Review of Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler

Why I Chose this Book

Relatively recently, I realized or admitted that I think science fiction and fantasy maybe some of my favorite genres, for both film and books. A few months ago, I finally started watching the show Game of Thrones and binge watched it as much as I could. It really is a good show. For anyone unaware, the show is a fantasy show based on a fantasy novel series by George R.R. Martin. You know, one thing I’ve come to learn is that many fantasy novels are based on medieval European lore. This trend has been attributed to the popularity of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books.

Because “traditional” fantasy novels are based on medieval European lore, they are very Eurocentric and leave little space for characters of color, which is fine. It’s not a problem to have fantasy novels based in this time period, but the problem is there seems to be a dearth of epic fantasy novels based on any other place or time period. In addition, for several years now, some of the top grossing movies have been adapted from sci-fi and fantasy novels. When people of color’s written stories are not told or ignored, the film industry (American) becomes almost exclusively Eurocentric. That means people of color are potentially missing out financially, but they are also missing out on intangible benefits such as having positive images represented in front of a large audience.

There’s a saying that I heard from Michael Imhotep, founder of The African History Network and host of the African History Network Show

 “What you do for yourself, what you do to yourself, and what you allow other people to do to you is based upon what you think about yourself.

What you think about yourself is based upon what you have been taught about yourself.

What you have been taught about yourself is based upon everything you have read, heard, or seen about yourself.

When you control the radius of a man’s thoughts, you control the circumferences of his actions, because the mind cannot do or teach what it does not know.” – Michael Imhotep

What others believe about you is also based on the images and stories they have seen and heard about you. This manifests both consciously and subconsciously, the latter being very difficult for many to accept, though research indicates it does exist. The movie Black Panther will be the first film with a majority African American/black sci-fi/fantasy cast, in America in at least, something like 50 or 60 years! There have been many sci-fi/fantasy films during this time, but the films have had majority “white” casts.

Even if you think about the sci-fi/fantasy movies in which there were black leads such as Star Wars: The Force Awakens (John Boyega) or Marvel’s Blade series (Wesley Snipes) or I Am Legend (Will Smith) or Independence Day (Will Smith) or Hancock (Will Smith) or Men In Black (Will Smith), they’re still singular black characters surrounded by “white” casts. Again, not a problem by itself, but where are the opposites? What type of message does that send subconsciously? We need diverse films. That’s just the situation with “black” people. What about other ethnicities? How about gender?

Anyway, long story short, I’ve been interested in learning of “black” sci-fi and fantasy authors, especially those that tell stories of “black” characters. Octavia Butler is probably the most famous and renowned “black” sci-fi author. During my last visit to overdrive.com, I decided to look for one of her audiobooks. There was one, Fledgling.

Fledgling

A young girl wakes up in a cave with scars on her body and no memory of what has happened to her. All she knows is she is hungry. Consumed by her hunger, she devours an animal that happens to stumble upon her. As she regains her strength, the young naked girl hunts for food in the forest and eventually finds a burned down house. Who used to be the inhabitants? Is she tied to this house? Throughout the rest of the novel, the young girl learns what has happened to her and uncovers something much bigger.

Spoilers ahead.

We come to learn that our young mystery girl, Shori, is a vampire. She and her kin are not the typical vampires seen in movies and popular folklore. They do live long lives, but not forever. They do drink blood, but sucking blood from a human does not turn him into a vampire. They multiply by mating and bearing children. They are not harmed by holy water, or crosses, or garlic, but they can’t live in the light. In fact, they become completely unconscious during the daytime. This is why Shori is important. She is the result of a genetic experiment with a black human to make a vampire that can survive during the day time. Shori’s darker complexion allows her to walk in the sunlight and remain conscious during the daytime.

The vampires who call themselves, Ina, are not sure where they came from, but many believe that they evolved on Earth as humans did and are in fact cousins to humans like chimps. Some of the young Ina, though, believe that they come from some other planet. It’s not clear what their true origin is, nor do we find out.

I think the evolutionary theory is interesting. Evolutionarily, all humans are descendants of dark skinned “black” humans from Africa. That dark skin was an adaptation to protect their skin from harmful UV rays. Technically, you would think that if the Ina evolved on Earth as humans did, they would have naturally evolved dark skin as a protective adaptation. They could have originally evolved somewhere with little sunlight and recently migrated out of that area. This would have happened recently enough that they wouldn’t have had time to evolve to have darker skin naturally yet. Maybe they were originally cave-dwelling people. There would be little sunlight and there would also be cave-dwelling animals for them to have evolved the appetite for blood. Not essential to the story, but I thought it was interesting.

Early on, Shori runs into a young man named Wright. Looking to help her, the man notes that the girl appears to be about 10-11 years old. He offers to get her help. Previously, the young girl learned that eating deer and drinking their blood helped her feel better and heal. Something about this man attracts her to suck his blood. She does so and the man finds that being bitten and having his blood sucked is pleasurable. Once this has happened, he became hooked.

The act of sucking someone’s blood is described as being the best feeling in the world. It clearly has sexual overtones. An Ina individual will have several individuals, symbionts, whom they draw blood from, which provides a look at polyamorous relationships. The fact that Shori has the appearance of a ten-year-old girl, though being much older, and was having sexual and semi-sexual relationships with adult men and women did bother me during much of the book. Eventually, I think I was over halfway through the book when it started to bother me less.

Before either Shori or Wright knew her actual age, the two had sex. The fact that this relationship seems strange was mentioned though in the book. I wonder why put this in the book? Maybe having the protagonist be a child would further gird the opposition she faces later in the book? I don’t know. For this fact alone I thought that this book could never be faithfully adapted into a movie. I hoped we would learn more about the relationship between Wright and Shori. Shori seemed to have an initial attraction to Wright that she didn’t have with her other symbionts. Unfortunately, we never received an explanation. They seemed to be falling for one another too fast. It’s possible the symbiotic bond created between the two enhanced their attraction to each other, but the explanation is not clear. Maybe it was going to be explained in sequels that this story seemed to set up, but this is the only book in that world.

Later in the book, we see that some of the Ina hold prejudices against Shori, some of them are because of her skin, but mostly because she is part human and not “pure” Ina. The use of having Shori’s dark skin be used as a way to advance the vampire race seemed so logical it made me wonder why it isn’t used more often. Granted, I haven’t read too many vampire novels, but that should be a thing right? Then again, race can be a touchy subject, especially in America, so a safe thing for an author to do would be to just avoid it altogether. Right?

One thing about this story though is that Shori is, again, a singular black person in a “white” space. Her blackness has to be explained. Her existence in this world has to be justified. Yeah, that’s the point of the book. Again, this isn’t bad, but this story does fall into that subgenre “Singular Black Person in ‘White’ World”, which is an official genre, right? Anyway, the book did appear to be setting up a world for a longer story. It appears, though, that this book is it, unfortunately, because this book was good and I would read more about this world.

Narration

This book was narrated by Tracy Leigh and produced by Blackstone Audio. Narration and production were good.

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2 thoughts on “Review of Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler

  1. I read somewhere that J.R. Tolkien’s writings were based off of South African myth/folklore. Exactly how, who, what, when, why would require fun research. Just my two cents!

    Liked by 1 person

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