Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Guest: Alaya Dawn Johnson
Here's another great read to add to your shopping list. Please welcome Alaya Dawn Johnson to VampChix, who has an intriguing new vampire story out right now!
Imagining vampires at the heart of the social struggles of 1920s, MOONSHINE blends a tempestuous romance with dramatic historical fiction, populated by a lively mythology inhabiting the gritty New York City streets.
In addition to being a metaphor, folkloric tradition, literary craze and romantic fixation, the vampire is also a social engineering problem. When you have creatures with special abilities who propagate themselves by infection, a writer necessarily has to build in some rules to her world to make sure that her favorite undead creatures don't, well, take it over.
Because the vampire apocalypse? Way less fun than you'd think.
Some writers deal with this by making vampirism vanishingly rare. If it's complicated enough to pass on, there are natural population limits. Suzy McKee Charnas (in her brilliant The Vampire Tapestry) solved the problem even more elegantly: her hero is the only vampire in the entire known world.
I, on the other hand, wrote my vampires at the other end of the population scale. They are relatively common. A minority underclass, certainly, but a substantial one. In my alternate 1920s New York City, everyone knows about vampires, and not too many people like them. This presented me with a big issue: if so many people have a communicable disease, what keeps it from spreading throughout the rest of the population? I addressed this in a few ways.
Number one, newly turned vampires don't have many physical advantages, and they have lots of weaknesses. The older ones can be powerful in the way we recognize, but I knew that if every vampire in the Lower East Side could turn you to lunch by looking at you, there wouldn't be too many humans left. New vampires are deathly sensitive to blessed water, metal and garlic. They can stand the sun for brief periods, but their status as vampires is immediately obvious to anyone who looks at them. A few of them can hypnotize humans, but mostly they are forced to get their blood from a series of Blood Banks in operation around the city (where down-on-their-luck humans donate blood for spending money).
Number two, vampires don't often live very long. There's a lot of violence in the streets, and vampires are often at the center of it. Defenders (quasi-official militias that get paid to slaughter vampire 'nests' for private citizens) roam the streets. The city police will stake any chance they get. There might be a lot of vampires in New York City, but there's also a lot of turnover.
Finally, most vampires don't want to spread their disease, any more than most people with the flu go around spitting in their friends' drinks. Vampires have morals just like anyone else. And even if a few try to spread the disease, biting someone doesn't automatically turn them. In fact, the risk of transmission from a single bite is less than 1%. On the scale of the population of the United States that's quite a lot of people, but still not enough to bring down the undead apocalypse.
Now, I'm not an epidemiologist or a city planner, so it's entirely possible that New York City is doomed in another twenty or thirty years. On the other hand, I am a writer, and wouldn't that be a fascinating take on World War II...
Please visit Alaya at her website!