Book Review: The Vampire Tapestry by Suzy McKee Charnas

The Vampire Tapestry was first published in 1980, at the end of the Carter recession and the cusp of the Reagan era. Americans were bored with vampires. Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire (1976) and Stephen King’s Dracula Americana, Salem’s Lot (1975) had both been best-sellers. But Rice wouldn’t publish her second book, The Vampire Lestat, until 1985, and King never wrote another vampire-themed novel. The first two Saint-Germain novels by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro had been published, but attracted less attention than they deserved. The TV cult sensation, Dark Shadows, and Hammer Films’ vampire series had fizzled. Science fiction and fantasy, led by Star Wars and Tolkien, dominated the pop culture zeitgeist.

The great vampire renaissance we’re seeing now began building in the mid-80s and exploded in the early 90s. Maybe this dry spell is why several books released around 1980 gave the vampire theme unusual and creative twists. Like Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (1954), also published at a low point of vampire popularity, Suzy McKee Charnas’ The Vampire Tapestry startled readers with its revisionist depiction of a blood drinking character. Charnas’ book still has a solid core of fans who state that it’s not only their favorite vampire novel, but the best vampire novel ever written.

Despite this high regard from some very estimable people, I had never read The Vampire Tapestry. I’d only read one of the novella-length chapters, anthologized separately as “Unicorn Tapestry.” I came to the new reissue edition of The Vampire Tapestry (2008: Tom Doherty Associates) with fresh eyes, but a different context than readers had in 1980 when vampire fiction was largely defined by Dracula. Today, fictional alternatives to the “traditional” supernatural vampire are many and varied. Matheson (and the 1945 movie House of Dracula) broke new ground in imagining vampirism as a biological disease rather than a spiritual one. Charnas was among the first writers to present vampires as natural and normal members of another humanoid species. (She was not the very first to use this idea, since it was also the premise of the comic book series Vampirella, but The Vampire Tapestry was the first novel to develop the concept.)

Dr. Edward Weyland is the sole remaining member of his race, as far as he knows. Infinitely old, he periodically enters a state of hibernation, from which he emerges with no memory of his past to create a new identity for himself. He has no conscious knowledge of how he came to exist, exactly what he is or why there are no others like himself. He is a casual predator of humanity, but he isn’t a random killer. Herein lies his contradiction, because Weyland is by no means a cold-hearted murderer who disdains human beings as mere cattle. Intelligent, sophisticated and civilized, Weyland becomes more involved with the prey who so resemble him than I expected. Anne Rice’s vampires are far more alien, murderous and dangerous, from a human being’s perspective, than Charnas’ anti-hero.

Weyland is a living being, but he shares several of the powers attributed to “supernatural” vampires, including enhanced strength (explained in anatomical terms), resistance to injury (he survives a direct gun shot) and accelerated healing. Many readers are especially impressed by Weyland’s unique method of feeding. He uses a sort of dart under his tongue to pierce his victim’s skin, rather than fangs. But in 1980, long canine teeth fangs were a comparatively new vampire convention, which only started appearing in movies in 1958. Prior to that, fiction sometimes described puncture wounds but was vague about the physical mechanism that inflicted them. Weyland’s stinger is reminiscent of the grooved underside of a vampire bat’s tongue, which may have been Charnas’ inspiration for the idea.

The book’s title is descriptive. Although labeled a novel, The Vampire Tapestry consists of five long chapters that are connected, but can each be read as a free-standing and independent story. This gives the book an episodic narrative line–a “tapestry” of stitched together tales. The first three chapters focus on protagonists whose paths cross Weyland’s for very different reasons. These character studies are drawn with detail and skill, and each character is as memorable as Weyland himself. In “The Ancient Mind at Work,” Katje is an older white woman who was born and raised in colonial Africa and now works at the college where Weyland is a professor. She perceives him for what he is, with violent results. The second chapter, “The Land of Lost Content,” is told from the point of view of Mark, a teenager whose neglectful parents foist him off on his sleazy uncle Roger. Roger’s association with some very unsavory people leads to his having Weyland in captivity in his apartment for some time, and Mark forms an alliance with the vampire. The third chapter, “Unicorn Tapestry,” introduces Floria, a burned-out psychotherapist who reluctantly takes on Weyland as a client, and eventually crosses professional boundaries with him.

