“(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)
Whenever I think of the term "cyberpunk," easily my favorite literary genre back in the '80s when I was a teenager, I think of a very specific combination of qualities -- four or five different storylines that all merge into one at the climax, set in a day-after-tomorrow dystopia, one where the dizzying sci-fi inventions of Mid-Century Modernism have been turned on their heads, so that what the author is really exploring is the ways that cutting-edge tech has trickled down in a corrupted and heavily modded form to the street level of the lumpen proletariat, with the story's style and characters heavily influenced by the underground culture of its times (so in the case of classic '80s cyberpunk, for example, American and British punk music, which is how the genre got its name in the first place). And all of these things can be said about Rob Ziegler's contemporary Seed as well, a superlative cyberpunk novel but one you might not even recognize as such at first; for instead of revolving around pale computer hackers in London, Seed's heroes move among the decidedly sweatier circles of Mexican skaters in the American Southwest, and instead of being obsessed with virtual reality, this book deals with the much messier proposition of intelligent wetware and the coming agricultural apocalypse. Set in a world dealing with an unnamed past catastrophe where normal plants can no longer grow properly, the plot in general is fueled by the conceit that one private company eventually became the sole saviors of the entire American populace, by being the first to create an artificial intelligence that not only could genetically engineer seeds that would grow in this post-apocalyptic environment, but also literal living buildings made out of biological skin and bone, maintained by a small army of sub-intelligent clones who all operate under a hive-mind system. The various small storylines we follow throughout the book, then, all deal in one way or another with this central conceit -- there are the scrappy Latino brothers trying to survive in an anarchic, gray-market society, there is the "manager clone" who is thinking of defecting from the company (and taking all its confidential intellectual property with it), there is the disgraced military commander who has been ordered by a now cuckolded White House to go find this runaway clone, and on and on in this vein, each of them giving us a small specific look at this grandly epic universe Ziegler has built up step by step.
Now, just to be clear, like most genre novels Seed is filled with things that will drive non-fans of that genre a little crazy -- the dialogue can be a little stilted at times, some of the characters a bit too corny, and of course you need to be into bizarre science-fictional concepts in the first place to enjoy it at all -- and let's also be clear that even SF fans that aren't necessarily into cyberpunk will find some faults with this too, a book that can sometimes fixate too much on the action sequences rather than the "big picture" topics being discussed. But if like me you are a fan of early William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, Charles Stross and other established cyberpunk authors, you will find this an incredibly satisfying read, nearly perfect at hitting all the beats that a story like this needs, while maintaining a fast pace and constantly offering up unique little speculative nuggets for your brain to chew on for a while. (I especially loved the reveal of who exactly is behind all these sinister goings-on at this shadowy company, but for the sake of spoilers I will leave that a surprise.) A book only for a niche audience, but a niche audience who will passionately love it for what it is, Seed will almost certainly be making CCLaP's best-of lists at the end of the year, and it comes strongly recommended to those who think in advance that they might be interested in it.
Out of 10: 8.9, or 9.9 for cyberpunk fans”
“Steady, engrossing plot with well developed characters and a rich ecopocalyptic world. Not a bad debut at all. ”Jack R wrote this review Monday, November 26, 2012. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“I'm reading this one at my work when I'm on break and lunch.”Granville Pullen wrote this review Thursday, September 13, 2012. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“For a first novel, this was pretty good, although it took a long time to come together, and too many characters seemed important and then were killed off casually. The most annoying thing was that there were many homonym-type spelling errors breaks vs brakes, wretch vs retch, you're vs your, etc which to me is a sign of careless editing.”Gevera Bert P wrote this review Thursday, June 21, 2012. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Took a while to sink my teeth into. The extreme genetic engineering although plausible to go in the extreme the method in which it manifested itself seemed far fetched. I did like the vein of the book. Ziegler seems to be in the same camp as Bacigalupi so he seems to be keeping good company.”John B wrote this review Monday, May 21, 2012. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“I absolutely refuse to read anything anymore that does not absolutely enthrall me (unless I have to). This is tolerable and has a good premise, but I am not into reading merely to consume "tolerable" literature. I only want to spend my time on the best. This does not qualify. On to try something else (after deciding to abandon it on about page 130).”Philip McIntosh wrote this review Saturday, April 21, 2012. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“If there's something that we definitely need more of as a sub-genre in adult sci-fi these days, it's biopunk. "Seed" delivers it, and delivers it hard with a delicious side of dystopian almost-post-America. "Seed" is intensely creepy while being both surrealistic and incredibly realistic at the same time. If you're looking for something new in sci-fi to wet your whistle, this is it.
The realism of a broken America complete with the breakdown of the central government, FEMA somewhat in charge (and obviously failing the people), while admitting that it's only in control to "distribute (Satori's) seed" to the newly-migratory American people was like a punch to the gut. It's so very disturbingly possible, and with Ziegler's brief, punchy style it kind of hits each point home without wasting words or energy. It really feels like Katrina one hundred times worse in terms of politics and tragedy, and it makes you ring hollow inside with how awful it is. At least, that's what it did to me. That's definitely a sign of awesome writing, if ever there was one.
All of America is now at the mercy of Satori, a bioagra-genetics company started by four guys (who picked the name "Satori" not because they're Japanese but because it sounded good to consumers), who create Designers, post-humans who create more post-humans to keep up the Satori empire (by creating weather-resistant plant seeds, hence the title), Designing more and more to keep it alive. In particular, it is mainly the journey of post-human Designer Sumedha (and to a lesser part, his sister/wife) to make sure the empire of Satori survives, no matter what. It is the journey through his grief and madness when his sister/wife defects, trying to "Connect" with other siblings, only to find despair at not being able to match up with them as perfectly as he did his twin. And on America's side, it is the joint journey of Agent Doss and migrant ex-La Chupecabra gang member, Brood, and how they meet in order to stop the spread of Satori and try to get America back up and running again in terms of being able to feed its own people. All of these characters finally meet in the end, and it's extremely explosive. It will leaving you thinking hard about how our environment and government are starting to break down now - and all of the what-ifs that may happen in the future. I definitely had a deep period of reflection about all of this because it shook me so much.
There are four main POVs (all written in 3rd-close), so the book is a bit hard to keep track of at first, but once things really start getting going around 1/4th of the way in, it's quite easy to track who is who and where is where, what is what. I found the descriptions of the living empire of Satori extremely creepy, but it was well worth it. I haven't seen a more creative use of biopunk in a very long time. It's one of those really neglected but awesome sub-genres that desperately needs new blood pumped into it (much like steampunk got that boost a few years ago). This version of a broken America that's not even a century in the future is just so eerily possible that I did have nightmares about it after completing the book, and about the Designer's creatures (especially the Advocates) chasing me in them.
The way Ziegler put together all of these sub-genres really worked. Biopunk and dystopia put together is usually a win-win scenario, but when you put current real politics into it, it gets even better. I just really enjoyed this read, even if it scared the hell out of me. So go ahead and give this one a try, guys. Biopunk needs some more love. Won't you feed it?
(posted to goodreads, shelfari, and witchoftheatregoing.wordpress.com)”