Shock Totem #10 (Jan 2016)
- Closing for Submissions
- Shock Totem Returns!
- Apex Publications Acquires Shock Totem Book Line
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 8
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 7
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 6
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 5
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 4
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 3
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 2
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Tag Archives: Vampires
It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Lee Thompson’s work. He writes fast, he writes hard, and he comes up with beautifully tragic stories that are both engaging and soul-crushing.
Gossamer: A Tale of Love and Tragedy is no different. From the very beginning, we’re tossed into an uncomfortably unflinching look at love and loss. Dorothy is a little girl forced to watch her father denounce her mother as a witch. As the sentence is passed, Dorothy hardens her heart and promises revenge.
The main story has to do when Dorothy has lived several lifetimes. She resides in the small town of Gossamer, guardian of an area filled with people that she grows to care for. Then her loneliness puts the residents of Gossamer in danger, and everything changes.
Lee has a clean, easy prose that still manages to be beautiful. He’s especially gifted at writing women, which is rare to see from a male writer. His portrayal of Dorothy and her aunt are both strong and chilling. Later in the book, we are introduced to two more strong mother/daughter characters, and the ineffectual boyfriend. It’s interesting to see the spine and determination in these women, and how far Lee is willing to push them until they either push back or break completely.
This book is full of witches and vampires. It’s full of magical carousals. It’s also full of betrayal, love reciprocated and not, and cowardice. Lee takes the unlovely parts of real life and sets it in a setting so deliciously bizarre that you think you’re simply reading a story, when in fact you’re listening to a man sitting across from you and telling you all about pain.
Gossamer goes down easy and leaves a bitter aftertaste. It’s dark and lovely. I’d recommend it.
I was so excited to read the three books of The Strain series, which was a collaborative effort by director extraordinaire Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, author of the very entertaining The Town. All of the books came equipped with the full endorsement of the friends of mine who’d read them, and hell, the series was presented as a science-based horror yarn about a biological strain of vampires taking over the world! Take I Am Legend and combine it with a modern retelling of The Andromeda Strain and voila!—perfection!
Or so I thought.
The first book, The Strain, moved along quickly and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Sure, there were parts I rolled my eyes at, but the story was so entertaining that I could easily forgive them. Then came The Fall, which started out well enough. But then halfway through that book, something happened. The storyline became laughable. It all went to hell. And by the time I finished The Night Eternal, my opinion was set in stone.
The Strain series sucks.
And here are my top three reasons why, completely filled with spoilers for those who haven’t read the books.
#3: Bad Science
There are really only two glaring instances of this throughout the entire series, but trust me, these instances are HUGE.
First of all there’s the more minor affront. One of the man characters is Abraham Setrakian, who’s a Romanian Jew and who’s well over eighty years old. The text makes constant reference to his severely crippled hands and his bad heart, and yet he is constantly able to not only duke it out with the vampires, but all it takes is a single swing of his silver sword to sever head from neck. Seriously? I mean…seriously? Even guillotines, with their 45- to 50-pound blades, did not always succeed in hacking through the tissue and spinal column. And yet this ancient professor was able to do so every time with relative ease. Completely unbelievable, and we won’t even get into the fact he screams, “My sword sings of silver,” every time he executes a vamp, because that’s just plain dumb.
“Get off my lawn, dammit!”
The second and most egregious affront to science just so happens to be the conclusion of the second book, which completely sets the stage for the third book and forwards the vampire master’s plan. This plan includes exploding a series of nuclear power plants built by another rather unbelievable character in order to block out the sun with ash. Once this is finished, there will be a world that has only three hours of muted sunlight a day, which is of course vampire paradise.
The problem? Nuclear power plants don’t explode. They melt down.
“Wait, does anyone know how these things work?”
“Eh, never mind, no one cares.”
A nuclear explosion requires a catalyst and weaponized atomic fuel, which are quite lacking in reactors built to supply the public with electricity, because to have a reactor that could incinerate miles of prime real estate if anything went wrong would be just plain stupid. No, reactors melt down. When the core overheats, the fuel and fission products seep out and radiate the environment—which is of course really bad. Now, while it is true that hydrogen explosions from superheated steam can most certainly occur, those detonations wouldn’t be in any way large enough to create an ash cloud big enough to blot out Chris Christie, never mind an area of the sky. Even if it could, and the place did go up in a giant mushroom cloud, there’s no way that the main characters of the story, who weren’t even a mile away from one of the explosions when it occurred, would remain fine and dandy and drive off into the no-sunset.
