Nightshade Books, November 2011
Hardcover, 339 Pages
The world is a broken place, civilization is barely holding to its collective sanity as the US government has all but collapsed, and resources have nearly been tapped dry. Rob Ziegler’s debut novel, Seed, imagines this world with a great deal of believability. Like many bleak fictional futures, the line between industry and government is blurred and here, the industry in the form of bioengineering super-corporation Satori, wears the pants. The thing is, Satori is much more than just a super-corporation, it is a living breathing entity. The analogy that kept working for me as I read the novel is that the spiritual Mother Earth is alive and she isn’t thrilled. She creates bio-engineered humans as well as other seemingly familiar creatures which she can command to do her bidding.
The Earth Mother waking and a bleak, dystopic future aren’t new trappings of the genre, but Ziegler’s voice gives these elements a freshness. To this, he’s added a traveling band of nomadic Hispanic youths in the dustbowl-like plains focusing on Brood and his younger brother Pollo who is abducted early in the novel. The chaos continues when a designer once beholden to Satori goes her own way and the government, in the form of agent Sienna Doss, is charged with bringing her back in the hopes of the government regaining control of Satori, and therefore, the United States itself. Along the way, Ziegler brings these separate plot threads together, interweaving them with a skill that belies the fact that Seed is his first published novel.
The plot is fairly straight-forward, but Ziegler dresses it up with an immersive setting that is eerily plausible. While the specific details of how Satori works is not revealed in the novel, the fact that it exists as such a looming presence felt by the characters and the world at large lends a strong sense of believability to it.
As I read more of this novel, I kept thinking of another book/series to which I could easily place this as almost a precursor – David Louis Edelman’s Jump 225 trilogy. In the appendices of those great novels, Edelman imagines a vast timeline that includes multiple global collapses that led to the world as depicted in Infoquake and the subsequent novels. While Ziegler’s story is quite different in many ways from Edelman’s, to me it is almost a spiritual successor/precursor to those novels, and I thought Edelman’s novels were some of the best SF published in the last decade. Ziegler’s Seed is up to that promise.
The book itself is really a work of art, the cover by Cody Tilson is eye-catching and encapsulates the feel and theme of the book very well. To be balanced, though, at times I felt the narrative to be a little uneven. I know, that seems to be a criticism I use often, but some parts of the novel did not move along as swiftly as the others. Despite that, Seed is an impressive debut and one that hopefully, signals more wonderful things to come from Rob Ziegler’s imaginative voice. Nightshade has been one of the hottest publishers in 2011, thanks to the many impressive debut novels (i.e. books that have been generating positive discussion and buzz on teh intarwebs) over the course of the year. Though I haven’t read all of their debuts, but I can say if Seed is proof in the pudding of that aforementioned buzz of new voices, and Nightshade is fully deserving of the support and praise for these debut novels.
© 2011 Rob H. Bedford