Octavia E. Butler
Seven Stories Press ($24.95)

by Shannon Gibney

Octavia E. Butler's Fledgling offers a new vision of the Other, one which is grounded as firmly in biology as it is in technological experimentation. In this sense, Butler's fourteenth book covers similar ground as her acclaimed book Dawn and her Parable series, but in exploring the theme of an amnesiac genetically modified vampire, Fledgling is thoroughly new territory.

Fledgling is the story of Shori, a young vampire who awakens at the beginning of the book to find herself half-dead and surrounded by the charred remnants of what used to be her home. Blind with hunger but still not remembering who or what she is, Shori stumbles upon Wright Hamlin, a human who she feeds on and who later becomes the first in her new group of "symbionts." Shori eventually mates with other human symbionts, whose blood she feeds on and who, over time, grow addicted to her venom (which in turn, prolongs their lives and makes them healthier).

Shori and Wright begin a journey to uncover her story and also to find any family who may have survived what they learn was a vicious attack on her community. Along the way, they discover that Shori is part of a new race of vampires who have been crossed with African Americans in order to prolong their resistance to sunlight. The race is called the Ina, and Shori is the only living female Ina in her family. Someone, Shori and her ever-growing group of symbionts discover, is threatened by the existence of daylight-immune vampires and is trying to wipe them out.

Although Fledgling takes awhile to get going, the tenacious reader will be rewarded with an interesting Ina trial at the end. These scenes, as well as Shori's interactions with her symbionts, reveal the tenuous relationship between evolution and regression, power-sharing and power-holding, insider and outsider status—all themes which Butler has been exploring for some time. Less interesting are the frequent and rather bland descriptions of food, and the novel's less-than-tension-filled plotline.

But hardcore Butler fans who are addicted to her unique blend of speculative fiction, feminism, and African American culture will not be disappointed with Fledgling. The book delivers the reader into a world that refuses to be predictable and comfortable, a world where your most basic assumptions are inverted, and eventually, dissolved.

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Rain Taxi Online Edition, Winter 2005/2006 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2005/2006