The final two chapters center on Weyland himself, and develop his character in ways that surprised me. I had often heard The Vampire Tapestry praised for its unsentimental depiction of vampires–Weyland, I was told, was a cold predator, not a mushy romantic hero. The final chapter of the book, however, belies this generalization. Weyland has deeper emotional tangles than he wants anyone to know.

The Vampire Tapestry has a few weaknesses. Some of the supporting characters, and some of the events, strained my credulity, especially in the second chapter. The narrative style contributed somewhat to this. Charnas apparently wanted to avoid using the authorial voice as much as possible. This means that all the exposition is done in the form of dialogue among the characters, and that means that most of the characters do too much explaining. Even Weyland ends up being the biggest vampire blabbermouth after Rice’s Louis, because he has to explain himself if there is no omniscient author to do so. It doesn’t seem to fit his personality or his precarious situation. Weyland needs about a pint of blood a day, which he obtains, without usually killing, from humans through all different kinds of subterfuge. Just for his own protective camouflage, you wouldn’t think he would talk about vampirism quite so much. The stories were written at the end of the 70s and are framed as simply, “the present,” so the assumptions and details are a bit dated now.

These are minor quibbles, however. The Vampire Tapestry is an entertaining and well-crafted book. It stands out from the vast sea of vampire fiction as one of the very few that achieves true originality. Its greatest disappointment is its lack of any sequels (or prequels). Weyland is a character whose longevity and history would lend themselves to an almost endless number of stories. Many questions about his species and origins are left unanswered, especially the two biggest ones: why are there no other vampires, and how did Weyland survive for so long? Alas, readers will simply have to speculate about these mysteries. However, Weyland does appear again in a novelette, “Advocates,” co-written with Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, which is anthologized in Under the Fang (Pocket Books: 1991), edited by Robert R. McCammon.

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VVC Organizational Statement

The purpose of the Voices of the Vampire Community (VVC) is to develop friendly relations among the various Houses, Covens, Orders, organizations, and individual leaders of the vampire community; to encourage cooperation in solving community related problems and in promoting respect for the views, ideas, and opinions of others without seeking to establish a unifying or governing body; and to be a center for harmonizing the actions of groups in attaining these ends.

Founded in January 2006, the Voices of the Vampire Community (VVC) is an international network of diverse voices from the vampire community. Membership to the VVC is by invitation only and is based exclusively on the merits of an individual’s lifetime contributions to the vampire community. The VVC is not established as a broad representative body for everyone who operates a forum, House, or group. It is designed as a serious discussion network for matters that affect our community both internally and externally from the media, academia, law enforcement, and the general public. Membership to the VVC is not based on an individual’s social or viewpoint popularity. Prospective candidates are selected in a democratic process of nomination and election by current members. To be nominated, an individual must meet the following criteria:

  • Be an active participant in the vampire community and eager to involve themselves in various projects and discussions.
  • Have previously demonstrated contributions to the vampire community on an intellectual level that exceeds average.
  • Have previously displayed leadership qualities and proper behavior within the vampire community for an extended period of time.
  • Have earned the deepest respect and trust of others; and in turn strive to afford the same respect, regardless of individual differences of opinion.

The VVC undertakes various projects to benefit the vampire community such as providing informational materials in the form of digital and print publications, podcasts, educational videos, and RSS feeds. We also work with the media, academia, and law enforcement to ensure the myths, misconceptions, and stigmas attached to real or modern vampirism are not adopted as the basis for their work or professional decisions.

The VVC is not a governing body and will never attempt to act as such within the vampire community. The VVC respects an individual’s right of expression and a group’s right to operate by their own guidelines. We will not police informational content or the behaviors of individuals within the vampire community. The VVC invites you to use the contact form available on the public web site to send questions, comments, or make suggestions.

