Friday, March 27, 2009

Book 34: Fledgling

Fledgling by Octavia Butler

Fledgling is Octavia Butler's approach to the vampire novel (I feel like I've read way too many vampire novels this year by the way). When the story begins, the narrator awakens alone and hurt in a cave with no memory of her life. She soon meets Wright, a man in his mid-twenties who helps her. She soon discovers her father, and discovers her name, Shoshi as well as more about herself. Although 53 years old, she is still a juvenile in the Ina (vampire) world, and looks like a 11 year old girl. Unlike most vampire legends, the Ina don't actually kill humans to survive, but instead live with a group of about 7 or 8 humans with whom they form a symbiotic relationship. Butler has explored symbiotic relationships in other novels, perhaps most notably the series that has been combined in the book Lilith's Brood. Wright will be the first of Shoshi's new dependents. She lives off his blood while he gains extra strength, health and longevity through his interactions with her. Shoshi also learns from her father that she is an experiment of sorts, and that her eldermothers (grandmothers, basically) combined Ina and human strains of DNA to create an Ina that would be able to function in the day. That is the reason she survived the assault on her mothers' community that caused her amnesia. Before she can learn much more, her father's community is also destroyed, and Shoshi must find other Ina who can be her allies.

Once Shoshi finds these allies, Shoshi sets the events in motion for an Ina trial. Butler uses this to explore more of Ina culture and ideas. Most of the Ina were excited about the success of the Shoshi experiment but there are those that view humans as less than they and hate the idea of the mixed DNA (since Ina and humans are different species they cannot reproduce but they can have sex; in addition to her seven or eight humans, Shoshi would eventually have an Ina husband(s) ). Additionally, all the other vampires in the area appear to be white (other Ina explain to her that there are Ina in all the world, including Africa so I don't know if they are black or not, but at least in the States, whiteness seems to be the norm), and some of them have very strong opinions about her blackness. Butler uses her science fiction to explore racial and gender issues without becoming overly preachy. In Lilith's Brood, for example, there were humans that decided to continue with their racial prejudices in a post-apocalyptic world when there were only tiny communities left. It just makes these people seem incredibly stupid but the fact is, Butler is correct that people will hold on to their ideas even when it hurts them.

As usual, as much as I enjoy Butler's ideas, the sex scenes were disturbing. They don't tend to be overly graphic, but in Lilith's Brood (I guess that series reminded me the most of this), there was interspecies coupling between odd looking aliens and humans. In this one, Shoshi has sex with Wright. Not a huge deal, except that Shoshi looks like an 11 year old girl, and is still considered a juvenile by her people though human/Ina interactions are very different (there is never a point when Shoshi is not in charge). So it's alright according to their customs but still very disturbing.

A lot of this book actually seems like set up, and since basically everything else I've read by Butler has been a series or at least had one sequel to it, it is definitely not hard to imagine that this was intended as the first of a few books. After all, we are told time and again, that Shoshi is still young and will be incredibly powerful once she is a full grown adult. Unfortunately, Butler died in 2006, so she never got around to turning this novel into a series. While she does set up places for potential sequels, the novel doesn't leave any huge unanswered questions so I wasn't frustrated with the way it ended or anything.

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