Stoker’s Progeny

Today is the centenary of Bram Stoker’s death, and I thought I’d mark the occasion in two ways – by reading his novel The Lair of the White Worm and by listing my top thirteen vampire novels. Unfortunately the former took so long that I have little time left for the latter, but I’ll stick my neck out anyway (and where vampires are concerned what better part of the anatomy to place in the firing line). So here goes:-

Carmilla (1872)

Le Fanu’s classic tale of vampires with a forbidden love subtext, and yes I know that it’s not really a novel, but it is simply too significant and too accomplished to ignore. A huge influence on the vampire subgenre, economically written and as psychologically astute now as it was when first published.

Dracula (1897)

The seminal text as far as vampires are concerned, to the point where just about every bloodsucker story since is either following in Stoker’s footsteps or reacting against him. Stoker’s vision, filtered through the eyes of playwrights and film makers, has become the archetype, the vampire as suave and aristocratic predator. None of which should obscure the fact that it’s actually a very good story, with a tight narrative structure and carefully constructed plot, touching on themes of xenophobia and plague fear that are just as relevant now as then.

I Am Legend (1954)

Of course it doesn’t quite make sense – one human left in a world of vampires is as ridiculous as one cow left in a world of carnivores – and those who have argued that it’s more readily seen as a zombie novel have a point. What Matheson did though is reverse values, bringing into question our ideas of normality and morality. In a vampire society the solitary human is the monster to be feared, the bogeyman. Everything is relative.

Some of Your Blood (1961)

Sturgeon’s short, tautly written novel, eschews the supernatural to present us with a compelling case study of a man with a taste for blood. I’m surprised this hasn’t been more influential, with more tales of human bloodsuckers.

Interview with the Vampire (1976)

Probably the next most influential vampire novel after Dracula, Anne Rice’s work gave us the angsty vampire, with a shift of emphasis away from the bloodletting to the vampire’s longevity as its defining feature, asking how it feels to live on so long after everyone and everything you have ever known is turned to dust. Lestat and company face the same dilemmas as the rest of us – asking for a purpose to their extended lives, a moral underpinning that will provide a rationale for the slaughter they commit. It’s also about New Orleans, and that’s cool.

The Vampire Tapestry (1980)

McKee Charnas takes a scientific approach, showing her vampire’s antecedents and how such a creature would remain undiscovered and survive in human society. At bottom, it’s the vampire as serial killer, and in the figure of anthropologist Edward Weyland we have a sociopath in all but name. Only Weyland grows in stature, finally coming to the realisation that humans are more than mere cattle.

The Hunger (1981)

Miriam Blaylock is another vampire trying to understand her own nature, and enlisting the aid of a haematologist to do so, but driving her even more than the appetite for blood is the fear of loneliness, the need to have someone at her side down the years. The most terrible and unnerving thing in Whitley Streiber’s novel is the fate of Blaylock’s past lovers, with its echo of Swift’s struldbrugs.

Fevre Dream (1982)

I love vampires and I love Mark Twain’s tales of riverboat culture, so Martin’s lush and expansive novel about vampires sailing a steamboat down the Mississippi hits all the right notes. It does nothing new with the vampire archetype, at least that I can recall, but I do remember it being a whole lot of fun.

Vampire Junction (1984)

The first in a trilogy, Somtow’s novel is a shockingly violent depiction of vampirism, packed with images that scorch their way into the mind’s eye. The author picked up on the idea of the child vampire put to such good use by Rice, and melded it with a rock star persona (and, the very next year, Rice made Lestat a singer) to create something vibrant and original, a work whose influence is still being felt today, as with some aspects of Let the Right One In.

Anno Dracula (1992)

Newman imagines what would have happened if Dracula had been victorious in Stoker’s novel, and the results are not pleasant for the characters, but they’re a real treat for the reader. The term larger than life was meant for books like this, with its wonderful blend of fast paced action and literary references, while underneath all of that is a subtext about the perils of fascism.

