Tuesday, August 07, 2012


When we were in Seattle last year, I kept seeing Octavia Bulter books everywhere - I'd never heard of her before but it was pretty clear she was the patron saint writer in Seattle.  I asked for a recommendation and a bookseller told me: Fledgling.  My To-Read pile is pretty big so I only got around to reading it a year later - well worth the wait! I definitely intend to read more by this great Seattle writer.

I don't like reading back covers of novels, so I didn't quite realize what this was about.  One time I recommended to my book club that we read Fledgling and my friend said, "Isn't that about a vampire?" with more than a little distain.  I said, "Oh, no, I don't think so..." but walked over to my book shelf and briefly peeked at the back cover, enough to see "...Shori is a fifty-three-year-old vampire with a ravenous hunger for blood..." Whaaaaaaaa?

Anyway, it is indeed about this young woman, Shori, who, it turns out, is a vampire.  At the beginning of the book, she has amnesia and doesn't realize what she is - she has to teach herself or try to learn from others her unique culture.  Shori quickly starts a relationship with this handsome guy, Wright, whose blood she also drinks.  She has very dark skin and comes from a line of scientific vampires.
Some of us have tried for centuries to find ways to be less vulnerable during the day. Shori is our latest and most successful effort in that direction. She's also, through genetic engineering, part human. We were experimenting with genetic engineering well before humanity learned to d o it - before they even learned that it was possible.
What's pretty weird is that this book has actually quite a lot in common with Twilight.  Both were published in 2005, and both have super-smart, attractive vampires that live for a long time and have irresistible, insatiable relationships with plain-old humans. Most of the vampires a "good" - they don't kill their blood sources but rather have a symbiotic relationship. Both take place in the Pacific Northwest, and, get this... both have a lot of SITTING ON LAPS!  Is that a thing?

However, where Meyer's Twilight is insipid (if not deliciously addictive) nonsense, Fledgling is a vehicle for larger themes surrounding race and femininity, sexuality and Feminism.  For example, Shori (unlike Bella) is immensely powerful - she's brilliant, she's strong, and she's sexually assertive.  Because the vampires need a lot of blood, they need multiple human partners, usually both men and women.  All the vampires have to maintain the peace in their families.  Navigating the inevitable jealousies of a poly-amorous household is seen as an admirable feat of sensitivity and intellect, one at which Shori excels.  Her black skin, small size, relative youth and gender put her at a disadvantage to the other vampires, who fear and criticize almost all those attributes - it's up to her to convince the community to help protect her and her human consorts, as well as to reteach her the things she needs to know to survive.

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