seed, Doro is not interested in creating mechanical life, but rather in engineering a new human species. What connections do you find between his psi-species and emerging biotechnologies? What differences?

11. What do biotechnologies – both as a scientific project and as a preoccupation of science fiction – show us about our own (changing) definitions of what it means to be human? In 3-4 sentences each, identify and explain three connections you find between Wild Seed and the documentary (or your own research, if you can’t access the video).

12. What do you think about biotechnologies? Would you want to know your DNA profile? Why or why not? Explain your answer.

Prezi: Module 3 (Part 2)*
Respond to Freewrite #1 in about 150 words. Not sure what I’m talking about? Make sure you’ve worked through the Prezi for Module 3: The Supernatural!

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