The Golden (1993)

Beautifully written, this is a vampire novel, with heartstopping moments of sudden violence, and also a detective story as Shepard’s protagonist strives to find out who has murdered the offspring of a breeding project intended to produce a special bloodline. The glory of the book though is in the lavishly described and magnificently baroque setting of Castle Banat, a house with many mansions, and every one of them occupied by some new threat or grotesquerie.

Fangland (2007)

A Dracula for the noughties, as the archetypal bloodsucker joins forces with the modern media to conquer New York, in an endlessly inventive and at times disturbing story that put me in mind of Japanese film Kairo. Marks’ book abounds with brittle, snappy dialogue, scenes of bloodletting and sharply satirical characters.

That’s only twelve titles, and I just can’t make up my mind what the final entry should be. Contenders include Hotel Transylvania, Salem’s Lot, They Thirst, Carrion Comfort, Covenant with the Vampire, Sips of Blood, The Evil Seed, The Third Section and a few others that I can’t bring to mind right now as the witching hour draws ever closer.

So, let’s put the thirteenth seat at the high table out for tender. Anyone who feels inclined to do so is cordially invited to list their favourite vampire novels not in my top twelve, up to a maximum of three titles, and the one with the most votes will win.

Well, unless it’s something sparkly, in which case, sod democracy – I’ll make my own choice and never trust you people with anything important again.

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42 Responses to Stoker’s Progeny

  1. I think THE HORLA by Guy de Maupassant is in effect a novella, not a novel, (it’s referred to on its wikipedia page in different places as a story and a novel!) but I consider this arguably a Vampire work of some substance and, if considered to be Vampire work, equally arguably the *greatest* Vampire work.

    • petertennant says:

      Great story Des, and I’d agree that arguably a vampire piece, though of the psychic variety rather than blood drinking. Not sure about the length though – in my Maupassant collection it runs to 32 pages, which I’d say was more novelette than novella.

  2. Bob says:

    Although the word ‘Vampire’ isn’t really thrust into your face in Justin Cronin’s book, The Passage, I think it’s a book worthy of adding to the above list. An up-to-date take on vampirism on an earth decimated through genetic experimentation.

    • petertennant says:

      Interesting choice Bob. I have the book but haven’t yet read it – too scared of dropping it on my food and doing some damage perhaps. I’d got the idea it was borderline urban fantasy rather than horror – yes/no? – though of course that doesn’t rule it out of contention in a list of great vampire novels.

      • Hi Pete,
        If you drop it on your food then no problem, on your foot would certainly have you limping however 😛
        Hmm… not sure I’d say urban fantasy, perhaps urban science fiction, or near future fiction but most definately horror, both in the psychological sense and in the gore-ridden sense too. The vampire epidemic in the story is nothing like the gothic-type but more like a viral/genetic apocalypse that rips across the world leaving normal humans in the minority and vunerable to both the new breed of humans and survivors attempting a new kind of social environment mostly based on a sort of feudal system.
        I enjoyed it a lot and will definately be buying the sequel 🙂

      • petertennant says:

        I think ‘food’ was one of those Freudian slip things, showing I’m subconsciously more concerned about my grub than I am my foot. And if chocolate or chips are involved, not even subconsciously.
        Thanks for the clarification re “The Passage”. I shall bring the book a little closer to the top of the pile of books I’ll read when the reviewing stops. So, 2020 then, at the earliest 😉

  3. Let the Right One In and Salem’s Lot for me. Oh, and Twi-
    No, I’m kidding. 😉

    • petertennant says:

      For me “Salem’s Lot” is a bit too much like a rerun of “Dracula”, which by his own admission King used as a template. Though I’ve only seen the film, “Let the Right One In” seems like an excellent choice, but I’d be interested to know if Ajvide ever read Somtow’s work as there seem to be several correspondences with “Vampire Junction” (e.g. castrated child vampire, snowbound setting).
      And Ali, I love Twix too, but can we keep on message here please.

  4. DC5 says:

    I’ll add BLACK CASTLE by Les Daniels and THE STRAIN by Del Toro and Hogan.

