I feel like Octavia Butler is not appreciated or read enough. I love her work. I loved Fledgling, I loved Lilith’s Brood, I loved Kindred – and now I loved Parable of the Sower. And this is so surprising because I’m really not into religious fiction, or fiction about religion of any kind. Religion is just not something I can securely wrap my head around.
Usually. But then there’s Octavia Butler and she writes about Lauren Oya Olamina, a young woman living in a futuristic suburb of Los Angeles, surrounded by a wall to keep poor people, addicts, and drug dealers out. While her father is a baptist minister, her own faith is one she is writing down herself. She feels like this religion, or faith, is presenting itself to her, that she is a medium to write it down and bring others to this fate.
Lauren has to leave her neighborhood behind when it is brutally destroyed by drug addicts and scavengers. With two of her former neighbors she takes to the road north where a better life can supposedly be found. The journey gives her the possibility to spread word of her new faith and find followers, find a new family.
Butler combines a compelling story about faith with the hardship and terrors a small group of people faces in a dystopian future. It’s a story about family but has distinct markings of a good horror story. Butler knows how to weave all these together. She’s a master story-teller with an inexhaustive imagination. If you haven’t read anything by her yet, you should feel like you missed out because Butler is one of the best – in science-fiction, in story-telling, in writing about heroines of color.
This is the third time I’ve read Fledgling. The first time, I read it for a class, the second time for the paper for same class and now I’ve read it for a kind of research I’m doing about different vampire-myths. And Fledgling has a lot to offer on that account because Butler invites the reader to share in a new myth that is not necessarily based on mythology but science.
Shori Matthews loses her memory. As she re-learns and understands the world around her, it becomes painfully obvious that she is not human. She is what humans would call a vampire, what her own people call ‘Ina.’ But as her story unfolds, the distinction between these two species of humanoids mght not be as clear-cut as it seems and there are certain people who would do anything to ensure that humans and Ina don’t mix.
Fledgling was Butler’s last novel, and she ventures more into the realm of fantasy than she has before. But even this novel is based more on science than on fantasy as she demystifies the vampire and pulls them into her scientific field of expertise. Vampirism is not a demonic possession in her novel, it is a medical condition, a blood-mutation that may have originated in outer space. It is a gripping tale with a lot of exposition about this very different vampire lore, their beliefs, their symbiosis with human beings.
It is also a tale about racism, as Butler’s novels usually are. Butler weaves Shori’s story around her difference, which is a genetic alteration that makes her able to walk in sunlight and that gives her dark skin. This is also the part of her that is human and this is a genetic experimentation some of her fellow-Ina cannot accept. Racism is very much a double-edged sword among this culture that is dependent on human blood but sees the human race as inferior – and racism as a foolishness of this inferior race. Butler uncovers some of the hypocricy behind racism in our culture through a culture that sees itself above such nonsense, as long as it doesn’t effect them directly.
Fledgling is a fascinating story, in part because we discover the Ina much like Shori does (and through her narrating voice), in part because the Ina are very different from the usual vampire myths but still related to them, but also because it’s simply a good story. It combines the mystical with the explainable and then adds a trial to the mix. It’s a fascinating read, certainly one of my favorite vampire novels.