Sunday, July 15, 2012

Necroscope

Although Brian Lumley’s NECROSCOPE (1986) is the first volume of a long, complicated series, the first book can be read on its own. The series charts a complex web of relationships between its aliens, the Wamphyri, and the human race; in the first book, however, Lumley's vampires appear as pure parasites and predators, with whom no compromise is possible. Set in the era of the Cold War, NECROSCOPE centers on the covert struggle between secret British and Soviet ESP intelligence-gathering agencies. On the British side, protagonist Harry Keogh is recruited for his talent of speaking with the dead, as the only known fully developed "necroscope." The chief antagonist, Boris Dragosani, on the other hand, is a necromancer, who dismembers corpses with his bare hands and teeth to rip out their secrets. The spirits of the dead love Harry, especially the brilliant minds who go on after death creating works of artistic and scientific genius. Sharing their thoughts with him relieves the loneliness of the afterlife. Dragosani, the necromancer, tortures his lifeless victims, raping the truth from their remains. Although physically an ordinary human being, he already behaves like a vampire; in a reversal of the traditional vampire-victim relationship, a living man preys on the dead.

Through Dragosani's greed for power, a nonhuman vampire forces its way out of its grave to renew its life. At first Dragosani mistakes Thibor Ferenczy, the "thing in the ground" imprisoned by silver chains in its ruined tomb, for an undead creature like the monsters of legend. Multiple conversations with the vampire correct Dragosani’s misconceptions about sunlight, crosses, mirrors, and running water. We eventually learn that Dragosani has the power of a necromancer because he was conceived atop Thibor's grave, with a drop of his mother's blood nourishing the vampire. As Thibor's metaphorical child, Dragosani has communicated with the "thing in the ground" for most of his life, seduced by the vampire with promises of ever-increasing power. Thibor encourages Dragosani's self-deluded ambitions, allowing the necromancer the illusion of equality with the monster. Only gradually does Dragosani, along with the reader, learn the truth behind the vampire legend. The former Wallachian prince is no longer human, not even a human revenant. The Wamphyri are nonhuman creatures that live within the bodies of human hosts, not symbiotically as Dragosani believes, but in a parasitic infiltration that takes over the host's entire being.

Lumley’s vampires arise from natural evolution, but they’re described in terms more gruesome than most supernatural monsters of horror fiction. The vampire dwells within its host as a lump of protoplasm like a "great leech" with a head like a cobra's, capable of manifesting itself as a "phallic tentacle," extruding a "pseudopod" with "barbs" used to attach itself to the victim's internal organs. Amorphous, the entity can form tentacles, eyestalks, manipulatory digits, teeth, whatever appendages it needs. Upon entering its victim, the parasite's "terrible tentacle did no real harm, no damage. Protoplasmic, it moulded itself to organs without crushing them, penetrating without puncturing.” Its substance intertwines itself throughout the host's body, down to "the individual whorls of [the victim's] brain.” Because of their extremely long lives, the Wamphyri reproduce very seldom. Each vampire begets only one offspring. Reproducing asexually, it engenders its clone by secreting a single seed, which penetrates the new host's skin like a drop of acid and makes its way into the vital organs.

Thibor rationalizes that "a vampire is no less natural a creature than the lamprey or the leech, or even the humble flea,” repulsive images that wouldn’t make vampires appealing to most people! The vampire, he claims, is "kinder" than other animals, because "his host lives, becomes near immortal, and is not consumed in the normal manner of massive parasitic possession.” As Homo sapiens and Wamphyri evolved together, the vampire, originally capable of living independently, grew irrevocably dependent upon humanity, which has "evolved into the perfect host.”

After beheading Thibor, Dragosani completes his transmutation into a monster in human shape. He and Harry finally confront each other, with each one receiving the just reward of his deeds. Later books in the series become more overtly science-fictional. Characters from Earth travel through an interdimensional portal into the world from which the Wamphyri originally infiltrated ours. The world ruled by the Wamphyri is a bleak, icy realm where the overlords construct buildings and vehicles by growing them from the bodies of slave creatures. Hope and heroism, however, flourish in the human survivors who rebel against the vampires. This series features epic adventures and elaborate world-building as well as a unique approach to the vampire species.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

1 comment:

Hilda said...

This looks like it will be hard to read.. but also looks pretty insteresting. Totally getting it.