Fledgling

Octavia E. Butler
Octavia E. Butler is one of the finest voices in fiction--period. . . . A master storyteller, Butler casts an unflinching eye on racism, sexism, poverty, and ignorance and lets the reader see the terror and beauty of human nature.-"The Washington Post Book World "Readers familiar with . . . "Parable of the Sower and "Bloodchild will recall that [Butler] never asks easy questions or settles for easy answers."-Gerald Jonas in "The New York Times "Fledgling, Octavia Butler's first new novel in seven years, is the story of an apparently young, amnesiac girl whose alarmingly unhuman needs and abilities lead her to a startling conclusion: She is in fact a genetically modified, 53-year-old vampire. Forced to discover what she can about her stolen former life, she must at the same time learn who wanted-and still wants-to destroy her and those she cares for and how she can save herself. "Fledgling is a captivating novel that tests the limits of "otherness" and questions what it means to be truly human. Octavia E. Butler is the author of 11 novels, including "Kindred, "Dawn, and "Parable of the Sower. Recipient of a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant, the Nebula Award, the Hugo Award, and numerous other literary awards, she has been acclaimed for her lean prose, strong protagonists, and social observations that range from the distant past to the far future.

Reviews

Reviewed: 2018-10-01

Absolutely loved this book. Octavia Butler is a genius, obviously, and I loved seeing her take on vampires. It's a really interesting take on the concept, and definitely shows some shared DNA with her Patternmaster novels. There are some of the same themes of community and domination as in the Patternmaster series, but with pointy teeth, and biting, and something that walks a line but doesn't quite cross into pedophilia. Shori looks like she's 10, and isn't fully sexually mature by vampire standards; and yet she is chronologically 53, with maturity and decision making skills to match her age instead of her body. After the first shock I was ok with it, but others may find such blatant sexuality in such a young body uncomfortable, and I would understand 100%. It's all up to personal opinions, and in this I truth Octavia. In any case, I loved this book, and if you want a different kind of vampire story, I recommend you check it out.

Reviewed: 2016-06-24
Like many others, my first experience of Octavia Butler's work was through Kindred, which I really enjoyed. Actually, with the exception of one tiny detail, I loved Kindred.

This... I did not love. I was definitely intrigued and curious, and throughout the first half of the book, I held out high hopes for this to eventually develop into the same kind of powerful, thought provoking book as Kindred. But it didn't. Instead, it just lost its way and stagnated...

This is the story of a girl who wakes up alone, hungry, and in pain, and who has no memory of who she is or how she came to be in her present state. She eventually finds food, help, and shelter, and begins piecing together her history.

I thought it was interesting to learn that she was a vampire and what that actually meant. Her brand of vampire is called "Ina", and exist in symbiotic relationships with humans. They are long lived, but not immortal, and have a venom that causes intense pleasure for the human, and also confers longer life, better healing, and immunity for most diseases. The downside is that it's addictive, and also causes their bodies to produce an excess of red blood cells, which, should their Ina ever stop feeding from them, would kill the human. Oh, and it also makes them susceptible to a sort of hypnosis... so the Ina can effectively mind-control their symbionts.

This is essentially a murder mystery/courtroom drama though. Our main character ended up lost and alone after her whole family had been murdered, and part of her quest is not only to figure out who SHE is, but who killed her people.

Lots of potential for really interesting stuff. Unfortunately, its around there that things just start going bad for me.

The reader has been with Shori since she first regained consciousness. We're in her head, learning everything again with her. We already know what she's gone through, at least since she's come to, but every new person or Ina that she meets gets a full recounting. And therefore so does the reader. There's no skipping over the details. There's no "Shori told her story again" line. Every time, we have to rehash the entire thing again.

And every question that she has about who the Ina are, how they live, why they live the way they do, etc... Every answer is an info-dump that sounds like it's being quoted directly from their About Us page on their website or something. Always the most relevant information, delivered in the most efficient way, as though it was pre-recorded and the correct prompts were given to result in playback.

And it was SO repetitive. The same history stuff, over and over. The same symbiont stuff, over and over. The same Ina stuff, over and over...

Filler and fluff. I have only read one other Butler book, but I expected more.

Worse than all of that, I never really felt a connection to Shori. I was intrigued by her and was curious... but I don't count that as the same thing. I was curious to find out what happened and why, but I never felt any sort of stress or emotional response from her losses - even when one of those losses was a person that we had met. It just never really felt REAL to me.

Possibly this is because of the way everything just felt distant. This book felt COLD to me. I never truly believed the bonding or relationships that were formed between the Ina and their symbionts. I actually felt what it could have been when Wright and Shori (or Renee as he called her then) were together before she found any other Ina. They relied on each other and had a connection that felt mutual, even though it was mainly Wright caring for Renee, and her feeding from/pleasuring him in return. But they talked, learned about each other, worked together to try to figure out who she was. She was interested in who he was. It felt like a real relationship. (You know, if one overlooks the fact that I thought he was like 40 and she was supposed to look like an 11 year old.)

But after they meet other Ina, and especially after Shori starts taking in other symbionts, it stopped feeling real. After that, even with Wright, it just felt forced and fake. We're told that symbionts form this intense connection with their Ina... but I never felt that. It was more like they were puppies. She liked them, and they were cute and fun, and she didn't want bad things to happen to them - but even when she lost one, I never felt the grief of that loss through Shori. She was angry that it happened, but I never thought that she was truly grieving.

Ehh... anyway. What I'm getting at is that, since I spent so much time in Shori's head and mind, being party to these connections as they formed, I should have been gutted when she lost someone who had become so important to her. Instead it felt like she had just flushed a goldfish or something. Upsetting, because that was one of her favorite goldfish, but that's all.

There's a lot more that I could nitpick about this one - the way that the Ina are supposed to be immune to racism, but clearly aren't, and also are more than OK with killing their own to prevent interbreeding, even if that interbreeding results in even more abilities and freedoms.
Or the nature of free-will or the lack thereof, and how that kind of power could be used as a tool, and in fact, was.
Or the nature of erotic feeding and why sex has to be involved... I would think that one could feel the pleasure of feeding without making it actively sexual - it actually just seemed like an excuse for polyamory.
Or the way that the Ina females actually are more powerful and are therefore in charge (they pray to the Goddess in their faith as well). This is all well and good, except that when a future mate of Shori's gets a little too close before she's ready, she turns him down for his own safety, so that his purity isn't tainted by her. Which just bothered me for a number of reasons. I know that their blood and scents will mingle, and then that announces that he's "off-limits" to other potential mates, but having just read The Purity Myth, it struck me as a role reversal just for role reversal's sake. We're used to females usually being treated as the weaker sex, as the ones who have to have their virtue protected, and in such a freely sexual society as this seemed to be (at least between the Ina and their symbionts, as well as symbionts with other symbionts or other humans, etc) that this was a strange distinction to make.
Or how the genetic engineering was actually done, and how, if Shori was half (or any portion human) how she seemed to be SO much more powerful than full grown Ina.

All of these little things had so much potential for exploration and a really interesting story, but they just kind of fizzled out. They were ideas left out to pasture - none were cultivated in any meaningful way.

I will definitely still read others of Butler's books, but this one was disappointing for me in the end. I really expected more and better.
Item Posts
@bridgebury
@bridgebury completed #fledgling... on 2018-09-28
@bridgebury
@bridgebury began #fledgling... on 2018-09-26
@andrewbingham09
@andrewbingham09 completed #fledgling... on 2013-12-24