Now, I know what you’re saying. These reactors were all built by one of the baddies from the books. He probably added explosive materials into his reactors to allow these nuclear blasts to occur, right? Well, I guess that’s possible…however, during the laughable back story (more on that later), it’s said that when Chernobyl melted down, one of the Ancient Ones (more on them later too) turned to dust. But wait…Chernobyl melted down, it didn’t explode! In other words, the authors are setting up the finale by rewriting a scientifically historical fact and hoping no one notices. Which of course no one does, because to most folks nuclear power is like Merlin, David Copperfield, and Ric Ocasek’s love life—it’s magic.
That being said, this sin is nowhere near as bad as…
#2: Good (Fake) Science Ruined By Bad Mythology
The vampires in The Strain are brilliant. They truly are. They’re created by parasitic (capillary) worms that burrow into and then change the biology of the host. Human traits are nullified, the skin becomes opaque, the digestive systems are simplified and fused to allow for quick absorption, and a stinger is formed where the voice box would be, which is the tool the creatures use to feed. Brilliant. Also, the effectiveness of silver is explained in a scientific way, given the metal’s antiviral/bacterial qualities, as is the sensitivity to UV light. In a less impressive addition they all share a hive mind, which might not be truly scientific, but then again all one has to do is look at the legions of Beliebers in order to say, “Okay, wow, this is actually a frightening possibility.”
Talk about getting your red wings.
And then the authors go and ruin all this groundwork by instituting one of the dumbest origin stories I’ve ever read.
According to the series, when God sent his angels to Sodom and Gomorrah, there were three, not two. One of the archangels, Ozryel, apparently developed a taste for killing and drinking blood. Why an all-knowing God didn’t step down and stop this, I have no clue. Instead, Ozryel is hacked into seven pieces and deposited around the globe, and it’s when the blood from those seven pieces seeps into the ground that the worms are formed, the Ancient Ones come into being, and vampirism begins. Goodbye, science!
What was once a thought-out and researched plot then goes on to be explained in the worst way possible. Vampires can’t cross moving water because they’re bound to their origins, but they can if they’re invited, which allows the Master, the renegade Ancient One, to cross the ocean and enter New York. Not a very well-thought-out fail-safe by an omniscient deity. It’s about on par with Darth Maul taunting Obi-Wan while the Jedi’s lightsaber, and certain death, is within easy Force-grabbing reach. The method, and the mythology, is just downright silly, not to mention lazy. And worst of all, it leads directly to…
1: An Insulting Ending
After all this plotting, after characters are left rummaging through a darkened world that shouldn’t in reality be changed in the slightest, our racially stereotypical heroes (no, I won’t get into that here, it’s just piling on) end up on some islands in Lake Ontario with a nuclear bomb in tow. (There’s that magic nuclear power again!)
It seems that all our heroes have to do is gather the ashes of the six Ancient Ones who had died because of those impossible nuclear explosions, lure the Master there, and then detonate the bomb. Then the whole shebang would end and the world would go back to normal. Yippee!
So they all arrive, the Master’s there (though he should have known their plan all along and stayed far, far away), and finally, after some eye-roll-inducing action, the bomb goes off. Let’s take out the fact that the main character and his young son go up in flames, which would be an emotional sticking point in the plot if not for the fact they were so damn annoying, and the added element that another couple of major characters are stationed on an island quite close to the one that blows up and they walk away completely unscathed after that magical nuclear blast. Instead, let’s focus on the direct aftermath of the explosion.
The sky opens up. A beam of light shines down on the detonated island. Two angels appear from heaven, and a third flies up from the ashes. The three angels then soar around together like fairies and then all three shoot upward and disappear into the clouds.
Um, huh? Did I just read that?
That’s right. The angel Ozryel, who was the reason the globe was thrown into chaos and that millions upon millions of people died, was just escorted back up to heaven after his body was reassembled. Talk about a massive crock of shit. It seemed his only penance was to kill shit-tons of innocent people and then get all blowed up without ever showing an ounce of contrition. It is without a doubt the most imbecilic and indolent ending to a serious work of fiction I have ever read. I literally slammed the book shut and mumbled curses to myself for a good five minutes after reading it. Sure, his entire strain was obliterated and humanity was saved from vampiric rule, but still…why the fuck was the angel let back into heaven? It makes absolutely no sense. It’s insulting. I can’t believe talented folks like del Toro and Hogan created it.
Just like eviscerated remains, heaven is pretty!
And just think…The Strain was optioned to be a series on FX! Ha! Will I watch it? Of course! And will I enjoy it? Probably. Why?
Because I’m an idiot.
“I give Rob a boner that big.”
Every year at the World Horror Convention and many other horror and sci-fi/fantasy and comic conventions, there’s at least one if not more panels devoted to the topic of vampires in fiction—what’s happening to them, what fans have enjoyed as well as scorned in previous years, the history of vampires, why they’re still so popular, and usually, what the fate of vampires is; that is to say, what will become of vampires in the future?
