Monday, January 25, 2010

Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler (Science Fiction)

Science fiction, as I have come to understand the genre through the little experience I have with it, is often a creative outlet for social and political commentary. It allows authors to express their views on real-world issues in an imaginary world. Issues in science fiction literature are often metaphors or exaggerations of the issues we face on a daily basis.

Fledgling, by Octavia E. Butler, is no exception. It is deceivingly labeled “vampire fiction,” perhaps leading some (including myself) to initially believe that it is a work of horror or suspense. But at its core, this novel fits much more comfortably into the realm of science fiction, and it’s chock full of metaphors related to issues such as racism, scientific advancement, human free will, and irrational fears that induce violence in civil societies.

With the very first sentence of the novel, the reader is thrust into the action. The protagonist, suffering from amnesia, abruptly wakes up, starving and injured, in the burned ruins of a community. The violence starts immediately as the narrator launches after the closest living thing, killing and devouring without hesitation. The act is clearly instinctual, and part of a desperate fight for survival. Our narrator eventually discovers that she appears to be a ten-year-old African American girl, but her intelligence suggests otherwise, and she exhibits behaviors highly unusual for any kind of human being, much less a young girl. She also find out that she is named Shori, and that the past she has completely forgotten has not forgotten her.
I’ll stop there, as any more information on the plot would truly be a disservice to those interested in reading the book. This is definitely a page-turner, as Butler slowly reveals bits and pieces of Shori’s past, letting readers slowly sink into the imaginary, yet very consistent world of the mysterious “Ina.”

I’ve always been a fan of science fiction movies and television shows, but though I have read a few sci fi books in my time, I cannot accurately call myself a fan. I feel that Fledgling works as a successful introduction to the world of science fiction. By starting with something familiar – the myth of vampires – and expanding on that to create a world of her own, Butler eases the readers into the genre instead of thrusting them into the unknown.
Butler doesn’t shy away from the controversial, but confronts tough issues with a refreshing subtlety that shows the readers what’s going on without telling them what to believe. This is a morally challenging book, and the author doesn’t explicitly take a stand on any issue; she leaves many issues up to the readers’ individual interpretations.

If you’re looking for well-developed characters to connect with (which is what I always desire the most in books I read), this probably isn’t the best choice. Because there were so many characters constantly being introduced throughout the book, and almost none of them had any truly unique or memorable characteristics to speak of, I couldn’t keep them straight. However, the novel is undeniably valuable in its depiction of themes and issues that underlie society and have done so throughout history. I personally would have preferred that the author took more time to develop the characters and their relationships with each other, but I understand that this is not quite what science fiction is about and that this is not what all readers are looking for. What Butler succeeds most at, I believe, is the pacing: she expertly intersperses the action sequences with quiet, intimate scenes that really hold the story together.

Also important to note is the fact that this novel is definitely intended for an open-minded (dare I say liberal) audience. In addition to violence, the plot often indirectly involves such practices as homosexuality, bloodletting, and polygamy, among other things. I wouldn't hand this book to a Bible thumper!

Book information:

Title: Fledgling, by Octavia E. Butler
Publication date: 2005
Number of pages: 317
Setting: Various locations throughout the U.S.
Time period: present
Subject headings: Vampires--Fiction, Young women--Fiction.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Oh, hello there, gentle viewers...

"You caught me catching up on an old favorite.  It's wonderful to get lost in a story, isn't it?  Adventure and heroics and discovery: don't they just take you away?  Come with me now, if you will, gentle viewers.  Join me on a new voyage of the mind. "    --Andrew, from "Storyteller" in Season 7 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Hello, welcome to my Reader's Advisory blog.  I graduated last May with a BFA in Creative Writing and English Literature, so this is my second semester in the SLIS program.  I am extremely lacking in funds right now and without a job, so if anyone reading this knows a place that's hiring, PLEASE let me know!  I will do almost anything; heck, I once had a job cleaning dog kennels.

A little bit about me... I'm an introvert.  If you don't know who I am in class, I'm most likely the shy one, hunched over and wearing lots of layers.  I live 3.5 hours away from my family, and 3.5 hours away from my boyfriend in the opposite direction, so I require lots of visiting time.  I am known as "Negative Nancy" because I can be cynical and I enjoy sarcasm.  I love fiction in all its forms: books, TV shows, video games, movies, you name it.  I tend to get obsessed with fantasies from books and such in my attempts to escape from reality; it is often easier for me to understand and engage with fictional characters than real people.

You can probably guess why I chose to take this class; I imagine it's the same reason everyone else has.  I love to read.  My favorite books tend to fall into the literary and historical fiction categories, although I often find myself veering off into the Young Adult section, as I feel that a lot of popular adult fiction nowadays is generic, features the same plot elements, and severely lacks the depth that many YA authors exhibit in their ability to express emotions and abstract experiences.  Plus, I'm barely an adult myself, so mentally I suppose I'm still in teenager mode.

But I dislike Twilight.  Vampires are awesome, but they are evil and they do not sparkle.  Buffy forever!

Anyway... I think this class is a perfect opportunity for me to delve into areas of fiction in which I don't have much experience.  I'm still in disbelief that a class exists that allows me to read what I choose.  I think it's safe to say that I have never looked forward to a class as much as I have this one.

On a final note, here is a picture of my best friend Bailey.  Be careful, she will stare into your eyes and steal your soul.