[NOTE: This essay was published (with some minor differences) in Niekas No. 45 (1998) and was written several years earlier. The "past twenty years" mentioned refer to the period from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s. If I were writing this article now, I would add Kim Newman's Anno-Dracula (Carroll and Graf, 1992) and its sequels, the epic of an alternate universe in which Stoker's heroes failed to destroy Dracula, who vampirized the widowed Queen Victoria and became Prince Consort. Aside from the excellence of characterization and plotting, these novels (and related novellas that have appeared in various anthologies) provide endless pleasure for the reader who enjoys identifying the hundreds of allusions to fictional and historical characters that Newman has woven into his texts. Many other "honorable mentions" would have to be added, especially in the realm of vampire romance, by now an established subgenre. Also, if this essay were written today, I would have to qualify the statement about the dominance of the sympathetic vampire. Recent years have seen a "backlash" in the direction of the monstrous, absolutely evil vampire. Nevertheless, the sympathetic vampire remains viable and will never stop appealing to a large percentage of readers.]
"He is known everywhere man has been," Dr. Abraham Van Helsing insists, alluding to the vampire. And according to psychoanalyst Ernest Jones in On the Nightmare (1931), the vampire myth is the most "overdetermined" of all superstitions. Not surprisingly, the vampire is as prolific and various in literature as in legend. The task of identifying and discussing the best vampire tales of all time, therefore, proves to be more difficult than persuading Count Dracula to lie quietly in his coffin. Just as vampires on film always rise from the grave for yet another sequel, so the Undead in fiction, however often staked by critical remarks about trite motifs and glutted markets, never fail to reappear in yet more remarkable guises. I have therefore narrowed the scope of this essay to the most noteworthy vampire novels of the past twenty years. For first-rank billing, I restrict myself to the appropriate total of thirteen (though many honorable mentions are also proposed).
By dealing with recent works only, we avoid the difficulty that including the entire period since about 1800 (the apogee of the Gothic novel) would entail. In that case four of the thirteen slots would automatically be preempted by the great classics of the nineteenth century -- The Vampyre, by John Polidori (1819), Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood, by either Thomas P. Prest or James Malcolm Rymer (1847), Carmilla, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1872), and of course Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897). By confining the survey to novels, we keep the list within manageable bounds, since dozens of short stories and novellas might legitimately claim a place among the "most noteworthy." Curiously, a chronological survey of the field reveals that, although excellent short fiction on vampirism has flourished (more or less evenly distributed) throughout the past century, only a handful of memorable vampire novels appeared before the early 1970's.
Aside from the four nocturnal luminaries mentioned above, I consider the outstanding pre-1970 vampire novels to be: I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson (Fawcett, 1954), the best-known and most meticulously detailed treatment of vampirism as infectious disease, twice translated into film; Doctors Wear Scarlet, by Simon Raven (Simon and Schuster, 1960), a suspenseful, horrifying adventure of both psychic and physical vampirism, with -- perhaps -- a hint of the supernatural; Some of Your Blood, by Theodore Sturgeon (Ballantine, 1961), a psychological study of blood fetishism, presented in a low-key epistolary format that emphasizes by contrast the shocking "facts" of the story; and Progeny of the Adder, by Leslie H. Whitten (Doubleday, 1965), an absorbingly realistic murder mystery, centering upon the hunt for a vampire of the classic supernatural type.
