Monday, November 05, 2007

Literary Monday 1: Fledgling, by Octavia Butler

I was all set to write about Phantom, by Susan Kay. Dan gave me his copy of this book before I went to Glenwood Springs last week because I needed something to read, so I figured I'd review it in my first literary blop. However, while it was pretty good (for what it was) and certainly could warrant being written about, on Saturday I happened to pick up a book a friend had given me this past spring. It was a fantastic read and it's far fresher in my mind, so instead you're going to get to read about why it sucks so much that Octavia Butler died.

Octavia Butler was very unusual in her own way: she was a successful science fiction/fantasy writer. And she was a woman. And she was black. Her fiction tended to explore themes of race and family, even within the science fiction/fantasy genre. I read a few of her books several years ago and didn't realize she had a new one until my friend gave me her copy after she finished it. Fledgling languished in a pile until Saturday, when I wanted something new to read and decided that whoever wrote the copy on the back page was kind of an idiot (seriously, have you ever read back page copy that made you want to read the book? or that made sense after you'd finished the story?). I am so glad I did, because boy this book did not disappoint me.

The story is nominally about vampires, or, really, beings that are vampire-like in nature but not your traditional no-reflection, allergic-to-crosses vampires from lore. It reminded me some of the Anne Rice Taltos stories, but it was far more interesting and less melodramatic (plus, it's Octavia Butler, not Anne Rice.) There are some very interesting themes throughout, particularly surrounding bigotry and community (and also, it's very sexy without being porn). The main character is an immature Ina female who wakes up with complete amnesia after suffering a brutal attack. She doesn't know who or what she is, but slowly she figures it out and manages to get herself back to her community and relearn her cultural heritage and who and what she is. Her skin is dark, unlike that of the other Ina, and it turns out she's the result of a genetic experiment between Ina and human DNA - so she's the only Ina able to be awake in daylight and can be in the sun without burning for short periods of time. She develops relationships with humans and other Ina, and has to figure out who attacked her and her family and why. There's a good amount of exploration of personal relationships, a concept of symbiosis, and a well-plotted story that kept me reading for a few hours on Sunday, so I finished the book.

The best part was that it left me wanting more without feeling like I hadn't gotten enough. It did seem like she'd left herself room to do a sequel if she wanted to, and when I finished the book I eagerly turned to the front pages to see if she'd written one. Then I noticed the publication date (2005). Then I remembered that Octavia Butler died in 2006. No sequel. Drat. But if you're in the mood for good writing, good characterization, and some actual new twists on the old vampire mythology, check out Octavia Butler's Fledgling.


Lovebabz said...

I am a huge Octavia Butler fan! My personal favorite is Parable of the Sower. I read it many years ago and as I look back at this book, I can see a lot of the things she wrote about beginning to show up. Science Fiction is quirky like that you can alwyas see connections, sort of like psychics.

I found you on NabloPoMo.

Red said...

I've never heard of her, but I'll have to look for her books next time I'm at the bookstore. Thanks for the review.