I’ve just decided that I should probably post links here when I publish reviews elsewhere. So here’s a wee magazine review.
Book Review: SOMETHING MORE THAN BLOOD, by Barb Lien Cooper and Barb Lien Cooper.
An old Hollywood B-movie director, already dying of cancer, is suddenly and brutally murdered in his hospital room. The word revenge is written in his own blood on the wall above his bed, in an exact copy of a scene from one of his early films.
Suspicion falls on the film’s star, Lykan Fuller, who has big teeth and doesn’t seem to have aged in the intervening decades, and while held at gunpoint by the dead man’s granddaughter, he tells her everything.
The format is lifted almost directly from Interview with the Vampire, but it’s an entirely different book. Set mainly in America in the first half of the 20th century, the backdrop to the story is burlesque theatre and early cinema. The authors have clearly done their research, but more than that they demonstrate an affection and enthusiasm for the subjects making me want to like them. This was the aspect of the book I enjoyed most.
The story also straddles two world wars, and Lykan is German and Jewish, so Nazism is dealt with, and there is some subtext about prejudice and intolerance in general, though it’s not a preachy or self-righteous book. It’s mainly about the story, which is fun and for the most part pretty pacy.
The prose lets it down a little – it’s somewhat plodding and lacks the style and subtlety that could have drawn us more deeply into Lykan’s assorted plights. We see his peril and are told his adventures, but I was never tense or afraid for him. Ironically for a vampire, he never really came to life. I also had a problem with the voice, which was contemporary American and never quite fitted with the 100-year-old German character. But then I’m really difficult to please.
Having said that, I’m glad I read it to the end – the ambiguity of the ending is perhaps the cleverest and more satisfying part of the book.
Overall, I enjoyed reading SOMETHING MORE THAN BLOOD. The setup and the vampire protagonist are both good, and the little details about early cinema are fun.
A decent story, competently told, but lacking any real depth.
BOOK REVIEW: BLOOD TYPE. Ed Robert S. Wilson.
The Amazon UK link
It’s subtitled An Anthology of Vampire SF, on the Cutting Edge, which is a big clue to the theme. They’re all science fiction stories, with vampires. And it’s for charity, all proceeds going to the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, as explained in a very friendly introduction by the editor.
I approached it with caution, having been disappointed by tightly themed anthologies before, but a look at the author list was reassuring: William F. Nolan, Mike Resnick, Jilly Paddock, Laird Barron and Tim Waggoner all make an appearance. So I settled down and started reading. Here are my thoughts on each story as I read them.
The Undying, by William F. Nolan. A snippet more than a story. The life of an ancient vampire flashes before his eyes as the stake is hammered into his heart. Lovely evocative prose and a probably deliberate lack of human emotion.
Taxing Youth, by Rebecca L. Brown. A satire on our culture’s obsession with youth and the lengths to which people will go to prolong it.
The Souls of Stars, by Amelia Mangan. In the finest vampire tradition, a beautiful, dark and sensual tale. It’s also a study of loneliness and redemption, and manages to anthropomorphise the 2nd law of thermodynamics.
Evergreen, by Peter Giglio. And interesting setup and well-drawn central character make this an engaging read, despite an unlikely premise.
Welcome to the Reptile House, by Stephen Graham Jones. An interesting idea about a young would-be tattoo artist, it deals with several themes and plays on our paranoia about sharing needles.
Accomodation, by Michael R. Collings. A dark one, and subtle right up to the end when we realise what it’s actually about and the real horror of it hits us.
A Little Night Music, by Mike Resnick. A grim satire on the caprice of the music industry. Apparently agents wanting to suck the artists dry is only the beginning.
Predators of Tomorrow, by Michael Kamp. Any story about vampires in space should be cheesy and ridiculous, but good writing, an excellent premise and a great protagonist make this a worthwhile read.
Mountains of Ice, by Jilly Paddock. Set on New Year’s Eve 2099, this is an intriguing apparently supernatural story with a hero we want to find out more about, and told in darkly sensual prose.
Occupation, by James Ninness. A cracking adventure story set on a post-apocalyptic Earth.
Orientation Day, by Peter Watts. This features one of the most chilling depictions of a vampire I’ve ever read.
The Pilot, by Jason Duke. A stranger arrives in a deeply religious community on a faraway planet. I enjoyed the ambiguity of this one.
Unperished, by S. G. Algernon. A thriller in the style of a 1960s spy movie. With vampires. What’s not to love?
Eudora, by James S. Dorr. A nice little tale about the kind of girl your mother warned you about.
A River of Blood, Carried Into the Abyss, by John Palisano. A beautifully written psychedelic nightmare.
Better for burning, by H. E. Roulo. A fable about the lengths a little boy will to in order to make his dad proud.
I Was There, by Tarl Hoch. A brutal battle scene and a lesson on contemporary politics.
Strays, by Robert S. Wilson. Set in a distant future in which teenage vampires no longer have to hunt, it’s mainly about boredom but has layers. Nice.
Damned to Life, by Essel Pratt. A young man keeps a naked woman captive in his basement. It’s as unpleasant and misogynistic as it sounds but is nevertheless a good read.
Happy Hour, by G. N. Braun. A fun little adventure in the style of a low-budget horror flick.
Temporary Measures, by Jay Wilburn. In the future, we turn people into vampires so they will stay alive long enough for interstellar travel. What could possibly go wrong?
I, Vampire, by David N. Smith and Violet Addison. Vampirism as a metaphor for disease is a common trope, but here it’s compared to a psychological disorder and makes for a much more interesting read, raising questions about our attitude to the mentally ill.
Slave Arm, by Laird Barron. Second person, stream-of-consciousness prose is a tricky thing to pull off, but this is excellent: stylish and concise.
Gods and Devils, by Taylor Grant. Partly about parenthood, partly about our responsibility to future generations, but mainly a dark horror story set in space.
17, by Jonathan Templar. A satirical attack on the glamorisation of both death and youth in contemporary culture, and a nasty horror tale too.
Chrysalis, by Jason v. Brock. A political fable exploring parallels between 20th century oppressive regimes and our future vampire overlords.
Data Suck, by Kane Ethridge. An intriguing tale in that the vampire here is both metaphorical and entirely digital. It’s not even clear which of the characters fit the metaphor best.
Sun Hungry, by Tim Waggoner. I love it when legends get completely turned on their heads. Everything about this is back to front, and it’s great.
Wet Heavens, by Brian Fatah Steele. A splendidly gruesome apocalyptic spectacular, just right to finish off the book.
Overall, a solid anthology: a generally high standard and a few absolute gems. It’s also a whopper: over 400 pages, 29 stories and not a duffer among them.
I always have a problem with themed anthologies in that I start every story wondering when the (in this case) vampire is going to appear, so the big reveal is rarely a surprise. But it’s unfair to criticise the pieces on that basis. Every story here is worth reading, though inevitably some were more to my taste than others.
This is a book to keep beside your bed and dip into, rather than gorge on in one sitting – you’ll get more from the individual stories that way.
The kindle version is only £2.36, so if you were planning to drop some change into a charity box, do yourself a favour and buy this instead.