Tag Archives: Vampire

Not Monsters


I’m just gonna let you ruminate for a minute on what that book means to you.

Go on, take your time, I’m in no hurry.

Have you got it fixed in your mind? Good. Now this isn’t a post about Twilight. In fact when I was composing my thoughts for this post in my head Twilight didn’t enter the picture until very late in the game. But once it did enter the picture, everything else seemed to fall into place.

Because Twilight is a book about vampires. The book didn’t invent vampires. It didn’t even invent the vampire romance. But what it did do (in my mind) was place the final nail in the coffin of true vampire horror.

You might think that I’m writing this as an indictment, but in reality this was inevitable from the beginning. Let’s look at that beginning, shall we?

I know you’re going back in your mind to Dracula (or perhaps if you are particularly well read, to Varny the Vampire) but you need to go back further. You need to go back to the time before vampires entered fiction. You need to go back to the time when they lived in the minds of men, passed on from mouth to mouth as folklore, whispered from the lips of mothers as a warning against unruly children. “If you’re not good, the vampires will get you.”

In the beginning vampires were monsters. Mindless, brutish, forest-dwelling monsters.

Then came the books. The notion of vampires passed from folklore into fiction. But in the passage something changed. The vampires were still evil, still frightening, but now they had become just a little more human. No longer were they forest dwelling brutes, bloated like rotted corpses and bereft of all but an animal intelligence. Now they were suave and sophisticated. Now they could walk the streets with their prey. They could pass for human until it the moment it was too late for their victims.

And from a certain point of view that change made them all the more terrible. After all, what is more terrifying that the monster who looks just like you? But it was the first nail in the coffin, the first step down the slippery slope that would end in stunning, sparkling, and above all safe Edward Cullen.

But like I said, this isn’t a post about Twilight. This is a post about monsters.

Because monsters have a problem. Monsters are cool.

I mean think about it, what little kid doesn’t like monsters? Dinosaurs, dragons, C’thulu? Show him those things, and he’ll say “Awesome!” and start wailing on them with his G.I. Joes.

Zombies? Ditto. Don’t even get me started on our cultural obsession with zombies. We’re not afraid of them. We’re fascinated.

And that’s the problem. Because in theory monsters are supposed to be scary. You’re supposed lie awake at night, afraid to go to sleep lest they show up in your nightmares. But instead we idolize them, we put them on a pedestal. Technically they’re still the bad guys, but really that just makes them all the more interesting.

But as someone who’s interested in fear in fiction, in making people uncomfortable with what they’re reading, I’ve noticed something interesting. Generally the most genuinely frightening parts of a story happen before the monsters ever show up.

Take for example, the horror film The Descent. In this movie a group of female spelunkers explore a remote cave and encounter human-like cave creatures who have become sightless because…I don’t know, they’ve lived down there for generations and they’ve evolved past the need for light? I mean, granted the movie shows that they kill stuff outside the cave for food and you’d think eyes would be an advantage there even if they hunt at night. Especially if they hunt at night. Nocturnal animals have amazing eyesight. Whatever.

Anyway, there’s some great scenes where these blind monsters are searching for the protagonists, and they’re walking right next to where they’re hiding, but they can’t see them (you’d think they could smell them or hear them breathing or something; I mean really, if you’re going to evolve away from using your eyes you could at least compensate through your other senses. But like I said, whatever.) These scenes are interesting, but in my mind they’re not really scary. They don’t reach into my stomach and twist my guts into knots with fear. Sure they might be good for a few jump scares, but that’s not really the same.

But there are truly frightening moments in The Descent. There’s the moment when one of the women is trapped in a claustrophobic tunnel with the cave shuddering and shaking, threatening to crush her under a thousand tons of earth and stone. There’s the scene where one of the spelunkers has to cross a yawning chasm using ancient equipment that starts to fail halfway through the traverse. These moments work because we can relate to them. We can empathize with the terror of claustrophobia, or with the fear of falling a very very long way down. These are examples of what I’ve started to refer to as the “not monsters” moments of movies, and personally I think there is far more to learn from their common earthy kind of terror than will ever be found in the pursuit of the supernatural slasher or the growl of the green skinned mutant.

