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Octavia E. Butler - Fledgling (2005)

Another beautiful book, first edition by Seven Stories again, crediting Butler with 14 books (which must be including separately published shorter works or collections) but naming only four. Published seven years after Parable of the Talents, (which it tells me won the Best Novel Nebula in 1999) and identified as "a novel". Brief blurb summarises plot, but leaves more for the reader to discover than some of the earlier lengthy synopses, and tells us that it "tests the limits of otherness and questions what it means to be human". Butler's last published novel.

First person female narrative, past tense, but this direct to the reader, without a framing journal. Shori, a fifty-three year old vampire, is the product of a genetic manipulation programme to enhance her ability to move around by daylight. But she has just woken up with no conscious memories at all and doesn't know who she is or why she is as she is. She acts on her instincts to survive and re-establish her identity.

Butler likes catastrophic adulthood rites, and here is another. It turns out that Shori-before-the-event was in fact still a child, and the events that have catapulted her into the story have also initiated premature adulthood. When she finds her family and her world again she can't just settle back into childhood and being looked after. She must be an adult actor, tackling the issues around those events head on with more than her own survival at stake.

Here is yet another take on ideas of family. This one is analytical rather than taking families for granted. The issues of identity and trust that confront Shori are important to most of us in various ways, and Butler shows how they weave themselves into a sense of self, and literally gives them their day in court to be examined.

A familiar false note is that this is another book where family is sufficient to itself and the story. Once again, the mechanisms of the state that normally impinge on people's daily lives do not trouble the characters, who can suffer or perpetrate the murder of family members and the destruction of property without attracting any interest from anybody interested in law enforcement.

The importance of touch and sex to the characters is familiar, but a new element is attention to the sense of smell. This is done well, but not as well developed as it could be.

This is a story supremely well told. This is superb science fiction for the twenty-first century.


I mentioned that this is an analytical book. One thing I have had to think about while reading Butler's work is whether I am reading myself and my own preoccupations disproportionately into the books. There is a risk I have been doing this, but this is the book where I had to stop on the way and think "is this me, or is this Butler?". I don't think it's me. I think this is a book in which Butler slows down to examine things she has previously taken somewhat for granted. I think the book gained from that, with the immediacy of action and emotion balanced by a somewhat reflective tone even in scenes of heightened emotion.

I wish this wasn't Butler's last novel. I wish we had more.


Caroline M

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