Monday, November 15, 2010

Gifts of Blood

GIFTS OF BLOOD (1992) collects the vampire stories of Susan Petrey, set in the nineteenth century and reprinted from the MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION. Petrey's Varkela, a blood-drinking tribe of the Russian steppes, offer a rare example of a completely benign vampiric race. Although not quite human, they frequently interbreed with human females. (Their own women often die at puberty from a sex-linked recessive condition.) They earn their modest monthly ration of blood by selling their skills as horse-tamers and shamanistic healers. Unlike the classic supernatural vampire, they acquire their necessary nourishment through mutually beneficial exchange, not theft or rape. The Varkela physician Vaylance, in search of training in Western-style medicine in "The Healer's Touch," reminds himself that "one could not ask for blood unless one had earned through healing" and reflects with shame on the prospect that he may "have to stoop to blood-theft in the night to feed his need." The open-minded Russian doctor Rimsky discovers Vaylance's secret and fearlessly offers blood in payment for the Varkela's shamanistic treatment of a mentally disturbed girl. As a scientist, Rimsky perceives that Vaylance represents "a subspecies of Homo sapiens," rather than a creature of the Devil, and delights in the possibility that he has "stumbled on a new race―must write this up and send it to a scientific journal." On the other hand, he recognizes the danger posed by superstition and vows to conceal Vaylance's true nature from people with "more imagination than brains" who would equate him with "the mythical Vampire."

Like many other types of vampires, the Varkela have extraordinary sexual prowess. They possess the ability to "bewitch" women with the hypnotic song they use to calm patients during healing. Vaylance's roguish brother sometimes uses this power on women as well as horses, although his natural charm is usually enough to seduce human females. In "Leechcraft," my favorite of these tales, Vaylance "dreamwalks" across time to late twentieth-century America in search of a desperately needed cure for an illness that baffles him. He has no need to "bewitch" Myrna, a modern woman who helps him with his mission, because she is immediately and freely attracted to him when they meet in the hospital where she works. He shares visions with her and tries to teach her to dreamwalk. As often portrayed in fiction, vampiric telepathy or empathy bridges the gulfs between sexes, races, and species in a mode and with a completeness impossible (so far as we know) in real life, and this is the case in "Leechcraft." Myrna finds Vaylance to be "the most sensitive lover she had ever known." Sharing his blood with her, he tells her, "Our souls have touched" and sees in her "the wolvish soul" that "may be befriended, never tamed."

Petrey's death put an untimely end to this series, which deserves to be much better known. It's unfortunate that she never wrote a full-length novel about the Varkela.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

1 comment:

SandyG265 said...

I actually have this book and I agree that it's too bad that she never had a chance to go on with the characters.