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by Octavia Butler

(Warner Books, 320 pages, paperback, this edition January 2007; ISBN: 0446696161.)

Review by Jason Prince

cover scanThis is the last book Octavia Butler wrote before her untimely death in 2006, so reviewing this is tinged with sadness as it marks the end of one of SF's great writers.

On the face of it, Fledgling seems a departure from her previous books, being a story about vampires and their human 'donors'. However there is nothing supernatural about these vampires, and Fledgling shares many of the same themes she has explored before, such as racism, alienation, and secret societies operating behind the scenes.

The plot concerns a female vampire, Shori, who loses her memory after an attack on her homestead by persons unknown, killing her family in the process. There is nothing supernatural about these vampires, the Ina, and Butler creates a credible scientific rationale for vampire mythology and their survival in the modern world.

The main impetus for the book is how Shori discovers what happened to her and her family and who was responsible. Along the way, many recent themes from vampire stories, such as day-walking vampires and competing vampire clans, are mixed with themes more familiar in Butler's work to produce a unique take on the vampire novel which ends in a confrontation in court between the main protagonists.

There are shades of Butler's Patternmaster and Xenogenesis novels in how the 'Other' relates to normal humanity (whether they are psychics, aliens, or vampires), and how any relationship imposes both opportunities and obligations, on all sides.

One of Butler's strengths as a writer was to view an issue from all points of view, sometimes with uncomfortable results for all concerned. She wasn't afraid to shy away from a hard-headed analysis of the implications of a symbiosis between the Ina and humanity, and how these wider influences affect individuals.

She wasn't a prolific writer which is a great pity, as I think SF needs more books of this quality, and certainly Fledgling is up there with her earlier novels.

As a stand-alone novel, it would be a good introduction to her other work for those who have not read her already. Those who have will miss her.

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