For more information about the VVC, including the bios of current members, visit: http://www.veritasvosliberabit.com/vvc.html

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Book Review: A Dangerous Climate by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

A Dangerous Climate (Tor: September 30, 2008) is the twentieth novel by author Chelsea Quinn Yarbro detailing an episode in the very long life of her benign vampire hero, Count Ferenz Ragoczy Saint-Germain. It would be understandable, after so many books, if the Saint-Germain stories fell into a pattern. Having long outlived the Etruscan civilization of his birth, Saint-Germain is the eternal outsider, making temporary homes for himself until xenophobia and suspicion force him to move on. When he does, he usually must leave behind the female lovers he has trusted and helped. Despite this repeating motif, the Saint-Germain novels have taken a variety of forms. In an interview for Blogcritics in May, 2008, Yarbro said that her hero surprised her in the fifth novel, Tempting Fate, “and he can still surprise me now.” Saint-Germain proves her right in several ways in A Dangerous Climate. I’ve been a fan of Yarbro’s Count for thirty years, and I found this outing one of the most enjoyable in the series.

The foundation of every Saint-Germain novel is a vivid and meticulously researched portrait of one or more times and places in world history, often one that is not commonly presented in fiction. A Dangerous Climate takes us to the year 1704 and the founding of the Russian city of Saint Petersburg (Leningrad from 1924 to 1991) at the mouth of the Neva River on the Baltic sea.

Piotyr Alexeievich Romanov, six feet, eight inches tall and known to history as Tsar Peter I or Peter the Great, reigned from 1689 to 1725. He was an energetic and progressive ruler who forcibly dragged Russia from the Medieval into the early modern age. An absolute monarch, he utilized Draconian tactics to achieve his ends. He even mandated that nobles shave their beards and dress in European style clothing. His tour de force, the city of Saint Petersburg, was built in a decade, thanks to the massive mobilization of workers and resources that Piotyr ordered to labor on it. Enthralled with Dutch culture, Piotyr gave his city a Dutch name, Sankt Piterburkh, and referred to himself by the Dutch name Piter.

A Dangerous Climate is set at the beginning of this endeavor, when the marshes and bogs at the river mouth were still being drained and the city itself was being hammered together as fast as possible from wood, soon to be replaced with stone. Workers, many of them convicts and prisoners of war, died by the hundred in the harsh weather, while upper class artisans, architects, engineers and other specialists enjoyed spartan comforts at best. Piotyr “was determined to create a Baltic Amsterdam,” Yarbro says in her “Author’s Notes” to the novel. But like all pioneers (voluntary and otherwise), the first residents of Sankt Piterburkh lived, as Yarbro puts it, “in conditions that resembled a survival camp in a construction zone.”

In such conditions, law enforcement tends to be less than efficient. Over the course of the Saint-Germain series, we have seen the Count suffer through horrendous physical injuries, torture and beatings, while barely escaping from far worse. Yarbro’s vampires enjoy very few supernatural powers or advantages over mortals. Like the humans they once were, they must evade misadventures through ingenuity and resourcefulness, which often aren’t enough. In most cases we see inevitable disaster looming, but in A Dangerous Climate, the disaster opens the book. In the first chapter, night watchmen discover Saint-Germain right after he’s been beaten so severely that he can’t remember exactly what happened. A living man wouldn’t have survived. Since Saint-Germain does, he spends the rest of the book trying to determine what happened, who wants him dead and when they’ll make another attempt. The opening chapters describe his slow recovery, complicated by his need to conceal how well he’s really doing from the physician and healers who are treating him.

We soon learn another unique aspect to Saint-Germain’s situation in this story: he is not in Sankt Piterburkh as a lone “foreigner.” The Count is visiting in disguise, pretending to be Arpad Arco-Tolvay, Hercegek Gyor, the missing husband of a Polish aristocrat, Zozia, Ksiezna Nisko. A gifted diplomat and spy for the Polish monarch, Augustus II, the Ksiezna must be escorted by a male relative in order to move freely among the foreign dignitaries in Sankt Piterburkh. With the agreement of Augustus II, Saint-Germain has taken on this role, presumably in name only. As the story progresses, their mutual needs draw Saint-Germain and Zozia into a much more intimate–and perilous–involvement than originally planned. Along with all the other concerns raised by Saint-Germain’s unorthodox lovemaking, there is always the chance that the Ksiezna’s real husband could turn up and expose the ruse.