A few years ago I had the chance to attend a library discussion on the subject that included authors Tanya Huff and Bram Stoker expert Elizabeth Miller. It proved to be a lively and engaging debate that ended with the assertion that someone somewhere would always find something new and exciting to do with vampires despite some of the more traditionally disliked works among purists and hardcore fans (*cough* Twilight *cough*). At the time of the discussion, the work that many pointed to on the panel as being the next great vampire book was Justin Cronin’s The Passage, which incidentally is great if you haven’t read it, despite the sheer volume of the work.
One of the works to stand out for me in the last few years is Enter, Night, by Canadian author Michael Rowe. The book takes place in small-town Ontario, which in some ways provides the best backdrop for the story because of the isolation mingled with the First Nations mythology incorporated into the plot.
Although the vampire panels at last year’s World Horror Convention in Salt Lake City were great, and it was a real treat to have a special presentation from Bram Stoker’s great grand-nephew, Dacre Stoker, this year’s World Horror panel left a bit to be desired, at least for me. Moderator and vampire author Nancy Kilpatrick did ask wonderful questions, though, and each of the panelists brought something interesting to the table, particularly Les Klinger, who always makes good contributions as he’s something of a treasure trove of vampire lore; but perhaps because it was held in New Orleans, which has such a history with vampires (and not just with Anne Rice), I felt a tad let down.
There was some discussion at the end of the panel about what everyone thought was the future of vampires in horror fiction and what would be the next big thing. Right now, we’re in a post-Twilight cycle and despite the raging popularity of shows like True Blood and The Vampire Diaries (including its spin-off, The Originals), zombies are the big thing now, it seems, although they’re slowly starting to taper off in preparation for the next big trend.
One of the panelists mentioned we were going to see more science-related plots in vampire books, which brought to mind thoughts of the hugely successful series starting with The Strain, by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, which has more of a scientific influence in the vampire aspects. It’s hard to predict what the next really big vampire novel will be.
Despite the continued success of our fanged friends in paranormal romance, more authors in the subgenre are moving away from vampires for their next series not only as a way to branch out and make sure they’re not typecast as being purely vampire fiction writers, but also because their vampy fare won’t sell well forever.
What do you think will be the next big trend in vampire fiction?
My first introduction to Dybbuk Press founder, Tim Lieder was from his Shock Totem submission “Bop Kabala and the Communist Jazz,” a submission we would eventually accept for issue #3. So when asked to choose some books to review from the secret cache at Kenwood Mansion, I asked for this one. The title alone cried for my attention—She Nailed a Stake Through His Head: Tales of Biblical Terror. Catchy!
Upon its arrival, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t more than a little hesitant to dig in, mainly due to my lack of knowledge of many things biblical. Sure I know most of the big stories, but many of the lesser known parables would be alien to me. After putting it off a few weeks, I jumped in…and I’m glad I did. This collection is inspired and ecclectic.
The nine tales in this anthology kick off with “Whither Thou Goest,” by Gerri Leen, an interesting piece in which Ruth, the protagonist, is some sort of psychic leech. Daniel Kayson takes the story of Daniel and the writing on the wall and sets it in a modern corporate setting, rife with sinister dealings and spiritual treachery in “Babylon’s Burning.”
In “As if Favorites of Their God,” by Christi Krug, King Saul pays a visit to a witch to communicate to the prophet Samuel. “Psalm of the Second Body,” by Catherynne Valente, is the fourth in line and my absolute favorite. The language of this piece is flawless, a sweet hybrid of prose and narrative that I loved. Non-conformist writing. It defies description and must simply be read, a commandment.
Take a measure of Mad Max futurism and mix liberally with prophets, the damned, and revenge and you have Elissa Malcohn’s, “Judgement at Naioth.” In “Judith & Holofernes,” Romie Scott gives us the premise of endless beheadings. A darkly humorous tale.
Lyda Morehouse appears via the tale “Jawbone of An Ass,” a bitter story of domestic non-bliss and unspoken gods. And what has to be the most inspired craziness in the book, Stephen M. Wilson has crafted “Swallowed,” a glorious mutation of Jonah and the “whale” swirling with Lovecraftian nightmares, parasitic twins and deviant sexual appetite. The closer is D.K. Thompson’s “Last Respects,” a unique vampire tale, delivering smooth nostalgia and heartfelt sentiment.
Lieder knows what he likes and it is nothing close to traditional, and that is one of the many things I like about the guy. This is an ambitious anthology, one that could easily alienate a section of the book-buying market, the ones who eschew anything biblical. And sadly, it would be their loss. On the other hand, it brings a dark little smile to my lips thinking of all the Flanders out there who may see this title somewhere and assume it is of the “Left Behind” ilk, spiritual but sanitized to the point of blandness. This is a splendid collection, full of fresh ideas and images that will play in your mind long after the story has been read.
This can be ordered directly from here from Dybbuk Press.