Octavia Estelle Butler was an African-American author of science fiction who died in 2006. As a multiple recipient of both the Hugo and Nebula awards, she became (in 1995) the first science-fiction writer to receive a MacArthur Fellowship.

Despite this, adaptations of her work have not made it onto the small or big screen. Although her 1987 novel Dawn is being adapted into a television series by director Ava DuVernay and actor-filmmaker Victoria Mahoney, it has been several years since the announcement, with no further details, according to the website Book Riot.

Now Viola Davis and her JuVee Productions partner Julius Tennon are working on bringing Butler’s Wild Seed to life after the author’s estate handed over the rights.

According to Deadline.com, Kenyan director Wanuri Kahiu’s rising visibility was the incentive for the project finally going into production. “JuVee had pursued the rights to the book for over two years, but it wasn’t until they identified rising talent Kahiu, who was tipped to direct as well as write the pilot with her friend and colleague Okorafor, that the vision became clear on how to turn the beloved book into a TV show. With their idea for a TV series, and the Butler estate’s blessings, the project was taken to the marketplace, with multiple bids.”

Butler’s legacy

To understand the importance of this project, fans are encouraged to learn more about the author. Butler’s first published work was Crossover in the 1971 Clarion Workshop Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Anthology. She also sold the short story Child finder to Harlan Ellison for the anthology The Last Dangerous Visions. “I thought I was on my way as a writer,” Butler recalled in her short fiction collection Blood Child and Other Stories. “In fact, I had five more years of rejection slips and horrible little jobs ahead of me before I sold another word.”

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Then came her acclaimed Patternist series, which depicts the transformation of humanity into three genetic groups: the dominant Patternists, humans who have been bred with heightened telepathic powers and are bound to the Patternmaster via a psionic chain; their enemies the Clayarks, disease-mutated animal-like superhumans; and the Mutes, ordinary humans bonded to the Patternists.

Her first novel was Patternmaster (1976), followed by Mind of My Mind (1977), a prequel to Patternmaster set in the 20th century, and then Survivor, which was published in 1978.

After Survivor, Butler took a hiatus from the Patternist series to write what would become her best-selling novel, Kindred (1979), as well as the short story Near of Kin (1979).

Finally she wrote the fourth book in the Patternist series, Wild Seed, whose narrative became the series’ origin story. She then went on to publish Speech Sounds in 1983 and released the last book in the Patternmaster series, Clay’s Ark, in 1984.

Wild Seed

The story of the hour, Wild Seed is set in Africa and America during the 17th century. Wild Seed traces the struggle between the 4 000-year-old parapsychological vampire Doro and his “wild” child and bride, the 300-year-old shapeshifter and healer Anyanwu. Doro, who has bred psionic children for centuries, deceives Anyanwu into becoming one of his breeders, but she eventually escapes and uses her gifts to create communities that rival Doro’s. When Doro finally tracks her down, Anyanwu, tired by decades of escaping or fighting Doro, decides to commit suicide, forcing him to admit his need for her.

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According to Deadline.com, Viola Davis, who is one of the adaptation’s executive producers, said Butler’s book “shifted her life”.

“It is as epic, as game-changing, as moving and brilliant as any science fiction novel ever written,” she said in a statement. “Julius [Tennon] and I are proud to have this masterpiece in our hands. It fulfils our promise and legacy to be disrupters. Octavia Butler was a visionary and we look forward to honouring the scope of her work and sharing it with the world.”

Okorafor and Kahiu both cite the novel as their favourite Butler novel. “Wild Seed stays with you,” they said. “It’s a love/hate story of African immortals that connects people on the African continent to the Diaspora. It merges the mystical and the scientific seamlessly. You’re going to see shape-shifting, body-jumping, telepaths, people born with the ability to defy the laws of physics, all in the context of our past, present and future world.”

This is not their only exciting project ahead: Kahiu is set to direct The Thing About Jellyfish with Universal Studios while Okorafor’s novel Who Fears Death is being developed into an HBO series with Game of Thrones creator George RR Martin.