In order to play the role of Zozia’s Hungarian spouse, Saint-Germain is obliged to change some of his normal habits. He abandons his signature style of black, red and white clothing to dress in the lavish fabrics and bright colors fashionable at the time. Guests at the Russian court were expected to feast to excess with their hosts, on pain of committing an unforgivable insult. We have always known that Saint-Germain is unable to consume food or drink–in A Dangerous Climate we find out what happens to him if he does.

Saint-Germain’s beating directly leads to his acquaintance with the independent Ludmilla Borisevna Svarinskaya, a Russian matron who has been rejected by her husband and is running a care house in Sankt Piterburkh. She earns Saint-Germain’s admiration and respect, and eventually a closer relationship. But even as he juggles clandestine liaisons and extremely delicate politics, Saint-Germain is confronted with a crisis in his own affairs. While he has gone underground to impersonate the Ksiezna’s husband, he learns that somebody else is impersonating him. His title, property and estates, under the care of a steward who sends regular reports to him in Sankt Piterburkh, are being claimed by an impostor. Now he has another problem to untangle, without unmasking his real identity to Piotyr and the other residents of Sankt Piterburkh or threatening the Ksiezna’s mission.

A Dangerous Climate features more in the way of complicated puzzles and elaborate maneuverings than raw action. The plot spins out against the finely described backdrop of newborn Sankt Piterburkh–crude, muddy, cold and inhospitable, and yet filled with high born diplomats and ambassadors displaying all the luxury expected in a royal court, because Piotyr insists upon it. By the end of the book, we feel as though we’ve lived in Piotyr’s city ourselves. As often is the case with Yarbro’s novels, we’re also deeply grateful that we don’t live there now. In a 2005 interview with Linda Suzane, Yarbro said, “The Saint-Germain novels are called historical horror novels for a reason: history is horrifying…I try to show the various periods as they saw themselves as much as I can, and to focus on the status and circumstances of women and the constraints of their societies.” In practical terms, this means that the Saint-Germain novels usually have rather grim conclusions, especially when it comes to the fates of the female characters. A Dangerous Climate diverges somewhat from this tendency, another pleasant surprise for me.

A Dangerous Climate takes its place among my favorite of the Saint-Germain novels. Saint-Germain, along with other characters in the books, consistently demonstrates that problems can be resolved without violence even in extremely violent environments. Although he has watched civilizations decline into barbarism countless times, he himself never abandons his own hard-won principles, and he seeks out those individuals who rise above their circumstances by their own inner light. The Saint-Germain novels always contain a note of optimism. No matter how grim the story and how great his loss, Saint-Germain remains determined to survive and look toward the future. In A Dangerous Climate he earns a happier reward for his resilience than he has sometimes seen. Fans of the Count and new readers alike will thoroughly enjoy this book.

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Anti-Vampire Hate Speech in Pittsburgh

On September 14, 2008, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review published an op-ed piece titled, Don’t let your children grow up to be…” by an anonymous writer identified only with the explanation, “Dateline D.C. is written by a Washington-based British journalist and political observer.”

This article is being circulated around the vampiric community blogosphere, probably giving it more free PR and linkbacks than it deserves. The anonymous op-ed columnist writes a preposterous piece of fear-mongering nonsense, purporting that young people going to college are at risk of being “recruited” by evil, mind-controlling “cults.” His/her examples of such sinister groups include eco-terrorist groups (the kind that, gasp, liberate test animals from labs) and…”Vampyre cults.” Below is an excerpt from the column (note the hypothetical victim’s name–”Rosemary” as in Rosemary’s Baby).