In Richard Matheson’s book The Shrinking Man which chronicles the life of a man who is (you’ll never guess) shrinking, the most powerful moments are not the battles between insect-sized man and monstrous spider, but rather they come when the eponymous shrinking man is midway through the process, trying to cope with the fact that his wife has begun to think of him as a child and his young daughter has lost all respect for him.

In Stephen King’s It the single most unnerving moment of the book (for me) had nothing to do with the supernatural clown/spider and everything to do with a simple-minded bully who locks puppies in an old refrigerator until they die of asphyxiation.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. We are human, and the terror we know the best is human in origin.

Most people I know don’t drive to work or go out with their families thinking, “I hope I don’t get bitten by a zombie today.” But they do think, “How am I going to pay my bills?” “What if my wife doesn’t really love me?” “A hundred years after I’m dead, will it matter that I lived?”

That isn’t to say there’s not a place for the monster in our stories. But if we truly want to gnaw at our readers, we must keep in mind that the ultimate terror is not in the fantastic but the mundane; it is in the known more than the unknown. The monster when used correctly is not a thing unto itself. It is a vehicle for something darker, something deeper. It is merely a shadow cast by the true terror that lies latent in the hearts of every one of us.

Bizzaro Book Review: Carpathia by Matt Forbeck

[You will notice that this review is a little…different. An explanation will follow.]

The cowbow regarded the fleeing vampire through the lenses of his infrared binoculars. “He’s taking the bait,” the cowboy said.

The five foot tall black-skinned velocirapter at his side clicked his serpentine tounge against the roof of his mouth. “Of course he’s taking the bait.” The response came, not from the raptor’s mouth, but from a pair of speakers set into a metal collar that hung around his neck. “He’s C-grade, barely a background character. Frankly I’m surprised he was able to manage this kind of job at all.”

“Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched,” the cowboy replied. “We haven’t got this one in the bag yet. Maybe he is just a C-grade, but if he was able to pull this off he might be more trouble than we’re expecting.”

The cowboy mounted his horse, and he and the velociraptor followed the receding footsteps through the desert sands. There wasn’t much in this world. It was just a fragment of a story that had been floating aimlessly through the Well of Lost Plots. The desert around them was full of bones, but up ahead there was a plane of waving grass, and right on the border between the two, sat a small farmhouse. Overhead the moon filled a full third of the sky shining a perfect pale glow over the landscape.

“I wish writers would take the time to learn a little about geography,” the velocirapter said. “Why on earth would there be a prairie right next to a desert like this?”
“You’re from Speculative Fiction,” the cowboy pointed out. “They get a lot weirder stuff than that in there.”

“Yes, but there’s a reason for it in SpecFic. That’s the whole point. Even if you’ve got a world where light works differently than it does in the Real World, the writer is using it to make a point about science or possibly to create a metaphor for the problems of society. This…this is just lazy writing.”

The cowboy grunted.

Ahead of them the vampire fled into the farmhouse.

“And you were worried he wouldn’t take the bait,” the velocirapter said. “Typical.”
“Hey, I just don’t want to screw this up okay? I’m not really itching to go back to Grammasite detail any time soon.”

They approached the farmhouse, careful to stay out of the line of site of the front windows. The cowboy dismounted and drew his revolver. The raptor clicked his teeth together and an electric whine emanated from the lasers mounted on his collar. The two nodded briefly at each other and then charged into the room, weapons at the ready.

They found the vampire, leaning against the far wall, examining his fingernails by the light of an oil lamp that burned on the table. “I thought you’d never get here,” he said casually.

