Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Bloody Good

While I love a good alternate history, Georgia Evans's World War II novel BLOODY GOOD (2009) is something slightly different, which I also enjoy very much, "secret history"—strange events lying behind and under the public history we know. Its premise is that Nazi Germany uses vampires to infiltrate England during the Blitz. Other Nazi vampires have appeared in fiction, of course, but never so delightfully as this. A small contingent of vampires parachutes into the countryside outside a placid village to sabotage the nearby defense plant. The local doctor, Alice Doyle, picks up an injured man who disappears immediately after she treats his wounds. He slips off to report to his contact, while another vampire soon takes up residence in the village, posing as the nephew of a spinster who's actually working for the Germans. Although these vampires are definitely evil, they aren't demonic and mindless; they have personalities and rational motives. Also, we meet a character late in the book who demonstrates that vampires don't have to be villains. A conscientious objector, Peter Watson, is assigned as Alice's assistant as well as part-time medic for the defense factory. At first Alice scorns Peter for what she stereotypically assumes to be "cowardice," but his intelligence and courage soon become clear, and they fall in love.

Alice's grandmother claims to be part pixie, a claim Alice has laughed off all her life—until she can't ignore the supernatural threat to the community and must accept her own latent power. We also meet a were-dragon and a were-fox, who play central roles in the other two books of the trilogy, BLOODY AWFUL (2009) and BLOODY RIGHT (also 2009). Brief scenes set in Europe follow a subplot about a fairy coerced into helping the Nazi vampires. The life of an English village in wartime is vividly portrayed, and the characters drew me in instantly, especially Alice. I love all the realistic details of the time period. Since "Georgia Evans" is a pen name for veteran vampire romance author Rosemary Laurey, the quality of these novels comes as no surprise.

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Kiss of the Vampire

Nancy Baker's rather generically titled KISS OF THE VAMPIRE (1993) first appeared under the more evocative and memorable name THE NIGHT INSIDE. While this may not have been the first novel to use its plot premise, it's the earliest I remember reading, and the trope remains rare, as far as I know. (In fact, the only other example that comes to mind at the moment is Robin McKinley's SUNSHINE, reviewed here in July 2015.) The villains hold an ordinary human female captive with a vampire to serve as his nourishment, and the two characters make an alliance to escape.

In the prologue, 400-year-old Dimitri Rozokov wakes up in a warehouse where he has lain dormant for most of a century. The successors of the enemy from whom he was hiding have found him. The viewpoint then shifts to the protagonist, Ardeth Alexander, a graduate student pursuing PhD research on nineteenth-century Toronto. Her studies attract dangerous attention. She gets kidnapped off the street and wakes up in a dungeon-like underground space, with a strange man in the cell next to hers. Their captors forcibly hold her arm through the bars for the vampire to feed on. Actually, they were supposed to have killed her immediately but have decided to make use of her first. Her horror at her desperate plight increases when she's made to watch the vampire participate in a pornographic video that culminates in the draining to death of the "star." Recalling fellow students who've mysteriously vanished in the recent past and correlating their research fields with her own, she figures out the identity of the vampire. Moreover, she gradually realizes the kidnappers are worse threats than he is, and she opens a dialogue with him. Once recovered from the initial mindless hunger that followed his revival, he turns out to be humane and, toward Ardeth at least, gentle. They devise a plot to escape—a plan that requires Ardeth to be transformed into a vampire and avoid getting staked like the other dead girls who've been buried in the nearby woods. Considering undeath preferable to certain death, she "dies," rises from her makeshift grave, and frees Rozokov.

To her shock, after their escape Rozokov insists they must separate. They're safer apart than together, and anyway vampires are meant to be solitary, or so he claims. The second half of the novel shows Ardeth adjusting to the vampire existence, while Rozokov struggles to find his way around modern Toronto with no knowledge other than what he learned from long talks with Ardeth, as well as no money. (He has no way to prove his identity and access the investments he accumulated a century in the past.) By chance, Ardeth's sister learns she isn't dead and launches an intensive search for her. Meanwhile, agents of Althea Dale, the rich, eccentric descendant of the man who'd uncovered the truth about Rozokov a hundred years earlier, are scouring the city for both vampires.

