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Fledgling    by Octavia E. Butler order for
by Octavia E. Butler
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2007 (2005)
Hardcover, Softcover

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* * *   Reviewed by Alex Telander

In Fledgling, renowned science fiction author Octavia E. Butler - who sadly passed away last year - reinvents the idea of the vampire and their existence in history, putting her own original slant on it. While the book stands well on its own, one is left wanting more of this very original elaboration on an archetype.

The book opens with a very uncomfortable situation, told from the viewpoint of the main character, Shori, who has been horribly disfigured by some terrible accident. The reader learns she is a vampire as the character comes to realize this herself, feeding off another, and healing incredibly fast. Shori has forgotten everything about herself and her history, and with the reader, slowly rediscovers that she is a symbiont, someone who provides a regular blood source to the vampires known as Ina. The man she feeds from - brought under the power of Shori and the hypnotic venom in her bite - essentially falls in love with her and their relationship begins at full steam, even though Shori appears to be a ten-year-old black girl, and he's an adult. The reader is left feeling very uncomfortable about this Lolitaesque relationship.

Eventually, when Shori confronts the place of her accident and meets other Ina, the full story is revealed. It was believed that, along with her entire family of vampires and symbionts, she was killed in this terrible attack. The reason was that Shori was the result of a genetic experiment to make it possible for vampires to brave the sun. The result was successful, with Shori being able to travel during the day although she must remain fully covered and will suffer burns. Nevertheless, someone feels that Shori is an abomination and must be destroyed.

When members of this second group of Ina are killed with only two symbionts surviving, Shori flees to another Ina family in California where she finds further answers. When this group is then attacked - but due to Shori's preparation, thwarts the raid and captures three attackers - all answers are revealed. Behind the attacks are a large family in Los Angeles who have always hated the idea of meddling with the pure race of the Ina. These ancient Ina are angry, not so much at Shori for being black, but at her genetically engineered nature (mixing human and Ina genes); they no longer consider her Ina, no longer pure.

Then in a three-day ceremony that harkens back to every form of town government and religious ritual, a judicial gathering is convened with members of many families of Ina represented, while the complete family of those supposedly behind the killings is put on trial. The question becomes whether the jury will side with a small black girl who remembers nothing of her past and heritage, or with the proud and ancient Ina family who have helped so many.

Butler skillfully and subtly raises questions of race and genetic alteration: what it is to be human, or in this case Ina, how we as people see that, and what value we place on it. In a time when a cloned and/or genetically engineered human is not so much a future nightmare, but an issue we anticipate reading about in the newspapers every day, Fledgling certainly does its job to help those who are unsure on these matters make up their minds.

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