    • petertennant says:

      I’ve read “The Black Castle” DC5, but from notes I made at the time it doesn’t seem I was very impressed – interesting and fun, but not really anything special was my opinion then, and I suppose it still is now, though your choice almost tempts me to look at it again.
      I’m even more intrigued by the selection of “The Strain”. I’ve been sent review copies of all three books, but couldn’t muster any enthusiasm for reading them, partly because the plot summations I read didn’t sound like anything out of the ordinary and also down to the ‘wholly unfair’ suspicion that the only reason they got published was because of Del Toro’s involvement. Interesting to see that somebody who has actually read “The Strain” is a lot more positive as to its merits. It seems my cynicism is unjustified then.

      • DC5 says:

        I enjoyed “The Black Castle” and others in the series for their historical detail and overall seriousness. No glitzy vampires in those books. As for “The Strain”, I understand the pull of Del Toro’s name. How could one beat that? Still, the book has its merits. I’ve never found an opening scene in any vampire-themed book that’s creepier than the one in “The Strain”. It’s truly memorable. Unfortunately the series takes a dive after book #1 (I was not able to finish book #3).

      • petertennant says:

        Yeah, agree about the historical detail in the Les Daniels books. I wasn’t so keen on the storyline though, all a bit ‘and the kitchen sink’, as I recall.
        I’ll try to make time for the Del Toro, if only the first volume, as you’ve piqued my interest.

  5. rosanne says:

    FLEDGLING by Octavia Butler. I always like vampire stories with a bit of an SF angle, where a central issue is if and how species can co-exist. There’s a few more along this line, but I’ll have to have a think about this.

    • petertennant says:

      Cheers Rosanne. Just been looking that up on Wiki and sounds fascinating and different from most vampire fare. I read the first three “Patternist” novels when they came out, but unfortunately haven’t connected with Butler’s work since.

  6. SHU says:

    I’d recommend Michael Talbot’s THE DELICATE DEPENDENCY and George Sylvester Viereck’s THE HOUSE OF THE VAMPIRE.

  7. petertennant says:

    Cheers Scott (?). I haven’t read either of those, but the Talbot sounds very much like a contender with eighteen five star reviews on Amazon. Normally that would make me suspicious, but as one of the reviewees is Willum Pugmire in this case I’ll take it at face value until I have reason to believe otherwise.
    I’ve heard of the Viereck, and a quick google threw up the opinion that it was ‘Pretentious, off-putting, and utterly dull!’ I’m liking it already. Google also led me to a free download for Kindle of the book, so I snagged that and will one day check it out for myself.

  8. petertennant says:

    Thanks to the six of you who have contributed, and of course more opinions are always welcome, particularly as at the moment we seem to be tied, with everyone naming something different.

  9. Ray Cluley says:

    Straying away from the blood, I liked Dan Simmons’s ‘Carrion Comfort’, if psychic vamps count (count – I’m sure there’s a joke there somewhere). And straying from novels (what can I say, I’m subversive), King’s ‘Night Flyer’ short was fun.

    • petertennant says:

      Yeah, I like me some “Carrion Comfort” Ray, and certainly psychic vampires count. Damned right, they do. No bloodline elitism here.

      “Night Flyer” was a great short story. I always remember the scene where the guy is standing at a urinal and notices although there’s nobody next to him a red stream is splattering the porcelain.

      You’ll no doubt now tell me that scene isn’t in the story 😦

      • Ray Cluley says:

        No, that’s the story alright – never read anything like it before or since! Great image.

        Another good short was one that I think was by Michael Marshal Smith. Anyway, it dealt with a guy being turned into a vampire during a drunken night out and spending eternity ever after in a semi-drunk state.

      • petertennant says:

        I had a vaguely similar thing happen to me after drinking twenty four glasses of cherry brandy in a single afternoon, or maybe everything just looked red after that.

        Don’t recognise the MMS story. Anyone else know the title?

      • No, but it sounds like a good ‘un!

      • petertennant says:

        It was. Splendid, in fact. I don’t have birthdays like that any more.

