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Bites to Die For,
This review is from: Fledgling (Paperback)
Ok, so vampire stories have been barbecued, fried, roasted, fricasseed, and otherwise done-to-death. But none have done what Ms. Butler does here: provide a rational framework for such creatures, an entire history for not just one vampire, but an entire species, with its own culture, laws, and social structures, that provides some explanations for the various legends. And within this structure, she has created not only a reasonable story, but a sharp look at racism, prejudice, free will, and addiction.
The Ina, as they call themselves, are a separate species with written records dating back some ten thousand years, but who cannot live separately from humans; their physiology requires human blood to sustain them. Shori is a genetic experiment by the Ina, a partial cross with humans designed to alleviate the two major problems the Ina face, their inability to withstand sunlight and their need to be comatose during daylight hours. She's black, looks like a ten or eleven year old girl (although she's 53 years old), and starts the story with no memory of who she is due to some severe injuries. The story revolves around her search for who she is and how she sustained those injuries, a story that leads down the paths of killers by compulsion, group `marriage', and courtroom battles, Ina style. The story is not extremely complex, and the situations the heroine finds herself in will be easily recognizable to any reader, but it provides a strong framework for Butler's philosophical expositions:
First, the Ina bond with their human symbionts, a bond that is at least as strong as those formed by human couples, and that both human and Ina receive benefits from the association: for the humans, a much extended disease-free life span; for the Ina, not only a food source but a family. But the humans are also bound, a physical addiction to the chemical compounds in the Ina saliva, leading to ruminations on free will versus happiness. Also investigated here are the benefits and problems of a `group marriage'.
Second, the Ina can impose their will upon a human symbiont, making them do things they would otherwise never consider, and can erase memories or make it impossible for the human to divulge information, which opens up a raft of introspection about who is really responsible for a given action, and who and to what degree someone should be punished for actions outside of the accepted societal norms.
Third, emotions can and often do override any rational thought - and it is within this item that the seeds of prejudice and racism reside, that these items are not rational and cannot be fought purely with reason. Someone who is different in appearance, abilities, or thought patterns is an immediate target for suspicion and fear, as this person is obviously not `one of the tribe' and is therefore a possible enemy. How can this reaction be stopped and when must action be taken against those who cannot accept these differences?
By providing this culture of the Ina, Butler holds up a mirror to our own culture, forcing queries about accepted norms, very typical of Butler's works. But this book is not as powerful as her Kindred or Wild Seed, perhaps because, other than Shori, there is little character development, there are places where the erotic overtones of the relationships overwhelm her more subtle points, and the conclusion of the book feels a little unfinished (perhaps a sequel was planned?). Still, a very different take on the vampire legends, good for much more than just entertainment.
--- Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)