Sunday, March 20, 2011

So, I read "Fledgling" and I feel shockingly ambivalent


I've been consuming a lot of urban fantasy books for a project I'm involved in and, as I've mentioned before, have grown weary of the unrelenting race fail, among other problems, that appear common to the genre. Let me be clear, I read books, first and foremost, for entertainment, knowledge or enlightenment, not to analyze them for their treatment of social justice issues. But as an African American, a woman and someone who tries to be sensitive to  injustice and marginalization, too much erasure, tokenism and triggering can take me right out of a book and ruin my enjoyment of an otherwise strong story. And so, I was thrilled when several smart folks told me that award-winning sci-fi writer Octavia Butler had written Fledgling, a unique take on vampirism. As Butler, an African American, is known for a) her great writing, and b) thoughtful weaving of race and other issues into her narratives, I was all in. I eagerly grabbed a copy of Fledgling and read it (Along with my urban fantasy buddies Renee and Sparky. See their review of the book below.). I am left unsatisfied.

More authoritative bodies than mine have deemed Octavia Butler an excellent writer. She is that. I often consume urban fantasy as sort of a confection--beach reading for someone who never goes to the beach. The writing quality in the genre is often serviceable at best. It was a pleasure to read a more, I don't know, literary approach to the vampire thing. But there was also something utilitarian about the writing in Fledgling that made the protagonist and the plot feel remote. Characters lacked dimension and the plot lacked bite. I didn't find myself truly caring what happened next or what happened to any of the characters. The book evoked the strangest feeling for me--It was a fast read that felt slow and not altogether enjoyable. It could be that Butler's is a decidedly sci-fi approach and I admit to not being a fan of science fiction. But the characters and plot of the book left me cold.


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