Monday, May 16, 2016

Things you do

I recently finished reading Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler. She's historically one of the writers I've always enjoyed. I was just kinda meh on this one.

There was lots of good to say about it, though the main reason I didn't find it that enjoyable was a pretty solid emotional disconnect throughout. Things happened that should have been really heart-rending and I just didn't really feel it. I don't know how a first-person story was this shallow of feeling. Concept-wise, it was pretty good, though I felt like a lot of questions it asked just drifted away as the main conflict eclipsed everything else. But one thing about it sort of creeped me out, and I was surprised to realize Ms. Butler employs a variant of the same thing in several of her books. It's a Thing She Does.

In the book, the main character is a sort of vampire who depends on human blood to survive. Unlike the usual vampire legends, humans cannot be turned into vampires, but they do get sort of hypnotized into being fed from, like many vampire books. The humans actually develop a dependence on the vampires alarmingly quickly, and it's not just mental--it's physical, in that the vampire venom causes them to produce too many red blood cells or something, and they'll die if they don't get their blood drained regularly. The vampires also love and depend on the humans, but their situation isn't quite the same--if one of their humans dies, they can get more. If a human's vampire dies, they're screwed, and they have to find another vampire to take them in, and the transition is painful. So there's definitely this feeling like the vampires are sort of keeping the humans as pets, even though most of the good guys at least seem to be respectful to their humans.

Making humans dependent on a non-human creature through a sexually charged, seductive, permanent, not-entirely-consensual process is something Ms. Butler has done in four different works of hers that I've read.

One was a short story where these bug alien things needed to lay their eggs in humans, and the main character's central conflict was deciding whether to let an alien do it to them. (At the end, they did.)

One is a novel where an alien microorganism forces humans to infect other humans, who then--willingly or not--give birth to mutant children. Once infected, they are overtaken with desires that force them to have sex with other infected people.

And one is a novel where aliens come to Earth and attempt to absorb humanity into their race. Humans encounter the aliens' mating groups (which come in three sexes--a he, a she, and an it, all of which are needed to mate), and are bonded with these aliens and made to desire them.

So, I'm kind of sensing a pattern here. It's not like the other patterns--the ones where the protagonists of Ms. Butler's stories are usually black and usually exist as outsiders in their communities somehow. I've got to admit it's kind of disturbing how this one very specific element keeps popping up in her work.

I think if you're a writer with multiple works, something like this is inevitable. The easy patterns will be identified first--you write a certain gender more often, you set your work in space, your protagonists always have a dog--but the more thematic elements underlying your work might be a little less obvious and may contain messages you as a writer aren't aware of. (Though I do think Ms. Butler was aware of this one. She wrote human/non-human symbiosis in so many ways that I'm sure there was something she was trying to say. Though the fact that so many of the "victims" of it were not initially asked if they wanted to participate and their drive to submit is often at odds with their intellectual opinion of what they're doing.)

I wonder which Things I Do might be identified by readers if I get to publish multiple novels? I imagine it will be noticed that I write mostly female characters who are cerebral and tend to avoid traditional relationships, but other than that I think many of my characters are not like each other and not like me. I've also noticed I write a lot of major characters who can fly (though one of them only did it in a dream-fantasyland thing). I guess only time will tell!

No comments:

Post a Comment