Baker thoughtfully develops the predicament of an ancient vampire dumped in a modern metropolis with no contacts or money. Regardless of his supernatural powers, he can't simply become a prosperous city-dweller overnight. In fact, given the wealth and resources of the hunters seeking him, posing as a homeless, deranged street person is, for the moment, his safest course of action. Meanwhile, Ardeth, cutting all ties with her former life, copes with her change on her own. The settings are richly detailed. The characters are vivid and three-dimensional, with the partial exception of reclusive Althea Dale, who's determined to possess and use the vampires, and even she has interesting quirks that make her more than a flat melodrama villain. Realistically, Ardeth's reinvention of herself in her transformed existence springs organically from her personality and the hazards of her situation; she doesn't automatically become a demonic monster simply because she's a vampire.

A sequel, BLOOD AND CHRYSANTHEMUMS, explores Ardeth's further growth as a vampire and the development of her relationship with Rozokov in still more depth, with the addition of new characters. Baker also wrote A TERRIBLE BEAUTY (reviewed here in April 2015), a beautiful gender-flipped vampiric "Beauty and the Beast" in a remote Canadian wilderness setting.

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

The Last of the Vampires

One very unusual pre-DRACULA vampire short story, "The Last of the Vampires" (March 1893), by Phil Robinson, first published in THE CONTEMPORARY REVIEW, features a "vampire" portrayed as a bizarre animal that may or may not have near-human intelligence. The tale has affinities with the "lost world" genre of Victorian fiction, in which a European, British, or American explorer discovers locations, cultures, and/or animals unknown to "civilized" societies. A German professor comes upon a remote South American tribe that sacrifices victims to the "vampire," and he determines to take the specimen home with him at all costs, preferably alive.

The story's frame narrator, who introduces the case, cites several different perspectives on the discovery of "the skeleton of a creature with human legs and feet, a dog-like head and immense bat-like wings." Sometimes called "the man-lizard of the Amazon" and sometimes described as "a winged man with a dog's head," the creature resists unequivocal classification as either human or animal. Eventually part of the skeleton disappears from the museum where it is stored, leaving no tangible proof of its existence. The frame narrator explains the skeleton's origin by the tale of the ambitious professor's determination to capture the last of the "vampires." The scientist behaves like a typical nineteenth-century European colonial expansionist, confident of his superiority over the superstitious natives. He guides his canoe along the river into the vampire's cave, wounds the monster, binds it, and travels downstream with his "trophy...the last of the Winged Reptiles." The cave-dweller's cooperation with the tribe's sacrificial rites hints at possible intelligence, but the professor never raises this question.

What he sees when he first flashes a light into the cave is "a beast with a head like a large grey dog" and "eyes...as large as a cow's." It dislikes sunlight, lives on the blood of mammals, and has huge, batlike wings and a long neck. The professor identifies it as a "great bat-reptile of a kind unknown to science" and "a living specimen of the so-called extinct flying lizards of the Flood." It feeds on its prey by enfolding the victim in its wings and inducing paralysis. In between fighting off the creature's attacks, he gloats over his captive. He is "devoured by only one ambition--to keep it alive, to let Europe actually gaze upon the living, breathing survivor of the great Reptiles known to the human race before the days of Noah." He cherishes this dream, not for the benefit of science, but for his own aggrandizement. In the midst of his endless journey down the river, ravaged by fever, he consoles himself, "But in Germany I shall be famous. In Germany with my Vampire!" To him the creature is not only a mere animal, "a hideous beast," a "winged kangaroo with a python's neck," but his personal possession. He doses the vampire with his entire supply of quinine, leaving none for himself, not out of regard for its welfare, but to preserve the trophy on which his ambition depends. As the frame narrative at the beginning foreshadows, his expedition ends in disaster rather than triumph.

"The Last of the Vampires" is reprinted in VAMPIRE (1985), one of Peter Haining's many horror anthologies. This volume contains several stories not easily found elsewhere. There are a few secondhand copies on Amazon, and it would be a worthwhile addition to any vampire fan's library. (Use the "Advanced Search" function, because the title is so generic.)