Any such choices, of course, must be somewhat subjective. In singling out the thirteen most noteworthy vampire novels of the past twenty years, I look for works that are "noteworthy" in the sense of receiving considerable attention and exerting influence on the development of vampire fiction, as well as works that introduce original and striking variations on the standard vampire myth. And the list is, inevitably, skewed toward novels that I personally enjoy and consider above average in concept and execution. They follow in chronological order:
'Salem's Lot, by Stephen King (Doubleday, 1975): King's first major work. In the figure of Barlow, he transplants Count Dracula into a contemporary setting. King plays upon the isolation of a small town in Maine, exploring the possibility of its takeover by nonhuman forces, unknown to the rest of the world (a motif he returns to in The Tommyknockers). Like Dracula in Stoker's novel, Barlow remains for the most part a numinously menacing offstage presence. His mortal partner, Straker, keeps the vampire's influence in the foreground of the reader's mind, somewhat as Renfield does in Dracula, though the suave, self-possessed Straker is a far cry from the confused, tormented Renfield. While employing the standard components of vampire fiction made familiar by Stoker -- the vampire's hypnotic seduction and other supernatural powers, defense by means of such objects as garlic and holy symbols, ritual staking of the heroine transformed by the vampire lord, a band of heroes complete with an aging scholar as a Van Helsing figure -- King downplays the erotic dimension of vampirism, so prominent (for twentieth-century readers) in Carmilla and Dracula, in favor of metaphors of power and corruption.
The Dracula Tape, by Fred Saberhagen (Warner, 1975): An "interview" predating by a year the self-revelation of Rice's Louis. In the first serious novel to present a vampire's story from his or her own point of view, Count Dracula retells the events of Stoker's book on the tape recorder of a car belonging to a descendant of Jonathan and Mina Harker. Intent upon vindicating himself to the family of the woman he loves, as well as to the human world in general, the Count exposes the distortions in the published account of his 1890 move from Transylvania to England. While adhering to the "facts" as recorded by Stoker (with the single exception of the date of Mina's pregnancy -- and the broadminded reader might accept a vampirically-influenced thirteen-month gestation to reconcile this inconsistency), Saberhagen reinterprets them to show Count Dracula as the hero of the tale. Ignorant human foes, led by the fanatical vampire-hunter Van Helsing, cause Lucy's death by incompatible blood transfusions (Dracula makes her a vampire only to give her a chance at life) and foil the Count's attempt at a peaceful life in England. According to Dracula's testimony, he never forces himself upon anyone and relies on animal blood as his primary nourishment. He enjoys the blood of Lucy and Mina for erotic, not nutritive, purposes, and both are more than willing. Taking this novel in isolation, the reader might suspect Dracula of being an unreliable narrator, since his account is as clearly self-serving as those of Harker and Seward. Saberhagen's sequels, however, make it obvious that the author does intend the reader to accept Dracula's testimony as accurate. Of the later books in the series, I consider the most successful to be The Holmes-Dracula File (Ace, 1978), told in alternate chapters by Count Dracula and Dr. Watson -- a respectful Sherlock Holmes pastiche as well as a suspenseful vampire novel, displaying, like The Dracula Tape, conscientious research into the late Victorian period. Other books in the series contain flashbacks in which Dracula reminisces about his pre-vampire life and the circumstances of his transformation.
Interview with the Vampire,, by Anne Rice (Alfred A. Knopf, 1976): The book that brought vampires to the notice of the general public. Lengthy praise of Rice's "Vampire Chronicles" would display a naivete somewhat like that of an earnest dissertation on Shakespeare's merits as a dramatist. Her richly textured portrait of antebellum New Orleans lends credibility to this first novelistic account of a transformation from human to inhuman as seen from the inside. Unlike King, who in 'Salem's Lot follows Stoker in presenting the vampire as the essence of evil, to be overcome by a dynamic faith in God (the trappings of Christianity work against King's Undead, but only if the wielder of the cross believes), Rice places her vampires in a secularized universe. To the boy interviewer's questions about crucifixes, magical transformations, and the efficacy of a stake through the heart, the vampire Louis replies, "That is, how you would say today -- bullshit?" (p. 25). Rice's vampires display abnormal strength, speed, and sensory acuity, along with a drastically altered appearance that makes it difficult for them to pass for human, but they have none of the traditional fictional vampire's powers of transformation. Aside from sunlight (a detail adopted, of course, from movies such as Nosferatu, not from the nineteenth-century classic novels), they seem to have no vulnerabilities. In fact, they seem almost impossible to kill; in Rice's novels, supposedly destroyed vampires tend to reappear when least expected. In The Vampire Lestat (Knopf, 1985), the reader who accepted Louis as a reliable narrator must undergo a wrenching reversal of perspective, for Lestat, portrayed as a villain in the earlier book, contradicts Louis' interpretation of events and presents himself as an admirable character -- at least, within the limits of the inhuman, amoral nature of Rice's vampires. Queen of the Damned (Knopf, 1988) abandons first-person narration for multiple points of view, both human and vampire. Rice is the first novelist successfully to attempt an explanation of the origin of vampires. Lestat's quest for the source of his own existence (begun in the second volume) leads him to the mythic Adam and Eve of the Undead, culminating in a battle between ancient vampires of unimaginable power in Queen of the Damned. It would not be accurate to characterize this epic as a conflict between "good" and "evil" vampires; these creatures have their own values and goals, to which human standards of morality remain peripheral.
