Let me explain.
I am fortunate enough to work at a high school where the librarian is an amazing resource for little known gems. So when I requested “junk reading that a isn’t about a princess and isn’t about a long lost magical item,” Fledging emerged from the stacks. As a science fiction teacher, I love Octavia Butler and her wonderful brand of dystopia. I had expected a bit of the same in Fledgling, her only vampire novel.
That’s right. Vampire novel. Octavia Butler.
Fledging was Butler’s last novel and, if I’m being honest, her worst one. However, in the genius that was the Parable series, a vampire novel doesn’t really stand a chance. Arguably, Fledging is an exercise in writer’s block; Butler struggled with the curse for years before her unexpected death. I can completely comprehend Fledgling as a writing exercise or perhaps a way to re-invigorate her writing. If looking to read Fledging in admiration of Butler . . . just don’t.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable. Fledging is an English teacher’s “junk reading” dream: it’s better writing than most, easy enough to forget the inner literary critic, and a compelling story. As a vampire genre fan, Fledging is revolutionary re-do of the genre. I gave up the Anita Blake series for lack of the same reason I love this novel: instead of focusing on the sexual nature and compulsion of vampires in popular culture, Butler builds the cultural world of the Ina (vampires) as a stand-alone civilization beyond the history of humanity. There is sex but those episodes act more like cut-away scenes, unlike Anne Rice’s multiple page dedication to the romantic, lusty, or even aggressive sexual lives of humans and their vampires (or vampires and their humans). Fledging is almost a coming of age story: Shori, a 53 year old vampire, awakes from the complete devastation and massacre of her family with amnesia. Without any recollection of the conditions of her predicament, she must learn all over again the “Ina” (vampire) way, her own family history obliterated at the start of the novel. She searches and finds other Ina families in hopes of learning. This would be fine were Shori not an exercise in genetic modification.
It’s still Octavia Butler, after all.
Unlike other vampires, Shori can walk during the day. This is how the lens shifts from a sexy tale about blood-thirsty predators to radically different species living symbiotically with humans all while developing their own culture, complete with genetic modification mastery. No comparisons should be made to the movie Blade; this is not a story about the morality of vampires but rather the delicate way Shori navigates learning about Ina culture all while viewed as complete outsider to that inheritance. Any serious attempt at literary analysis would easily find reason to see allegory or ties to the “other” in literature. However, the beauty of this novel is how easy it is to forget that literary critic in my head. Instead, I reveled in the slow surprises and the depth at which Butler imagined Ina culture.
It’s not a good book but it’s a good read. Just be warned: she died before any sequel surfaced as more than just precursory notes. Who knows—maybe that might be good motivation for some very bad good fan fiction.
A. Heishman is an official Friend of the Blog (FoB) and a literature teacher and lover of science fiction. To avoid grading, she plays video games, keeps house for three cats, and occasionally reviews books. Her teaching blog is What’s Not on the Syllabus.
Interested in writing a guest review for Every Day Should Be Tuesday? You can reach me to pitch a review at everydayshouldbetuesday at gmail.com.