I analyze "The Last of the Vampires" at greater length, along with many other short stories and novels, in my nonfiction book DIFFERENT BLOOD: THE VAMPIRE AS ALIEN:

Different Blood

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Monday, June 15, 2020

In Silence Sealed

Like THE STRESS OF HER REGARD (1989; reviewed here in February 2011), by Tim Powers, another horror novel centered on the Romantic movement, IN SILENCE SEALED (1988), by Kathryn Ptacek, also attributes major events in the lives of Byron, Keats, and Shelley to vampiric influence.

Review of THE STRESS OF HER REGARD

Ptacek's protagonist, Winston Early, arrives in Greece in 1824. There he encounters the great Romantic poets. He also meets the Greek sisters Athina and August Kristonosos, who turn out to be lamiae from classical mythology, inhuman creatures who drink the blood of children and imaginative geniuses. They also feed on the creativity of artists and poets along with the blood. These demons are not alien, inconceivably ancient shapeshifters like the entities in Powers's novel; their bodies, apparently, resemble those of human females in many respects. Like their prototypes in Greek myth, Ptacek's lamiae are all female. They can be killed, although not easily. Partly through Winston's viewpoint, we witness their predation on Byron, Keats, and Shelley, with flashback sections to narrate the fateful encounters that take place before Winston meets the poets and their demonic seductresses.

Unlike the radically alien nephelim in THE STRESS OF HER REGARD, the lamiae don't even offer the ecstatic, although ultimately lethal, inspiration so tempting to the poets as portrayed by Powers. Drawn to human artists, Ptacek's lamiae drink their essence without giving anything in return except short-lived sexual pleasure. Instead of functioning as a metaphor for the addictive power of art like the monsters in THE STRESS OF HER REGARD, Ptacek's erotic demons represent a mindless, destructive sensuality that drains away the vital energies of creative genius.

IN SILENCE SEALED forms a prequel to BLOOD AUTUMN (1985), also told in achronic order, featuring August alone as the fatal seductress. BLOOD AUTUMN takes place in the American South and India in the 1880s and the 1850s, respectively. As the horrified protagonist, Daniel, learns, August often kills her husbands—but not always.

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Vampires, Burial, and Death

The bulk of Paul Barber's nonfiction book VAMPIRES, BURIAL, AND DEATH: FOLKLORE AND REALITY (1988) doesn't explain the origins of vampire superstitions, although one short chapter, "The Soul After Death," suggests some possibilities. What this book does is offer a detailed explanation of how vampire beliefs, once they arose, persisted because physical evidence seemed to support them. Written accounts of the condition of exhumed "vampire" corpses referred to actual events, sometimes reported in official documents filed by governmental investigators. People of several hundred years ago (the peak of vampire-hunting fervor occurred in the early eighteenth century, not the Middle Ages) were no less intelligent than we are, so why did they positively identify some of their deceased neighbors as undead?

The book begins with detailed recaps of some well-known historical accounts of "vampire" infestations, what investigations and attempted remedies were undertaken, and how the suspected undead corpses were dealt with. Barber surveys variations in vampire legends throughout Europe, exploring what they had in common and what symptoms confirmed the vampiric status of a dead body. He also reviews the characteristics of the living dead and the methods by which people were assumed to become vampires after death. The two chapters on "Apotropaics" ("methods of turning evil away") illustrate the many different preventive measures various ethnic groups employed to make the dead rest in their graves. These sections are fascinating in themselves. The core of the book, though, consists of in-depth discussions of the natural processes of decomposition and how traces of them could be mistaken for proof that a deceased individual maintained an unnatural life. The average person might have been familiar with decay found in bodies left unburied. However, a cadaver exhumed from a coffin in a grave decomposes differently from one exposed to the elements. Even meticulous, well-educated observers might mistake the appearance of a disinterred body for a state of supernatural preservation instead of an unfamiliar natural phenomenon. For instance, gases building up in a corpse could make it look flushed and bloated, as exhumed "vampires" often did. Fluids squeezed out of the orifices by the swelling made it appear that the corpse had been drinking blood. The sudden release of those gases produced the groans and screeches often reported from staked vampires. Other decay processes sometimes gave the impression that the cadaver had been chewing on its own extremities. Barber analyzes these and many other symptoms of vampirism that could have been produced naturally but interpreted as monstrously unnatural.