Hotel Transylvania, by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (St. Martin's, 1978): Though not so well known to non-specialists as Rice's characters, Yarbro's Saint-Germain is probably the best-loved of contemporary vampires. If Rice's fiction may be characterized as epic, Yarbro's is romance. Against her meticulously researched historical backgrounds, intimate exploration of human (whether living or Undead) emotions and relationships claims central importance. Saint-Germain may be described as Dracula with a difference. Another Transylvanian Count who lives on blood, sometimes transforms his victims into his own kind, casts no reflection, and rests on a bed of his native earth, Saint-Germain embodies the opposite of the unholy evil Stoker ascribes to Dracula. Rather than recoiling from Christian symbols, in Hotel Transylvania Saint-Germain wields a consecrated Host to repel a coven of Satanists. He cannot transform into animal shape, as Dracula can (though he can control animals), but in most ways conforms to the powers and limitations of the traditional vampire. Like Stoker's Dracula (and Saberhagen's), Saint-Germain can function by daylight. Yarbro postulates that he suffers little or no discomfort from the sun as long as he wears shoes with his native earth in the soles. This author's answer to the question of why a vampire who can feed on animals needs human blood resembles Saberhagen's theory. To Saint-Germain, the taking of blood is an erotic experience, making this character the quintessential demon lover. Drinking blood offers him no satisfaction unless his partner attains sexual fulfillment. After several novels and a collection of short pieces, Yarbro retired Saint-Germain and devoted a trilogy to one of his "converts," Olivia, who exemplifies a self-reliant woman attempting to maintain her independence in the patriarchal world of ancient and medieval Christendom. Out of the House of Life (TOR, 1990) returns to Saint-Germain and his great love, Madelaine. This book explores Saint-Germain's early years as the vampiric "mascot" of a healing temple.
