Jessica Bates

writer | reader | mother | lover

June 5, 2017

Book Club: Fledgling by Octavia Butler

nashville book club atmalogyJune 2017: Our Nashville book club read Fledgling by Octavia Butler.

SPOILERS AHEAD. You’ve been warned.

So, this is the fourth book by Octavia Butler I’ve read. (Previously I’ve read Kindred, Parable of the Sower, and Wild Seed.) Each time I start a book of hers, I think, wow. This is weird. And then I’m absorbed by her strong imagination, her thoughtful characters, and the sprawling nature of her stories.

This book was her last before she passed away. We wondered maybe it was unfinished, or if she planned to write a series. While Shori’s world of vampires, or Ina, as they called themselves, was well thought out, we still had questions. Most of the questions were about Shori’s mothers, about their genetic experiments, about Ina birth, and about Shori’s childhood before the tragic accident that wiped away her memory.

Would you be a symbiont if you could?

One question we discussed was whether we’d be willing symbionts to an Ina. Obviously the situation would be best with a compassionate Ina like Shori. Each Ina had a number of symbionts, usually seven or so. Did the symbionts have free will? Could they leave after being bitten? Was Shori’s venom/saliva stronger and therefore were Wright and her other symbionts less able to leave her on their own accord? Oh, so many questions that I wish Octavia could answer for us.

Anyway, I guess I would be a symbiont if I could find a really amazing Ina. Live 170 to 200 years, never look or feel old, and never have any diseases? Sounds pretty great to me. But are symbionts slaves to their Ina? Oh, lots of interesting things to discuss here.

Did the fact that Shori looked much younger than she was bother you?

Early on Shori has a sexual encounter with Wright. Wright is a human in his twenties. Shori appears to be a 10 or 11 year old child, when in fact she’s a 53 year old Ina. (That’s still a “child” in Ina terms, as Shori hasn’t yet reached childbearing age.) Many readers are put off by this. We discussed age & consent & rape culture and lots more stuff at book club. Personally since I knew Shori was older than she seemed it didn’t bother me too much. She also is in a place of power, since she’s stronger than humans and has other powers. But still, I can see why it weirds some people out.

Our bodies & their powers…

I kept thinking about breastfeeding when Shori fed & healed others with her saliva. Breastfeeding is so powerful. As our babies suck, the mother’s body can tell from their saliva what they’ve been exposed to, and then the mother’s body makes immunities specifically for the child. It’s amazing! So since I often think of breastfeeding, I wondered if the saliva healing were a sort of metaphor or parallel of nursing. Anyone out there think that too?

Why I wish there were a sequel:

Oh, so many reasons. I want to see where Shori is in 200 years. Is Wright alive? Or maybe Wright’s child is now Shori’s symbiont. Since Shori is a hybrid, or at least partially human, can she mate with humans as well as Ina? I was so curious about the female Ina. We only see male communities in Fledgling, and the Ina separate into male and female clans once they reach childbearing age. I want to know what Octavia Butler imaged a female Ina community to be. Similar to a male community? Or are there differences? We do know that females are the stronger Ina, and that it’s a matriarchal society. And, as one book club friend pointed out, what would Shori see in the future? Would she live longer than other Ina since we already see that she’s superior? Will she eat food, as she hints at near the end? Will she reach another planet, reuniting with the Mother? I guess we’ll never know for sure.

Rest in peace, Octavia Butler. I’m sure you’re in the stars, unraveling the secrets of our universe.

Have you read Fledgling? If so, what did you think? Let’s talk!

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Book Club, books, female authors, strong female characters - Jessica Bates