Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Fledgling – review

Author: Octavia E. Butler

First published: 2005

Contains spoilers

The blurb: Shori is a mystery. Found alone in the woods, she appears to be a little black girl with traumatic amnesia and near fatal wounds. But Shori is a fifty-three-year-old vampire with a ravenous hunger for blood, the lost child of an ancient species of near-immortals who live in dark symbiosis with humanity. Genetically modified to be able to walk in daylight, Shori now becomes the target of a vast plot to destroy her and her kind. And in the final apocalyptic battle, her survival will depend on whether all humans are bigots—or all bigots are human…

The review: Blurbs, you’ve got to love them. Whilst there is undoubtedly a race aspect to this novel, indeed the book is an exploration of racial bigotry at heart, for the plot the last line, “whether all humans are bigots—or all bigots are human” is totally misleading.

The book centres on Shori who, at the beginning awakens broken, scarred and without memory. An unlucky animal (later revealed to be a human) finds her and is, over time, eaten – allowing her to heal. Eventually she stumbles through the woods, onto the highway and into the life of Wright Hamlin. He wants to take the little girl (he reckons her to be around 10 years old) to the police or hospital until she bites his hand. Suddenly taking her anywhere bar home seems wrong. This opening allows Butler to make us uncomfortable and push us off kilter as a reader. Wright realises that his feelings are wrong, even when he and Shori sleep together and we are uncomfortable with the suggestion. The fact that it is revealed that she is a fifty-three-year-old and such relationships with human lovers are quite normal in her society (she isn’t sexually mature in respect of mating with her own kind but is described as sexually mature in respects of sex for pleasure).

As the novel develops we discover that she is an Ina – a parallel species with humanity. They are the source of the vampire myth, their saliva can allow them to control humans and a single Ina will live in a symbiotic relationship with (no less than) seven symbionts as their humans are called. Shori, as a juvenile, lived with her mother in a female settlement as Ina live separately by gender, coming together to breed (the female saliva bonds the male Ina to them permanently as sexual partners). She discovers this when she finds her father but his encampment is also attacked. The attackers are human but they are controlled by Ina.

All of this orbits around the fact that Shori is the result of a genetic breeding programme by her family. They have introduced human DNA so that she has melanin (all the other Ina are blanche white, burn in sunlight and are comatose during the day – Shori can function during the day, is still very sensitive to sunlight but can stand some exposure and is black).

The book could be said to look at speciesism rather than racism (although the very jealous Wright displays racial discomfort when Shori chooses a black man, Joel, as a further symbiont) but in doing so Butler has allowed herself the ability to discuss racism. When I mentioned the blurb it was because the bigotry is within the Ina primarily, though they claim to be above such petty human intolerances. It explores the myth of racial purity and shows that Shori’s hybrid nature, her diversity if you like, is an evolutional advantage. All in all an interesting book that challenges bigotry – and underpins the fact that the vampire is a versatile figure when used allegorically. 7.5 out of 10.

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