Yvonne Navarro’s apocalyptic AFTERAGE (1993) reads like an updated homage to I AM LEGEND (1954), Richard Matheson’s classic treatment of vampirism as an infectious disease. In Navarro’s novel, just as in I AM LEGEND, the vampire plague has spread out of control, causing the breakdown of society and wiping out most of the human race. The vampires have out-multiplied their food supply, precipitating a disastrous crash in the numbers of the prey species. Instead of Matheson’s solitary survivor barricaded in his suburban home, Navarro’s remaining humans prowl the urban landscape of a devastated Chicago. Eighteen months after the collapse of civilization, a varied cast of characters comes together and forms an alliance to combat the bloodsuckers. The group includes, among others, a mysterious woman named Jo, whose blood causes vampires to spontaneously combust when they bite her, and Dr. William Perlman, who discovers and engineers a bacterium capable of killing the undead.
The vampires follow most of the rules established in twentieth-century fiction, such as hypnotic power and vulnerability to sunlight. Perlman describes the creatures as literally “not alive” but also “not dead”: “They’re like people-sized viruses, parasitically using a host for sustenance and reproduction.” These parasites, though, have minds and individuality. Realizing the ravaged ecosystem can’t support large numbers of bloodsucking predators, some practice “birth control” by destroying victims so they can’t rise from death. The vampires quarrel among themselves, pursuing personal agendas, and one at least is humanized by her willingness to help the non-vampire remnant. Human traitors collaborate with vampires in the capture and imprisonment of people to serve as a reliable food supply. One such man aids the breeding program of his “Mistress” by raping female captives to impregnate them. Meanwhile, the heroes fight for survival while Perlman experiments on a captured vampire child and, later, a member of their own group who gets bitten.
Thanks to the doctor’s research, Navarro's story, unlike Matheson’s, doesn’t climax with the extinction of humanity. Finally, the birth of a healthy baby symbolizes the renewal of the world and hope for the future. This epic novel of almost 400 pages maintains both vivid characterization and a level of tension that never slackens for long.
One of Navarro’s early stories, by the way, appeared in No. 3 of my former fanzine THE VAMPIRE’S CRYPT. You can find tables of contents of all issues and a buying link (issues are sold in bundles of two or three) here. Issues aren’t in strict publication order on the distributor’s page, so be sure to scroll down to see all the numbers:
The Vampire's Crypt
Margaret L. Carter