Rosemary was lucky. She could have been recruited by a “vampyre” cult. Vampires, as we call them, are now active in the vicinity of several campuses. They recruit the Rosemarys of the world into their “vampyre” families.

This is not a replay of Bram Stoker’s Victorian world of blood drinking, nor in the mewlings of Southern ladies turned writer in the past decade or so. We can’t even blame television, because we are facing a 21st-century perversion using AIDS/HIV avoidance as the hook.

Naturally, hormones rage out of control in young people and an older pair or a trio are the leaders and will recruit seven or eight young women and half as many young males. The young ones will all work as messengers, clerks or shop assistants and their money will be pooled by the elders.

The group is sexually active with one another but with no one outside the group — thus they believe there can be as much sexual activity as they can handle without fear of AIDS/HIV.

And, of course, there has to be a ritual. There’s blood drinking — cranberry juice or, at worst, packaged blood from transfusion kits. Vampire fangs can be inserted over teeth. Contact lenses are used to change eye color. And photographs can make these sordid rituals and couplings look and feel excitingly exclusive — and become very expensive.

Debt and strange experiences build up and help to ensure that the Rosemarys won’t return very quickly to a more normal society.

Police and educational departments in several major East and West coast cities won’t comment. But high school teachers know that recruiting for “vampyre” families starts as early as age 12.

I’d like to think that this anonymous writer was trying to write satire–the claims made are certainly outrageous enough. I can’t be sure of that, however–this scenario reads like something right out of Chick Comics, and those were dead serious. It doesn’t seem to occur to the columnist that if “police and educational departments…won’t comment” there is probably a good reason for their silence: namely, that the question is too stupid to dignify with an answer. But as we all know, there are far too many people out there who are gullible and superstitious enough to see “evil cults” behind every tree.

I wrote a response to the newspaper, but had to trim it down to fit their 200-word maximum limit. Here is my reply:

Dear Editors,

I was appalled by the anonymous editorial piece that you saw fit to publish under the title, “Don’t let your kids grow up to be…” dated Sunday, September 14, 2008. Opinions are one thing, but even op-ed columnists should be compelled to check their facts.

For the record: there are no “vampyre cults” recruiting college students, high school students, or 12-year-olds. Everything the anonymous writer claimed is utter and absolute nonsense. Real vampires are law-abiding and solitary people who don’t have the slightest wish to “recruit followers” or even be known for what they are. In fact, they’re generally very difficult to locate or contact, since they’re used to being treated with suspicion, contempt and outright abuse. There is a loosely linked, scattered and highly diverse “vampire community,” but it could not by any stretch of the imagination be called “a cult.” Real vampires are far too busy struggling with their own unique health issues and needs as they hold down jobs, maintain relationships and raise families to “recruit” anybody. I know what I’m talking about, because I’ve been part of this community for more than ten years.

You’re welcome to check my websites for factual information about real vampires.

Sincerely,

Inanna Arthen, M.Div
Owner, By Light Unseen Media
http://bylightunseenmedia.com
(my address and phone number, as requested to “verify” the letter)

I doubt they’ll print my letter or take it seriously, but I sent it. If you’d like to respond to this column, see the Tribune-Review’s Guidelines for letters to the editor with snail-mail and e-mail addresses.

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Book Review: Vampyres of Hollywood by Adrienne Barbeau and Michael Scott

The most obvious bit of satire in Vampyres of Hollywood (St. Martins: July 2008) is the suggestion that the great stars of the Golden Age of Cinema are literally, not just figuratively, “immortal.” But the entire novel, written by actress Adrienne Barbeau (Swamp Thing, The Fog) and author Michael Scott (The Alchemyst, The Magician) is really one enormous in-joke, on many levels. So pulpy that it should be printed on yellow paper, so formulaic that it should be filmed by Roger Corman, Vampyres of Hollywood stands in homage to the B horror flicks for which its heroine Ovsanna Moore and its co-author Barbeau are famous. In the best hack cinema tradition, Barbeau and Scott drench the scenery with blood, innards and ichor, borrow from every source that can’t run away fast enough, and finish with an outrageously over-the-top finale. It’s not great literature, but as every B-movie fan knows, the mess is all part of the fun.