The chapters "Search and Destroy" and "The Vampire's Activity" contrast the conventional vampire of fiction and the less uniform folkloric revenants of various cultures with the strikingly similar descriptions of disinterred vampire corpses in many different locations. These similarities reinforce the impression that people who "killed" vampires were describing things they'd actually witnessed. Other chapters discuss burial customs, methods of disposing of corpses and preventing their reanimation, and techniques used to keep the spirit from re-inhabiting the body. Regarding testimony about the appearance and characteristics of exhumed undead corpses, Barber emphasizes repeatedly that "we would do well to trust [the witnesses'] descriptions rather than their interpretations." The interpretations vary depending on local preconceptions and superstitions, while the physical "evidence" shows a remarkable consistency.

If you're curious about vampire history and legends, provided you don't mind an often gruesome level of concrete details, you'll want to read this book.

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Dark Banquet

Despite the Gothic-sounding title, DARK BANQUET (2008), by biologist Bill Schutt, is a nonfiction book replete with fascinating facts about "Blood and the Curious Lives of Blood-Feeding Creatures." It ranges far beyond the blood-drinkers in nature that most readily come to mind, such as mosquitoes, leeches, and vampire bats. Not surprisingly, however, the first part of the book (comprising three chapters) expounds the lore of vampire bats, the only obligate blood-drinking vertebrates. (Some birds, for example, occasionally consume blood, but their lives don't depend on it.) Schutt describes his experience observing vampire bats in Trinidad. He then discusses in depth the history of Europeans' discovery of vampire bats and the evolution and biology of these creatures. Did you know some of them can sneak up on unresisting hens by mimicking the posture and behavior of chicks?

Part Two introduces us to basic facts about the composition and physiology of blood, with an overview of the medical technique of bloodletting. The latter topic leads naturally into the biology and ecology of leeches. Part Three, "Bed Bug and Beyond," ranges widely over the animal kingdom, including not only bedbugs but such creatures as chiggers and other mites, mosquitoes, hookworms and similar internal parasites, finches that supplement their normal diet with blood, and the dreaded bloodsucking candiru fish. The author's conclusion assures us that most "vampires" in nature pose little threat to us and points out their ecological importance. Throughout the book, he intersperses the lucid exposition with personal anecdotes.

How did vampire bats and leeches evolve to drink blood? What legitimate medical purposes do leeches serve even nowadays? How do chiggers and ticks transmit diseases? Do the eel-like candiru fish ever swim up the human urethra, as rumor claims? How much of the vital fluid do sanguivorous creatures actually consume? "Why does a blood-feeding lifestyle make sense?" (Discover why in the final chapter.) You'll find answers to these questions and many more in this lively, information-packed book. Writers of vampire fiction may find inspiration for exciting new twists in this exploration of real-life bloodsuckers.

Margaret L. Carter

Explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Hollywood Gothic

Film scholar David J. Skal's lavishly illustrated, highly entertaining, detailed nonfiction book HOLLYWOOD GOTHIC (1990; second edition 2004), contrary to what the title might suggest, isn't about horror movies in general (for that topic, read his fascinating, wide-ranging THE MONSTER SHOW) or even vampire movies in general. The subtitle summarizes the content: "The Tangled Web of DRACULA from Novel to Stage to Screen." The central chapters focus on the original play and the adaptation and production of the 1931 Bela Lugosi film from it, along with the lesser-known Spanish version shot from a translation of the English script, on the same sets with a different cast.

HOLLYWOOD GOTHIC contains much more material, though, preceding and following the broad, deep coverage of the origins and development of the 1931 film, as well as Lugosi's career. The first chapter surveys nineteenth-century vampire fiction before exploring Stoker's life and the writing of DRACULA. Chapter Two narrates Florence Stoker's copyright battle over her late husband's novel and the unauthorized silent classic NOSFERATU. Next comes the history of the DRACULA play in both its British and American versions. After the two chapters on the Lugosi movie and its Spanish doppelganger, the final chapter, "The Dracula Century," covers subsequent adaptations of and sequels to the novel, from the Universal and Hammer movies to many less familiar works.

