Thursday, February 15, 2018

Fledgling

It's hard to believe FLEDGLING (2005), by Octavia Butler, is already over ten years old (thirteen, to be precise). Therefore, it falls into the time period for books I've been tacitly classifying as "older works," so it's eligible for discussion here. Also, it probably qualifies as "overlooked" within vampire fandom, because Butler is mainly known for SF, not fantasy or horror.

As one would expect from a distinguished science-fiction writer, this novel is an exciting, fresh approach to the motif of vampires as a naturally evolved species. Although the Ina, as they call themselves, have their own origin myths, they don't know for sure whether they came from another planet or evolved alongside humanity on Earth. They can't breed with Homo sapiens, but they depend on human "symbionts" not only for blood but for emotional connection. These vampires' venom is addictive, so that once bonded, their symbionts, of which each Ina has a household full to avoid draining any one individual, can't leave their Ina or even want to. In addition to the ravishing pleasure of donating blood and sometimes sharing sexual passion with the Ina, they also gain the advantage of improved healing and extension of their lifespans to a couple of centuries. Shori, the first-person narrator, looks like a child, even though she is really over fifty years old (still childhood for her species). At the beginning of the novel she has lost her memory after a brutal attack that destroyed her home and killed everyone in it except her, both Ina and human. A young man driving by picks her up and quickly becomes enthralled by her. Gradually she discovers her true nature, connects with other Ina clans, gathers a new group of symbionts, and searches for the murderers of her family. She discovers she is targeted for assassination because she's the product of a breeding experiment that added melanin to her genetic makeup (so she's dark-skinned rather than pale like her kin) through insertion of human DNA, in order to reduce her sensitivity to the sun. (Ina don't disintegrate or burst into flame in sunlight like movie vampires, and unlike any folklore or pre-NOSFERATU literary vampire. They're just terribly vulnerable to its damaging effects.) Most of her kind think this hybrid origin makes her an abomination. Thus the novel explores racism from an unusual angle, as well as delving into issues of power and sexuality.

In case you missed FLEDGLING upon its original publication, check it out.

Margaret L. Carter

Explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

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