The Vampire Tapestry,, by Suzy McKee Charnas (Simon and Schuster, 1980): In my opinion, the most coherent and believable presentation of vampire-as-alien ever published. The first section of this five-part novel, "The Ancient Mind at Work," published in the February, 1979, issue of Omni, presents the vampire, Dr. Edward Weyland, as a single-minded beast of prey with superior intelligence. A South African housekeeper at the small college where Weyland works as a professor of anthropology shoots down the vampire as she would any dangerous animal. At the end of this novella he escapes, apparently mortally wounded. The rest of the novel moves from an external view of the vampire as simply a ruthless predator to a more intimate and sympathetic view through the eyes of a teenage boy who befriends him, when imprisoned by his "rescuers," and a middle-aged female psychologist who, faced with the task of "curing" Weyland of his vampiric "delusion," makes the imaginative leap of realizing that he actually is the nonhuman creature he claims to be. In the novel's final section, Charnas places the reader entirely within Weyland's point of view, demonstrating how the chain of events begun by the nearly fatal attack has compelled Weyland to grow and change, unwillingly forced into relationships with the human beings he prefers to consider his "livestock." The lengthy period of deathlike sleep he uses to escape from intolerable conditions, withdrawing into suspended animation until it becomes safe to start a new lifetime amid an unsuspecting prey population, serves as his escape from the temptation of becoming too human. He knows the long sleep will wipe out the traumatic details of his Weyland life and let him "rise restored, eyes once more as bright and unreflective as a hawk's and heart as ruthless as a leopard's" (1981 Pocket Book edition, p. 294). Animal metaphors dominate this story; Weyland is a lynx, a tiger, a raptor in deceptively human shape. The author draws analogies from the animal kingdom to lend credibility to Weyland's extraordinary speed, strength, endurance, sensory perception, longevity, and restricted diet. His human appearance is merely an evolutionary adaptation to enable him to mingle unnoticed with his prey. Even his sexuality is camouflage; he is unique and claims he has no need to reproduce, since with care he may live virtually forever. Unlike the erotically alluring vampires of much contemporary fiction, he has no sexual interest in human beings and engages in intercourse for appearances' sake only. The one exception is his relationship with Floria Landauer, the psychologist who shares his secret; he treats her as an equal rather than a victim, and their interaction forms the turning point in Weyland's reluctant growth toward humanity.
The Hunger, by Whitley Strieber (William Morrow, 1981): Another alien vampire, quite different from Weyland in her orientation toward the human race. Unlike Charnas' vampire, who values his isolation and would not want to create his own rivals, Strieber's Miriam Blaylock craves human company. She considers human beings "pets" rather than livestock and futilely attempts to use her own blood to transform her victims into immortal companions. All her experimental subjects eventually degenerate into a grotesque living death. She turns for help to Dr. Sarah Roberts, a sleep researcher who may have discovered the secret behind the aging process. Though a member of a separate species rather than a supernatural revenant, Miriam, like Saint-Germain, has the ability to manipulate a victim's mind and induce a powerful erotic response. Her telepathic talent doubtless accounts for her longing for a bond with her human donors. Despite her numerous acts of violence, the reader empathizes with the loneliness she feels as the last of her kind and understands Sarah's fascination with her. Miriam's attempt to transform Sarah ends, naturally, in disaster, and the experience of loss makes her resolve never to try again. Thus Strieber uses the vampire-as-alien to achieve a fresh perspective on the traditional motif of the vampire's tragic isolation.
Fevre Dream, by George R. R. Martin (Simon and Schuster, 1982): Vampire-as-alien tale featuring a vampire subculture rather than a solitary predator. Set in the heyday of the Mississippi steamboats, this novel centers on Joshua, a vampire who, orphaned in childhood, grows up believing himself an aberrant human being. Eventually he realizes that he is neither human nor supernatural (religious symbols have no effect on him), but a representative of a species that combines features of the legendary werewolf and vampire. Aside from vulnerability to sunlight, Joshua leads a more or less "normal" life except for a few nights each month. At those times his uncontrollable bloodlust drives him to kill human victims, despite his best intentions. By the time he eventually finds members of his own race, his remorse compels him to seek an alternative to killing. He invents a potion that substitutes for blood, freeing himself and his followers from the "red thirst" or "fever" (hence the name he bestows on the steamboat he buys). Fevre Dream is the first distinguished "good vampire / bad vampire" novel, a subgenre that has since produced a number of specimens. Joshua's rivals want to continue ruthless exploitation of their prey rather than living in harmony with the human race. Joshua's partner, steamboat captain Abner Marsh, provides the viewpoint through which we learn about the vampire race. Abner, as he grows from horror at Joshua's nature to understanding that vampires, like human beings, are individuals with both good and evil traits, serves as surrogate for the reader who longs for contact with an alien mind. When Joshua remarks that his kind have never before revealed the truth about themselves to one of the human "cattle" they feed on, Abner counters, "Well, I never lissened to no vampire before neither, so we're even. Go on. This here bull is lissenin'" (p. 144). Martin's nineteenth-century setting enriches the story without eclipsing the fantastic components, as Yarbro's historical backgrounds sometimes do.
