Sunday, February 14, 2021

A Whisper of Blood

Ellen Datlow's anthology A WHISPER OF BLOOD (1991) follows up her earlier volume BLOOD IS NOT ENOUGH (1989). "Whisper" is entirely accurate, because very few of these stories feature literal bloodsuckers. Most of them involve some kind of energy draining or even vampirism as metaphor. In her introduction, Datlow declares that her selections focus mainly on "the negative relationships themselves." The majority of the stories are original to the anthology, plus a few reprints. Contributors include many distinguished authors of horror and fantasy, such as Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Suzy McKee Charnas, Robert Silverberg, Jonathan Carroll, Barry N. Malzberg, and Thomas Ligotti, among others.

Needless to say, my favorites tend toward works that approach closest to traditional vampirism, although with variations unique to each writer. The volume leads off with "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep," by Suzy McKee Charnas, author of THE VAMPIRE TAPESTRY. This very different tale stars Rose, a recently deceased elderly woman who lingers as a ghost in her old apartment, benignly taking small amounts of blood from her grown granddaughter to "anchor" her to this world, until she builds up the courage to move on to whatever lies beyond. Karl Edward Wagner's "The Slug" portrays a humanoid "leech" who drains a writer's creative energy until destroyed by the usual method of killing slugs—salt. Silverberg's "Warm Man" (one of the reprints) features an empath who relieves the emotional pain of his "victims" by sucking it in, subject to the risk of empathic overload. The predator in Ligotti's "Mrs. Rinaldi's Angel" is a kind of energy-draining demon. The narrator of "A Week in the Unlife," by David J. Schow, hunts vampires, but since we experience only his viewpoint, it's hard to tell whether the "bloodsuckers" he tracks are real or imaginary. Rick Wilbur presents a traditional vampire infatuated with "a good Catholic girl" in the poem "The Impaler in Love." The protagonist of Yarbro's "Do I Dare to Eat a Peach?" (another reprint), an astrophysics professor whose memory has been wiped, struggles to uncover the truth of his possibly horrifying past. This piece didn't strike me as vampiric, although it does deal with predators in a more general sense.

Readers will have to use their imaginations and exercise sympathetic suspension of disbelief to find vampirism in some of the other stories as well. With several of them, I couldn't discern any vampiric content, however tenuous, even by my very broad and elastic definitional standards. (I didn't include those works in my vampire fiction bibliography update for that year.) Nevertheless, they're all excellent tales of one kind or another, as one would expect from such an outstanding lineup of authors assembled by a veteran editor of numerous speculative fiction anthologies. Datlow also compiled BLOOD AND OTHER CRAVINGS (2011) and TEETH (2011, co-edited with Terri Windling, reviewed here in April 2018).

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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