Thursday, October 29, 2015


Fledgling is a 2005 vampire novel by Octavia E. Butler. This was her last novel. She died in 2006 at the age of 58, having had a stroke which caused a fall resulting in fatal head injuries.

from the back of the book:
Shori is a mystery. Found alone in the woods, she appears to be a little black girl with traumatic amnesia and near-fatal wounds. But Shori is a fifty-three-year-old vampire with a ravenous hunger for blood, the lost child of an ancient species of near-immortals who live in dark symbiosis with humanity. Genetically modified to be able to walk in daylight, Shori now becomes the target of a vast plot to destroy her and her kind. And in the final apocalyptic battle, her survival will depend on whether all humans are bigots -or all bigots are human...
I'm troubled by the idea that sex with a child is ok under certain circumstances. In this case the body is a child's but the child is an older vampire. So we have a scene early in the book that unfolds like this, told from the child's point of view:
I sat on the bed. He started to pull the t-shirt over my head.

"No," I said, and he stopped and stood looking at me, waiting. "Let me see you." I pulled at his shirt and unbuttoned one of his buttons. "You've seen me."

He nodded, finished unbuttoning his shirt, and pulled his undershirt over his head.

His broad chest was covered with a mat of brown hair so thick that it was almost like fur, and I stroked it and felt him shiver.

He kicked off his shoes and stripped off his pants and underwear. There was a great deal more fur on him everywhere, and he was already erect and eager.

I had seen a man this way before. I could not remember who he had been, could not recall the specific face or body, but all of this was familiar and good to me. And I felt my own eagerness and growing excitement. I pulled the t-shirt over my head and let him push me back onto the bed, let him touch me while I petted and played with his fur and explored his body until, gasping, he caught my hands and held them. He covered me with his huge furry blanket of a body. He was so tall that he took care to hold himself up on his elbows so that my face was not crushed into his chest.

He was very careful at first, afraid of hurting me, still afraid that I might be too young for this, too small. Then, when it was clear that I was not being hurt at all, when I had wrapped my arms and legs around him, he forgot his fears, forgot everything. I forgot myself, too. I bit him again, just beneath his left nipple, and took a little more blood. He shouted and squeezed the breath from me. Then he collapsed on me. Empty, spent.[p. 22]
This is a man in his mid-20s, and the girl has been described as looking about ten or eleven and having no body hair at all. It turns out that she's actually 53 years old, but still a child in vampire years as she won't be of child-bearing age until she's 70. So, she's a child in every meaningful sense of the word. A little girl.

That the man is white, the child is black, and the child initiates the sexual activity does turn the power dynamic on its head, but still... I'm uncomfortable with anything that normalizes adults having sexual relationships with children. I'm sure this book makes for great discussion in groups exploring feminist issues, power structures, and racism; but I had to get past what I felt was a definite ick factor to move through it.

Strange Horizons explores some flaws but concludes, "it's a fine example of Butler's work, full of thoughtful studies of different social structures, human dynamics, and our own biases and expectations." Infinity Plus says, "As a stand-alone novel, it would be a good introduction to her other work for those who have not read her already."

BoingBoing says, "Butler's novels earned her the MacArthur "genius" award, and it was well-deserved. Few writers in our field are so good at blending potato-chip page-turners with nutritious philosophical questions so seamlessly." Kirkus Reviews closes by calling it "A finely crafted character study, a parable about race and an exciting family saga. Exquisitely moving fiction."

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