Blood Hunt, by Lee Killough (TOR, 1987): A rare example of a fictional vampire who is a truly nice person, without possessing the superhuman charisma of Saint-Germain. Like Matheson, Killough postulates that vampirism is an infectious disease, though in Blood Hunt the hypothesis is merely assumed by the vampires without being elaborated in any way. As in Rice's trilogy, a victim must taste the vampire's blood in order to be transformed. Killough, like Rice, presents the gradual process of transformation from the vampire's point of view. Garreth Mikaelian, a San Francisco police officer, investigates murders committed by Lane Barber, a vampire, who drains him to death. When he accidentally drinks some of her blood, Lane refrains from destroying him, because she longs for a companion. The core of the novel concerns Garreth's gradual realization of and adjustment to the fact of his vampirism. He requires soil (not necessarily "native earth") to sleep on and cannot enter a dwelling uninvited, two factors that do not seem to harmonize with Killough's viral theory. He casts a reflection, in keeping with his supposedly non-supernatural nature. Sunlight causes him discomfort but does not kill him. He lives on animal blood, though it proves less than satisfying; as a highly moral vampire, he refuses to prey on people. Determined to bring Lane to justice, he traces her to her home town, where he makes a place for himself in the community -- working the night shift on the local police force -- while waiting for her to return. Vampire or not, Garreth remains a good cop, who adamantly resists the temptation to play vigilante. Even someone like Lane deserves due process of law. Circumstances finally free Garreth from the dilemma this philosophy imposes on him, and at the novel's end we see him as a small-town policeman who has come to terms with his new existence. The strongest appeal of this novel, for me, is that Garreth's personality remains intact through his transformation. Instead of becoming a bloodthirsty demon, he stands in the far more interesting position of an ordinary man required to adjust to a new set of limits and temptations. In the sequel, Bloodlinks (TOR, 1988), Garreth is accustomed to his vampiric life but far from happy with it. Drawn back to San Francisco by a new set of mysterious murders, he meets the female vampire responsible for Lane's transformation and learns that his friends and family can accept him even after they discover what he is. The character of Garreth has great potential for further growth; a third volume is scheduled for late 2000.
Those Who Hunt the Night, by Barbara Hambly (Ballantine, 1988): Another "good vampire / bad vampire" novel with a strong period atmosphere. In Victorian England a husband-wife investigative team, Prof. James Asher and his wife Lydia, are commissioned by Simon Ysidro to find out who has been murdering London's vampires. To call Simon "good" is less than accurate; Hambly's Undead seem to be modeled on Rice's in their amorality, violence, and detachment from humanity. Simon does, however, refrain from the worst excesses and contract a good-faith alliance with James Asher, and the two of them attain, if not friendship, mutual respect. Hambly emphasizes the psychic aspect of vampire predation; Simon and his kind (like Strieber's Miriam) perceive human emotions, and they crave the "high" of fear and torment as much as the blood itself. Their vulnerabilities, aside from a stake through the heart, include the traditional sunlight (a persistent assumption in most contemporary vampire fiction, despite its absence from the nineteenth-century prototypes) and silver. Besides Simon, James, and Lydia, striking characters include a guilt-driven vampire monk and Blaydon, a "mad scientist" character whose son has become a mutant vampire. The novel's title has an ironic triple application -- to the vampires, to the fanatical Blaydon, and to James in his role as detective.