“Abraham Holmwood. You’re under arrest, by the authority of Jurisfiction for the crimes of impersonating a A-grade character, collusion to polute the general quality of fiction, and the attempted murder of the A-grade character, Dale Chase.”

The fugitive vampire raised an eyebrow and smiled. “Sorry to burst your bubble, but Dale went into the water. He didn’t come out. And unless he learned to breath underwater very quickly, I expect you’re going to have to drop the “attempted” from those charges.”

“You seem awfully calm for a man who could be facing textual disintigration,” the velociraptor said.

“Don’t panic,” replied the vampire. “That’s my motto.”

“Actually, that’s the motto of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy,” the raptor replied. “You’ve got nothing of your own Abe. Everything borrowed or stolen. You face, your mannerisms, even your name. Did you think you were being clever? A character in a vampire story calling himself Abraham? Professor Van Helsing would not approve.”

“We covered that,” the vampire replied angrily, his cool demeanor cracking for the first time. “We made sure the dialogue-”

“Oh, yes that line about how your parents knew Bram Stoker?” the raptor replied. “Not to mention the worn-out idea that somehow Dracula was a nonfiction account of Real World events? Suspension of disbelief only goes so far, Abe. Even in a story about vampires feeding on the survivors of the Titanic.”

“Hey, you wanna give it a rest?” the cowboy said. “We’re here to bring him in, not pick apart his mistakes.”

“No I do not want to ‘give it a rest’,” the raptor replied, the tone from his voice box growing more angry. “His actions weren’t just criminal, they were offensive. The very idea that readers would overlook his odious manner, his superficial charm, the unbelievable way in which his friends continued to trust him even after he had proven himself to be nothing more than a selfish lout time and time again-”

“They didn’t know how good they had it,” Abe interjected. “I’m better off without them.”

The cowboy shrugged. “Apparently they felt the same way about you. Quin and Lucy gave themselves up, made a plea deal, turned loads of evidence on you. I hear that with good behavior they’ll be back on the pages in six months. Maybe if you don’t make this any harder we can make this go easy for you too.”

“NEVER!” the vampire screamed. His form started to shimmer and then he vanished into a grey mist. The cowboy and the raptor watched stoically as the mist settled to the ground and tried to seep down through the cracks in the floorboards to no avail. It wafted up to the window and then to the door, each time finding not even the smallest crack through which to escape. Abe re-materialized and screamed, “What did you DO?”
The cowboy reached into his back pocket and pulled out a caulk gun. “On loan from Do-It-Yourself Nonfiction,” he said grinning.

Abe lunged at the cowboy, but the buck and roar of the ranch hand’s revolver sent the vampire sprawling back against the wall.

“Is that the best you can do?” the vampire spat, climbing to his feet. “Don’t you know you can’t kill me with that thing?”

“Yes,” replied the velociraptor, “But if I recall either sunlight or wooden stakes should do the trick, yes?”

“The sun isn’t due to rise on this world for three hundred years,” Abe said mockingly. “And neither of you seem to be carrying stakes.”

“No,” said the raptor. “Neither of us is. However I believe Mr. Chase was carrying a few.”

The vampire’s already-pale face went whiter still. “He’s dead,” he said. “Dragged down by one of the vampires during the attack. I made sure of it.”

But behind him the door creaked open revealing a huge hulking black man, with sweat glistening on his muscles and a wooden stake in his hand.

“Technically of course you are correct,” the raptor explained as the A-grade character advanced on the cowering vampire. “However someone in the story caught wind of your plot and warned us. It gave us enough time to request the assistance of the remarkable Captain Nemo and his underwater boat. We managed to pick Mr. Chase up without anyone noticing.”

“No,” the vampire pleaded. “Its not fair. I beat you. I WON.”

Dale Chase snarled and brought the stake down hard into Abe’s chest. For a moment a look of pure terror crossed the vampire’s face. Then he dissolved, face and all, into a pile of dust.