Ovsanna Moore is a five hundred year old Vampyre with an attachment to the film industry. She loves it so much, in fact, that she has faked her own death twice and now poses as her own granddaughter carrying on three generations of movie stardom. She’s a one-woman version of the Barrymores. In the present day, Ovsanna runs a film company, Anticipation Studios, producing and usually starring in gory schlock horror films. As the novel begins, life is imitating Ovsanna’s art: actors and other people connected to Ovsanna’s film business are being found murdered in intensely gruesome ways (most of them being “found” in more than one spot). As the “Cinema Slayer” racks up a body count and terrorizes Tinseltown, world-weary Detective Peter King of the Beverly Hills P.D. pursues an investigation that quickly leads him to Ovsanna Moore’s doorstep. He ends up learning more about the “underworld” of Hollywood than he ever dreamed might exist.

That’s about all the plot that Vampyres of Hollywood can boast of. As more and more people around her turn up slaughtered (and usually sliced, diced and julienned), Ovsanna puzzles over the motive for the killings. Meanwhile, Peter King interviews various individuals without getting much closer to a resolution of the case. Finally, Ovsanna “follows a hunch” to another city and a possible explanation that is never foreshadowed in any way. Detective King trails after her to enable him to be part of the pull-out-all-the-stops-and-sit-on-the-keyboard climax.

I don’t care for first-person narrators, as a rule, and Vampyres of Hollywood has two of them. The chapters alternate between Ovsanna and Peter, with an icon on the chapter heading to identify who is talking. The icons are useful, because except for the content, there is absolutely nothing to differentiate the two characters’ narrations. Ovsanna and Peter think alike, talk alike, appear to have identical attitudes, moods, and outlooks on life, and their narrative voices are indistinguishable. They even are both currently celibate with a preference for female partners. I had to pay close attention to keep track of whose adventures I was following in the chapter I was reading.

Because of the skeletal storyline and the dual narration, the chapters are stuffed with expository padding. Ovsanna constantly cuts to a sidebar to explain to us readers details about Vampyrism in general and her past specifically. Peter King rambles off only slightly less often on tangents about his mother’s connection to the film industry and his experiences as a Beverly Hills cop. There are a lot of clever jokes–Ovsanna seems to have known everyone who ever wrote literature or made movies even slightly related to vampires and had a front row seat for every major historical event. She even tells us something we didn’t know about the real fate of Jack the Ripper. But all the explanation becomes tedious, and I found myself skimming chunks of digression to get back to the story.

Like a low-budget horror movie, Vampyres of Hollywood is filled with flagrant contradictions it disdains to reconcile. Ovsanna is the “Chatelaine of Hollywood,” but she seems relatively powerless when the other Vampyres of Hollywood appear at her home and warn her to resolve the situation or else. The Vampyres in the story are supposedly born as they are, yet at the same time, they can “turn” human beings into Vampyres. The relationship between Ovsanna and the murder victims is inconsistent, and sometimes tenuous. When we finally learn who is behind the killings, they still don’t make a lot of sense. Ovsanna is warned that she is putting Vampyres at risk of exposure, but nothing she does could possibly attract more attention than a string of horrendous homicides. Contradictions like this tend to haunt derivative stories. Vampyres of Hollywood owes a heavy debt to author Kim Newman (Anno Dracula, The Bloody Red Baron) and the fictional universe of Vampyres: The Masquerade and its “vampire clans.” I also detected loud pounding echoes of the movies Death Becomes Her (1992), Fright Night (1985) and Quentin Tarantino’s repellent From Dusk Till Dawn (1996).

But critiquing a book like this one too closely is like printing nutritional information on a tub of movie popcorn. Vampyres of Hollywood follows the predictable roller-coaster ride of every low-budget creature feature, especially the ending. If you’re knowledgeable about vampires and movies, you’ll enjoy collecting the trivia references and sly jokes. You probably won’t want to read this one on your lunch break, but if you have a beach vacation coming up, Vampyres of Hollywood is lively, undemanding entertainment.