Those of My Blood, by Jacqueline Lichtenberg (St. Martin's, 1988): Alien vampires that originate on another planet rather than on Earth as a human mutation. A group of the luren, stranded on our world for generations, have developed into two factions, the Residents, who believe in responsible coexistence with humanity, and the Tourists, who exploit human beings as prey and devote their energies to the goal of returning to their home world. Residents live on cloned blood and eschew the temptation of feeding directly on human beings; they do, however, crave "ectoplasm," human life-force. A luren ship enters the solar system and is being studied at a lunar base, where scientists are preparing to send a message to the luren home world. Titus, a Resident and vampire-human hybrid, is sent to the moon to prevent the message from being transmitted, on the grounds that the luren would prove hostile to humanity. Abbot, Titus' vampiric "father," a Tourist, is on the scene to thwart Titus' mission. Years previously, Titus "died," and Abbot's blood brought him to life, transmuted into the vampire mode of existence -- hence their "father-son" bond. On the captured luren, ship a single crewman sleeps in suspended animation. When he awakens, Titus must "father" him, leading to further complications, as Titus attempts to block Abbot while maintaining secrecy about the vampire species. Lichtenberg assigns her vampires the power of irresistible psychic compulsion, called Influence; luren Influence can even cause human observers to believe they have seen events and objects that bear no relation to what really happened. A side effect of these vampires' psychic power is that, like Yarbro's supernatural vampires, they possess consummate erotic skills. Lichtenberg also offers ingenious scientific rationalizations for the "native earth" superstition and the belief that vampires cannot cross a threshold uninvited. Though this story superficially fits the "good vampire / bad vampire" model, we gradually discover that Abbot is not "evil," only an antagonist pursuing goals that seem worthwhile to him by means that conform to his own code of ethics. In a companion novel, Dreamspy (St. Martin's, 1989), set outside our solar system, we meet the luren on their own terms as respected members of the interstellar community.
Shattered Glass, by Elaine Bergstrom (Berkley, 1989): This story of a single clan of alien vampires is the first book in a series that rivals Yarbro's Saint-Germain chronicles in its potential scope. The Austra family, though their origins are non-terrestrial, have been a part of human history for millennia. The title refers to their artistry in stained glass; unlike most fictional vampires, who lack any creative spark, the Austras are superb craftsmen, whose genius has contributed to many of the great cathedrals of Europe. One of the oldest of their number, Stephen (pronounced "Stefan"), while restoring the windows of a church in Cleveland, meets a young woman, Helen Wells, who carries a share of his family's genes. They fall in love, and he helps her pass over (somewhat like Lichtenberg's Titus) into the vampiric life. Meanwhile, Stephen's twin brother Charles, driven by despair, has embarked on a murderous rampage with the intent of forcing Stephen to hunt him down and kill him -- Austras are incapable of directly committing suicide. In the final confrontation, Charles' death becomes the instrument of Helen's rebirth as a true Austra. Bergstrom gives her vampires powerful psychic abilities, animal strength, speed, and feral grace, and a dislike for but not an exaggerated vulnerability to daylight. They also possess the ability to immerse their donors in their own memories so vividly that the donor feels he or she has lived the past event. Bergstrom achieves sensuality without offensive explicitness and horror without gratuitous gore, while weaving a complex plot with a large number of vividly realized characters. The second book of the series, Blood Alone (Berkley, 1990), equally fertile in character and action, follows Stephen and Charles through the early years of World War II. Other volumes have followed.