This book tells you everything you ever wanted to know about the transformation of DRACULA from novel to play to film, the classic 1931 movie, and the life of Bela Lugosi, in addition to voluminous information about other DRACULA versions over a span of more than sixty years. Written in Skal's lucid, engaging style, it's a can't-miss read for any fan with a strong interest in any of those topics.

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Vampire Hunter D

You may have seen the anime feature film VAMPIRE HUNTER D (1985), a sort of post-apocalyptic Western horror movie. It's based on the first book in a long-running series by Japanese author Hideyuki Kikuchi, a self-professed devoted fan of Hammer horror productions such as the Christoper Lee Dracula movies. A more visually artistic second anime, VAMPIRE HUNTER D: BLOODLUST, came out in 2000. The English translation of the original VAMPIRE HUNTER D novel was released in 2005, and Volume 28 (THE TIGER IN WINTER) was just published in the U.S. last year. (The Japanese and English volume numbering don't always match, however.) In Japanese, the series comprises at least thirty-six novels so far, and there's also a spinoff series, as well as a handful of short stories.

The novels take place thousands of years in the future, after the vampire lords have mostly been overthrown following centuries of tyrannical rule. Some of the Nobility (as they're called) survive, as do remnants of their advanced technology and magic. Small, isolated human settlements, plus a few large cities, are scattered across the devastated world. Grotesque monsters haunt the wastelands, with bounty hunters and vampire slayers therefore much in demand. In the first book, D, the famed but enigmatic vampire slayer, arrives in a small frontier town to protect Doris, an orphaned ranch owner courted—or persecuted—by the local vampire lord, Count Lee. (The homage to Christopher Lee in this Dracula-like character is obvious.) D, of course, defeats the villain after a harrowing expedition into the vampire's castle, where he confronts, among other dangers, a bevy of bloodthirsty females. Meanwhile, Doris's younger brother hero-worships D, who treats the boy with kindness, and Doris begins to fall in love with the hunter. At the end of the story, however, like most wandering loner heroes, D rides off into the wilderness, leaving all potential attachments behind.

D is a dhampir, a human-vampire hybrid with strength, speed, and abilities beyond those of ordinary mortals. He's described as a pale, dark-haired young man, repeatedly characterized as so "beautiful" and "gorgeous" that people are stunned at the sight of him. Frequent references to "the Sacred Ancestor" imply that he derives his single-initial title from his father, Dracula, an assumption he never explicitly confirms. In the palm of his left hand, D bears a symbiotic organism in the form of a miniature face, whose powers augment his own. The symbiont, which can detach itself and move independently, has no name other than Left Hand, and so far we haven't been told its nature and origin. D rides a cyborg horse that must be fairly tough in itself, since it survives through D's life-threatening adventures. In every novel he interacts with a new group of admirers, allies, and foes, as well as an assortment of unique monsters. One reviewer describes him as a tragic figure "dedicated to fighting darkness but unable to express love." Since D conforms to the strong, silent archetype of a "Clint Eastwood" persona, of whose inner life we get only superficial glimpses, we have to infer those "tragic" traits from external observation.

While the overall level of characterization in this series seldom rises above workmanlike, the worldbuilding, plotting, action scenes, and unusual creatures exert their own fascination. The books and the two animated films are worth checking out.

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

My Love Lies Bleeding

Somehow I missed Alyxandra Harvey's YA novel MY LOVE LIES BLEEDING (2010) when it first came out. It offers an unusual slant on the nature of vampirism. The title, although evocative and romantic, has little apparent connection with the story other than suggesting a Gothic ambiance. In fact, this book isn't a romance, although it has two subplot threads that hint at future developments along that line. It doesn't fall into the Gothic genre, either, in my opinion, being contemporary fantasy with a scientific rationale for its paranormal elements. Harvey explains the vampire condition as a disease, apparently both inherited and infectious. A young pre-vampire remains indistinguishable from a human child until the age of sixteen. Then he or she undergoes the "bloodchange," emerging from the ordeal either dead or—when nourished by vampire blood to facilitate the transition—a vampire. The young adult gains immortality, speed, super-strength, blood-thirst, and other vampiric traits, including a vulnerability to sunlight that slowly decreases with age. There are several factions and clans, and at least one aberrant subspecies, all nominally ruled by a Vampire Queen. A fanatical vampire-hunting organization called Helios-Ra complicates the situation.

