Monday, December 15, 2014

Children of the Night (Dan Simmons)

Dan Simmons' CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT (1992), not to be confused with Mercedes Lackey's very different novel with the same title, uses a genetic mutation model of vampirism. Simmons' story, a blend of thriller, science fiction, and horror, begins in Romania during the chaos following the downfall of the Ceausescu regime. The book's portrayal of this era and location is vividly convincing. An American doctor, Kate Neuman, adopts Joshua, an orphaned infant suffering from a bizarre blood disease. At home in the United States, she discovers the unique powers of regeneration that accompany his damaged immune system. The phenomenal healing capacity of Joshua's blood, however, depends on constant nourishment by the blood of others. Although Kate supplies this need through transfusion, most sufferers from this syndrome drain blood directly from human victims. Agents of Joshua's extended family kidnap him and return him to Romania. With the help of a heroic priest, Kate undertakes a quest to rescue the baby, not only for his own sake, but also for his blood, which holds the promise of a cure for AIDS and many other lethal maladies. A "cellular or physiological mutation in that family" gives their bodies the power to "cannibalize genetic material from donor blood so that their own immunodeficiency was overcome." A "blood-rich shadow organ" in the alimentary canal enables Joshua's kin to gain nourishment from drinking blood. Their bloodline has been perpetuated through the centuries, a dynasty that includes Vlad the Impaler, so CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT offers a fresh variation on the "Vlad was Dracula" trope.

Because the principal representative of the vampire clan in this novel is a seven-month-old baby, the condition does not brand its carriers as "evil." Set against the horrors of the Ceausescu era, graphically depicted in the filthy, overcrowded orphanages of Romania, the need to consume human blood appears less terrible. The narrative illustrates the "banality of evil" with the statement that "Dracula would be a story. The plight of hundreds of thousands of victims of political madness, bureaucracy, stupidity" is merely an "inconvenience." Even Vlad Tepes, patriarch of the "Family of Night," the late dictator's "Dark Advisor," doesn't seem utterly villainous, since we see him mainly as a sick, tired old man. Despite Joshua's destiny as the prince of the dark bloodline, as an innocent child he invites sympathy rather than horror.

Kate explores the possibility of a cure and offers Vlad an escape from his clan's centuries-old existence of secrecy and predation. The hemoglobin substitute she creates could mean the carriers of the mutation may not have to behave like monsters. Perhaps, through baby Joshua, an ancient evil can be converted to beneficial purposes. Even the notoriously terrible Vlad accepts the possibility of salvation for his people. Simmons crafts a tale of horror and suspense featuring ruthless, bloodthirsty vampires who surprisingly turn out to be more complex than the reader would have expected.

I discuss this book and many other novels and stories, including Simmons' gruesome and very unusual vampire novella "Dying in Bangkok," in my DIFFERENT BLOOD: THE VAMPIRE AS ALIEN:

Different Blood

Margaret L. Carter

Explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

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