Sunglasses After Dark, by Nancy Collins (New American Library, 1989): A violent, erotic variation on the traditional supernatural vampire. At first the novel appears to be a tale of homicidal psychosis and multiple personality; the Other, Sonja Blue, inhabits the body of supposedly dead heiress Denise Thorne. In fact, Denise has died, and Sonja, the vampire, a new personality with Denise's memories, has come to birth in her body. Collins postulates a demonic race known as the Pretenders, who comprise a variety of subspecies that all prey on human beings. The Pretenders are the truth behind vampires, werewolves, incubi, and numerous other legendary creatures. When a vampire injects his or her body fluids into a victim who subsequently dies, a demonic entity with no selfhood of its own transforms the victim into a vampire and uses the host's memories to build itself a personality. Sonja, transformed by the aristocratic vampire Sir Morgan, whom she wishes to track down and kill, learns the truth about her kind from an erudite vampire-hunter, Ghilardi, and Morgan's rival, the vampire Pangloss. To the latter's bewilderment, Sonja has no interest in joining the Pretenders' "Real World" and the vampire subculture, with its game-playing rivalries. Instead, she pursues vengeance for her Denise Thorne self, thereby clashing with Catherine Wheele, fraudulent psychic and evangelist. Like many contemporary vampire novels, notably The Vampire Tapestry, Sunglasses enlists our sympathy with a creature traditionally regarded as a bloodthirsty monster by demonstrating that human beings can be guilty of far worse than a peculiar diet and occasional killing in self-defense. Several sequels have appeared.
Carrion Comfort, by Dan Simmons (Dark Harvest, 1989): An expansion of a novella of psychic vampirism by the same title (Omni, September-October 1983). Nina and Melanie, a pair of antebellum Charleston belles, and Willi, a German aristocrat, meet to perpetuate their long-term rivalry in what they variously call the Game, the Hunt, or simply Feeding. Ordinary human beings except for their mutant ability to drive others to violence by sheer mental force, they have learned to extend life and vitality indefinitely by feeding on the deaths they cause. The story begins with an explosive confrontation in which Nina, after supposedly destroying Willi, attempts to kill Melanie as well. The novella, told in the first person by Melanie, ends with her apparent victory over Nina. The novel expands the story to epic proportions, concluding with a Hunt on a private island, along the lines of Richard Connell's classic short story, "The Most Dangerous Game" (1924). Opposing the psychic vampires are Saul Laski, a professor who began to suspect their nature when he crossed paths with Willi in a concentration camp, Bobby Joe Gentry, a Southern sheriff who delightfully subverts the stereotype of that character, and Natalie Preston, intelligent, courageous daughter of a black man accidentally killed in the random slaughter generated by Nina and Melanie's initial combat. Though almost nine hundred pages long, Carrion Comfort compels the reader's attention, and despite the large number of violent deaths, the author manages to make us go on caring about the characters. He even elicits an unwilling sympathy for Melanie, cruel, self-centered, and paranoid though she is. Carrion Comfort, in my opinion, is the finest fictional treatment of psychic vampirism yet produced.
The vampires in each of these thirteen novels, whether admirable or the reverse, have in common an appeal to the reader's understanding. None is a ravening bloodsucker devoid of personality. The one possible exception, King's Barlow, deliberately patterned on Dracula, though neither an erotic nor a sympathetic character, is still a character rather than a mindless killing machine -- an eloquent seducer promising satanic rewards to his victims. All the others elicit sympathy despite their sometimes amoral and even murderous behavior. The trend toward a sympathetic treatment of the vampire, present in some short fiction before the 1970's, as well as the television series Dark Shadows, became dominant with Yarbro's Hotel Transylvania and shows no signs of reversal. As mentioned above, the ghastly crimes committed by human beings in recent history make a vampire's predation seem relatively innocuous. Contemporary respect for the integrity and civil rights of minority groups extends, in fiction, to that misunderstood and feared minority, the Undead. Readers of fantasy and science fiction, moreover, are not content to destroy the alien on sight; we want to understand the mind of the not-quite-human, and fictional vampires -- Louis and Lestat in Rice's trilogy, Joshua telling his life story to Abner in Fevre Dream, Charnas' Dr. Weyland revealing his secrets to his therapist -- seem eager to be understood.