Solange, the first daughter born to the Drake clan in vampire memory, bears the burden of a prophecy that she's destined to rule her kind, a status she emphatically rejects. On the verge of her sixteenth birthday, she's plagued by unwanted suitors. Irresistible vampire pheromones make matters worse. Her best friend, Lucy, is a human teenager whose hippy-spiritual, back-to-nature parents don't seem to mind that she associates with bloodsucking creatures of the night, who, to be fair, live on animal blood. They drink from human donors rarely and only by consent. Lucy and Solange narrate the story in alternate first-person chapters. Solange's family learns a bounty has been placed on her. The Drake clan has a tenuous truce with Helios-Ra, which this development threatens to unravel. The Vampire Queen targets Solange out of jealousy, since the Queen can't fathom the idea that a young female would not want to usurp the throne. Meanwhile, eighteen-year-old Kieran Black, a newly trained agent of Helios-Ra, whose father was killed by vampires, tries to attack Solange and her family. Kidnappings, escapes, pursuits, recaptures, and apparent betrayals throw him and Solange together. They fight a reluctant mutual attraction, and he begins to realize that not all vampires are alike and that most aren't ravening killers. At the same time, Lucy and Nicholas, one of Solange's many overprotective brothers, recognize feelings for each other that they've been denying.

This book is the first in a series, with plenty of sequel hooks. Fortunately, however, it has a satisfying, non-cliffhanger ending.

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Vampire Stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Distinguished vampire literature bibliographer Robert Eighteen-Bisang edited this collection, titled simply VAMPIRE STORIES (2009). Sherlock Holmes fans unfamiliar with Doyle's many other works of fiction may enjoy exploring the lesser-known stories in this volume, which does include a few Holmes adventures as well. Eighteen-Bisang provides a short introduction about Doyle, focusing mainly on his friendship with Bram Stoker and occasional annoyance at being famed solely as the creator of the Great Detective. Each tale is followed by a few paragraphs of background and commentary about the story.

Sherlock Holmes's "Adventure of the Sussex Vampire" is here, of course, and after almost a century it's not much of a spoiler to reveal that the alleged vampirism has a natural explanation. The best-known non-Holmes piece is Doyle's classic novella of psychic vampirism, "The Parasite" (1891). Like the later DRACULA, this story explores the mysteries of hypnotism, the science of which was relatively new and esoteric at the time. The journal of the narrator, Professor Gilroy, reveals how he gradually falls under the spell of an unattractive yet strangely fascinating woman named Miss Penclosa, who not only drains his energy but forces him to perform humiliating and even criminal acts. According to the Gilroy, "She creeps into my form as the hermit crab creeps into the whelk's shell." He ultimately escapes her control by sheer luck.

Other energy vampire tales in this collection include "The Captain of the Pole-Star," "John Barrington Cowles," and "The Winning Shot." "The Ring of Thoth" stars the resurrected mummy of an Egyptian priest, granted immortality by a magical elixir. "The American's Tale" features a blood-drinking plant similar to H. G. Wells's strange orchid and other predatory plants in late-19th-century fiction. "The Adventure of the Illustrious Client" and "The Adventure of the Three Gables" impress me as vampiric only in a metaphorical sense, although Eighteen-Bisang's afterword to the former lists a longish catalog of intriguing parallels to DRACULA. The editor pads out the collection with a concluding story not written by Doyle, a Holmes pastiche, "The Case of the Vanished Vampire," by Bill Crider, in which Bram Stoker meets the Great Detective. The volume wraps up with a valuable resource for fans of Victorian horror and mystery, an annotated bibliography of fiction by other authors in which Sherlock Holmes confronts vampires.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt