Book Talk: 'Fledgling' by Octavia Butler - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Book Talk: 'Fledgling' by Octavia Butler

Alexander Wallace is bitten.
Vampires. For about six or seven years during Twilight mania, the world was either enthralled or sick of them, depending on who you asked. Over a century after the publication of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, they have been a cultural touchstone; indeed, Stoker’s book injects them with a sensuality that Twilight gleefully milked for all it was worth. Many of its imitators were forgettable at best; indeed, that’s much of modern vampire fiction.

Today, we shall discuss an eminently memorable take on our favorite bloodsuckers (eat your hearts out, mosquitos): Octavia Butler's 2005 novel Fledgling, where the great science fiction writer tackles the vampire mythos. Butler is an author who had been, for far too long, neglected by the broader science fiction and fantasy community, until recent admirers have achieved prominence. Over the past few years, having read six of her books now, I am one of them.

Fledgling kicks off with your main character, initially nameless, finding herself without any memory of who she was, stranded in the burned husk of a neighborhood. From there, you learn how she interacts with humanity at large, and not too long afterwards how she is related to the vampires of the setting. From there, you are plunged headfirst into the parallel world that Butler has made, fashioned with all the care and rigor that her other books do.

In this regard, Fledgling reminds me of the sort of fantasy or science fiction that is written by writers who also dabble in alternate history; Mike Resnick’s Dragon America, wherein Resnick details dragons as if they were aliens in a hard science fiction novel. What Resnick does to dragons, Butler does to vampires. The most interesting example of this is how the vampires interact with their human entourage, called ‘symbiotes.’

When a vampire bites a human for their blood, as vampires are wont to do in a variety of universes, the human becomes a symbiote. They are now biologically inclined to obey the vampire, and feel pleasure in having their blood extracted. It is this dynamic, more than anything else, that makes Fledgling work, for it injects the well-trod premise with a detail that is usually neglected. It is also a sterling examination of free will, and what can truly be consented to when a person is under the influence of any number of substances.

Like everything else Butler wrote, Fledgling is a sterling example of how speculative literature can interrogate issues of morality. It is a story about parasitism and exploitation, and how the two are far more similar than many are willing to admit. Those who like that sort of moral exploration, or those just seeking a new vampire yarn, will be well-served no matter what.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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