Innovative treatments of vampirism, often sympathetic, pervade contemporary fiction, including the following novels offered for honorable mention: The Dracula Archives, by Raymond Rudorff (Arbor House, 1972), ostensibly covering the years just preceding Stoker's tale, when Dracula telepathically reaches out from his entombed sleep to take possession of several people in turn, culminating in his release to new life on the book's final page; An Enquiry into the Existence of Vampires, by Marc Lovell (Doubleday, 1974), an undeservedly neglected short novel in which a pair of brothers, in a tightly woven plot, clash over the possibility of vampirism in the family (here presented as a non-supernatural disease) and run afoul of a cult in the process; The Space Vampires, by Colin Wilson (Random House, 1976), an ingenious treatment of psychic vampirism that postulates that some human beings, as well as the aliens of the title, are capable of feeding on the vital energy possessed by all living things; The Black Castle, by Les Daniels (Scribner's, 1978), in which the Grand Inquisitor of Spain ironically employs his brother, the vampire Sebastian, as an instrument of terror in the service of the Church -- also the first of a series; Sabella or The Blood Stone, by Tanith Lee (DAW, 1980), in which an alien entity takes over the body and memories of a child living on a colonized planet in Earth's near future (anticipating the transmutation of Sonja Blue in the later Sunglasses After Dark), with Sabella's pilgrimage of self-discovery told in Lee's inimitably poetic style; They Thirst, by Robert R. McCammon (Avon, 1981), 'Salem's Lot, on an epic scale, featuring a satanic vampire lord, Prince Vulkan, bent on ruling Los Angeles; The Delicate Dependency, by Michael Talbot (Avon, 1982), set in the Victorian era, conveying the human characters through a multilayered plot that culminates in an encounter with an esoteric society of vampires, alluring yet coldly remote from humanity, who guide the history and nurture the genius of the inferior but indispensable human race; Vampire Junction, by S. P. Somtow (Donning, 1984), a violent story of a boy vampire, drawing upon Jungian theory to explain vampirism as a spontaneous birth from the collective unconscious; Necroscope, by Brian Lumley (copyright 1986; TOR, 1988), the first book in the multi-volume saga of Harry Keogh, whose talent for speaking with the dead brings him into conflict with a Soviet intelligence organization that uses ESP and a vampire, Thibor, representative of a parasitic species that originates in an alternate dimension; Live Girls, by Ray Garton (Pocket Books, 1987), about vampires who lurk in wait for prey behind the facade of a sleazy nightclub, leading to a bloody conflict in which one of the viewpoint characters, changed into one of the Undead, manages to resist the temptation to evil implicit in his transformation while destroying the less admirable vampires; Blood Thirst, by L. A. Freed (Pinnacle, 1989), the heroine Ainjul's first-person account of her transformation into a vampire (apparently modeled on the pattern of gradual change in Rice's Interview), against the background of a vividly realized Charleston, South Carolina, setting; The Stress of Her Regard, by Tim Powers (Charnel House, 1989), an account of a silicon-based vampiric life form whose depredations condemn Keats, Byron, and Shelley to untimely death -- a suspenseful, erotic, yet horrific tale that weaves together a number of classic myths along with references from the three great Romantic poets' works; Bloodlist, by P. N. Elrod (Ace, 1990), first in the "Vampire Files" series, narrated by Jack Fleming, who (like Killough's Garreth) after becoming a vampire investigates his own murder, this series, however, being set during the Depression as a pastiche of the hard-boiled detective genre; Children of the Night, by Mercedes Lackey (TOR, 1990), in which psychic investigator Diana Tregarde combats a pack of life-force predators with the aid of Andre DuPres, a delightfully sensual and witty vampire modeled, apparently, on Yarbro's Saint-Germain; and another Children of the Night, by Dan Simmons (Putnam's, 1992), applying the disease theory of vampirism to the vividly rendered real-life horrors of post-Communist Romania.
Predictably, the outstanding specimens mentioned here have inspired a flood of vampire fiction, much of it conforming to Sturgeon's Law. Still, if the vampire's popularity continues unabated, we have grounds to hope that the remaining ten percent will permit us an abundance of fresh encounters with these dangerous yet alluring creatures of the night.
November 4, 2000