For a long moment they were all silent. Finally Dale Chase asked, “What happens now?”

“We’ll have to patch things up as best we can,” the raptor said. “Unfortunately the damage done to Carpathia is fairly expansive. It might collapse the framework of the book if we tried to restore it to the way is was before.”

Chase kicked at the pile of dust, sending it billowing along the ground like a cloud. “So in the end he got what he wanted.”

“His character has been replaced ovbviously,” the raptor explained. “Hopefully we can get someone to do more justice to it than he did.”

“But I’m out,” Chase said.

“There’s plenty of other stories in the world,” the cowboy said, opening the door. “Who knows? Maybe you could do something with this one.” He gestured to the world around them with its strange geography and hulking moon.

“And if you’re looking for a change,” the raptor added, “We’d love to have you in Jurisfiction.”

One by one the characters vanished out of the story world and into the Great Library. And under a goliath moon, the passing wind picked up the pile of grey dust and swept it out into the desert sands.

[So…yeah. Here’s the deal. I don’t like to say negative things on my blog. I know negative reviews are big on the internet, but I generally don’t like bashing other people’s stuff. As an author I know how much it can hurt to have someone say they didn’t like your work, so I try hard not to be the kind of guy that just rails about how much he hates stuff. I’m not against saying something negative, but if I do I want to be able to contrast with something positive, or at the very least I want to say the negative things I have to say in a positive way.

That being said, I didn’t like this book. At all. I could have just left it at that and went on my merry way without saying anything, but the thing was I wanted to like this book. The concept seemed like it was right up my alley, the kind of book I almost certainly would review. So I came up with this compromise. I’ve been wanting to write some Thursday Next fanfiction for some time now, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to air my grievances with this book (specifically that the Abe character was obnoxious and that the most awesome character in the book, Dale Chase, got killed off in a single chapter) in a creative and at least somewhat positive manner. If you’re not familiar with Fforde’s Thursday Next series, some of this might seem a little confusing, but I hope I’ve given enough basic information to give you an idea of how the Bookworld world is supposed to operate, and if what you’ve read here piques your interest even a little I highly recommend you check out the Thursday Next series for yourself.

In closing, if you’re Matt Forbeck and you’re reading this, no hard feelings man. Chuck Wendig respects you, which tells me you’re doing quite a number of somethings right, but Carpathia just wasn’t for me.]

Bizzaro Book Review: Blindsight by Peter Watts

Okay, before I say anything else about this book, let me get this out of the way:


This book has vampires. And with the recent Twilight-fueled vampire romance craze, I would understand if at first glance you might be put off by that. But let me put your mind at ease.

This is not a romance.

Rather it is a high concept hard scifi journey to the edge of the unknown. There are spaceships and aliens, and people with multiple personalities and people with no personalities, and… You know maybe I should start over.

Because under the thick layers of scifi awesome this story is intensely human. It has aliens, and vampires and all the other stuff I said. But it’s not about that.

Rather, this story is about a man. A man struggling to be human. A man engineered to be a sociopath, a being completely without feelings, who is searching his soul for the spark of what it means to have feelings, to love and hate, what it means to be.

At it’s very heart, beyond all of the scifi window dressing Blindsight is really about a latter-day Pinocchio, a human marionette struggling to find the path to become real.

This is a theme that is repeated over and over throughout the book. The vampires appear human, but their minds are completely alien. And the aliens themselves…well I don’t want to give anything away, because the reveal is awesome.

This book will make you think. It dives into philosophical black holes, and somehow pulls you through with it until you emerge into a universe that looks slightly different from the one you left.

This is not a book to be taken up lightly, but do take it up. It is one of the best scifi epics I have ever read, and if I hadn’t stumbled across it while browsing manybooks.net the odds are good I might never have heard of it. So I’m doing my small part to spread the word.

Do yourself a favor and check it out. Blindsight is available for free, so it won’t cost you anything more than your time.