        But you’re talking about the MMS story, aren’t you? Damn 😉

  10. Ray Cluley says:

    I might be mixing writers and stories – I’ll check later and report back. But if I’m wrong, I’ll be writing it myself, based on Alison’s reaction. 😉

  11. Bob says:

    Ooh a party around Ali’s eh?
    I’ll bring my own Bloody Mary, she should go down well with our paler guests 🙂

  12. Bob says:

    What do you mean ‘start to’ ?

  13. Bob says:

    Umm… got to go now, my wife is hurting me…

  14. Ray Cluley says:

    Oh, it’s THAT Bob.

  15. Yeah, it’s me Ray 🙂 Who else could bring someone’s blog to such a low level!
    Ok, now for something else (still to do with vampires though) today Kim Newman was live on The Guardian website taking questions and answering them… ALL except mine 😦
    Now, I’m not sure but I think I might have offended him which I honestly didn’t mean to do, if I did…
    This is what I wrote:

    Hi Kim,

    I’d like to read a more avant-garde or cutting-edge take on vampirism. A breakaway from the gothic/psuedo-romantic versions that have been around for quite some time.

    Have you, in your vast experience of vampire literature/films, ever come across anything that treats vampirism as some sort of gene deficency or mutation? Perhaps a path towards the porphyria side of things whereby ingesting vast amounts of haem (so that it is forced to cross the stomach lining and enter the bloodstream) is the only way an individual can survive as normal food does not satiate them?
    Something that could perhaps be explained scientifically and not depend on the old folklore tropes and well-worn cliches. Something that no matter what apotropaic you choose to use as a defence would never suffice.

    However, that raises the question of how Humankind would survive such a creature!

    Hmm… perhaps I should start scribbling 🙂
    Ok, I haven’t read anything of Kim’s and after posting the question took a look at his work and realised he writes 1800s/steampunk/vampirism stuff which probably fell into my ‘old folklore tropes and well-worn cliches’ statement 😦
    However, thinking that he might have missed my question by accident I asked another:

    Have you read Cronin’s ‘The Passage’? That’s a very modern variant of the vampire theme and if so what did you think?
    He ignored that too 😦
    Do you think I’ve upset him? I didn’t mean to, and yes, I’ve a few spelling mistakes in there (I rushed) could that have been the reason?

    • petertennant says:

      Hmm, don’t know if you’ve offended Kim Newman (probably not), but as regards scientific approaches to vampirism, there’s both the Del Toro mentioned by DC5 above and “The Vampire Tapestry” listed by me. Sam Stone’s vampire series comes under the heading “The Vampire Gene”, though I only read the first one and don’t recall much science. Brain Stableford has an investigation of the genetic background to vampirism in “The Empire of Fear”, and I’m sure there are others I can’t call to mind right now. Perhaps the closest to what you’re suggesting is Dan Simmons’ “Children of the Night”, in which a Romanian orphan is found to have an organ in his body that feeds on blood and may be the clue to curing AIDS.

      • That Dan Simmon’s one interests me, I like Simmon’s stuff, especially The Terror which I thought was superb. Didn’t think much of Del Toro’s The Strain, can’t put my finger on why but it just didn’t get the juices flowing for me (excuse the pun). Charnas’s one looks interesting too but I might just give the nod to the Simmon’s one. Mind you it will join a bloody big pile of other stuff I have to read!

      • petertennant says:

        I’ll see your pile and raise you several.

      • I’d twist if I could but my back won’t let me so I’m going to fold… *creak*
        hmm… even that hurts…

  16. Ray Cluley says:

    Anyone remember the TV series Ultraviolet? If I recall, that was kinda sciencey, but we’re going back a way and considering my Michael Marshal Smith comment you can see my memory is not the best. To be fair, I only really remember that they didn’t use the V word once in the whole thing, everything else is a bit of a low budget blur. I think I enjoyed it though.

    • petertennant says:

      Oh yeah, I remember “Ultraviolet”. As I recall they were trying to provoke some sort of nuclear incident, as a prelude to the nuclear winter and the vampires being able to walk in the day under cloud cover.

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