Reconstruction 5.4 (Fall 2005)

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Butler, Octavia. Fledgling: A Novel. NY: Seven Stories Press, 2005. 352 pp. Hardcover. $24.95. ISBN: 1583226907

<1> For the last seven years I have been anxiously awaiting a new science fiction book from Octavia Butler. My first introduction to Butler was through the two novels Parable of the Sower (1994) and Parable of the Talents (1998). I had been a longtime reader of science fiction, but I was starting to become disillusioned with the field. The Parable novels revitalized my interest by demonstrating the futuristic vision of SF at its best. It was a bleak vision of the U.S. in decay and the rise of fascist, fundamentalist powers, but it was also a hopeful story, demonstrating how humanity can reach toward a better future, even when faced with desperate times and a cruel society. As the years have passed, these two novels have grown in importance because of their examination of fundamentalist ideologies in conflict with forward-looking, progressive visions. Through Lauren's road adventure after the destruction of her Southern California community and the start of the Acorn community the reader is faced with an important question: do we close in upon ourselves attacking anyone that is different, or, do we rethink our relationship to the world and learn the benefits of collaborative adaptation.

<2> I later came across a one volume collection of her "Xenogenesis" trilogy (Dawn [1987]; Adulthood Rites [1988]; Imago [1989]—collected as Lilith's Brood) which tells the story of a devastated earth with few survivors visited by a completely alien species that seeks to interbreed with humans in order to save them. The story of Lilith Iyapo's struggle to come to terms with the destruction of her world, the implications of the alien offer, and the changes in her descendents is riveting and moving. Butler was able to evoke a sense of horror and wonder through this story of humanity's interaction with a completely alien other, causing this reader to reflect on our difficulties with dealing with what we view as different.

<3> Octavia Butler's books express the necessity of our dealing with difference, yet they do not give us a rosy picture of a multicultural society that will be OK if we can just get along. Her fiction demonstrates that diversity requires the hard work of learning about, and acceptance of, what may at first be disturbing. We recognize, through these novels, our own difficulties in dealing with an increasingly mobile and diverse world, but they ask us to reflect on the necessity of building strong communities without shutting out those that think and act differently from ourselves.

<4> It should be no surprise then that I approached her newest novel Fledgling (2005) with high expectations. Fledgling is the story of Shori, a mysterious being who one day wakes in a cave bereft of memories and with an extreme hunger for blood. Revitalized by the flesh of someone who stumbles upon her, she emerges from the cavern with questions about who she is, what is her nature and why she was so seriously injured. Most importantly, she quickly recognizes that she is very different from the neighboring humans and this causes her to set on a journey of discovery into her difference. She soon discovers, with the aid of human allies, that she is not only different from humans, but she is also a genetic mutation in the race of vampires. This intentional mutation, the introduction of human melanin, effectively making her the first dark-skinned vampire, sets off an internecine war between the vampire families based upon a deep hatred of her difference.

<5> Once again, Butler explores the topic of racial difference as the basis of hatred, but this time she brings to the forefront of her book another important issue in American society, the wide variety and needs of human sexual appetites. Fledgling brings up important, topical issues of the hatred in our society for those that do not follow dominant dictates on what proper sexual relationships should consist of and what are the consequences for those that cross those boundaries.

<6> Butler, in this book, also plays with some of the founding vampire mythos and pushes them in new directions. Particularly important and unique is the portrayal of the symbiotic relationship between vampires and humans. What does it mean to drain resources with no concern for the well-being of those involved and what does it mean to actively care about those beings that are involved in helping you to survive, or even, thrive?

<7> This book, like many of her fictional characters, is something of a hybrid. It is not just a horror book. It incorporates questions of genetics and mutations and seeks scientific explanations for the creation of Shori. It is also a mystery? What is she? Why do people want to kill her? What is her reason for being? These questions grip the reader and you will find yourself quickly turning the pages to find the answers.

Michael Dean Benton

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