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I guess pigs are flying!

In this post on March 10, I reported on a snide remark made against “vampire chat rooms” in the “Annie’s Mailbox” advice column. I sent the columnists an e-mail, and so did a number of people I know, although many of them are vampire fans, not vampiric people or connected to the OVC.

The columnists must have gotten a lot of well-written, dignified letters–they wouldn’t have paid attention to those that sounded like nut jobs–because, to my astonishment, they have printed an apology.

I have to give them credit for that, even if one of the letters still makes a snide remark about the OVC, and even though the columnists can’t resist an idiotic crack about “garlic necklaces.” (They obviously haven’t read Something in the Blood and don’t realize that real vampires love garlic!) At least the column backs off from the whole, “woooooo, the Internet is so dangerous!” bullshit.

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Book Review: The Saint-Germain Memoirs by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

The Saint-Germain Memoirs is the third collection of stories featuring Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s popular vampire hero, Count Rogoczy Saint-Germain. The Saint-Germain novels are long, leisurely, meticulously researched books set in historical time periods ranging from dynastic Egypt to the twentieth century. Saint-Germain, who debuted in 1978 in the novel Hotel Transylvania, was among the first wholly sympathetic and moral vampire characters in literature, but his unique nature and his extremely long history (he is some 4,000 years old) make him challenging to depict fairly in a shorter work. The Saint-Germain Memoirs incorporates five tales of varying lengths: two short stories, two novelettes, and the book’s centerpiece, a 42,000-word novella. Of these, the novella is unquestionably the best piece in the book, encapsulating the finest elements of the Saint-Germain series as a whole.

I’ve read nearly all of the Saint-Germain novels, so I can’t gauge how a reader with no previous experience of Yarbro’s character would experience the stories in The Saint-Germain Memoirs. However, as I read them, I sensed that I was picking up on a lot of subtle hints and details that required extensive background information to appreciate. In her Introduction, Sharon Russell argues that the stories have something to offer readers regardless of their familiarity with Saint-Germain, but I remain unconvinced. Individuals who already have a good working knowledge of the character and his history will get the most from these brief glimpses into his life.

“Harpy,” originally published in the anthology, The Secret History of Vampires, is a good example of a story that is full of meaning for those who already know Saint-Germain, but may be puzzling to new readers. One of the Amazon reviewers for The Secret History of Vampires identified the enigmatic “Ragosh-ski” in the story as Dracula! Although “Harpy” presents an interesting character study of a historical person rarely given much thought–I can’t say who without spoiling the twist ending–it took me a while to pin down the time period based on the descriptions. This is a peril of setting a story in a location, Athens, that has been consistently occupied under the same name for 2,500 years. I also remained uncertain, by the story’s end, as to why Saint-Germain picked out this woman for assistance–whether he knew her by reputation or was able, as the story hints, to sense some special quality she possessed.

“A Gentleman of the Old School,” originally published in Dark Delicacies, is one of the very rare Saint-Germain tales set in the present-day. This story concentrates much more on its mortal characters, with Saint-Germain appearing as a wealthy man of mystery who feeds an eager female reporter some clues in a serial murder case. In her Afterword, Yarbro describes her writing process, explaining that her character “talks to her” and that “I’m one of those writers who has to have characters come alive before I can write about them…I immerse myself in the environment of the story, the history, the circumstances, and as much actual information we have regarding how people of the time saw themselves and their world.” I completely sympathize, because I write the same way. But some years ago I had a conversation with Ms. Yarbro and asked her why she hadn’t written a novel about Saint-Germain in the present day. She told me that for some reason, those stories just wouldn’t easily gel for her. “A Gentleman of the Old School” has that in common with the other modern-day Saint-Germain stories: somehow, Yarbro’s hero hasn’t quite found a natural place in the post-Y2K world.

The novelette “Intercession” was originally published in Repentants. Presented in epistolary style, “Intercession” consists of letters written by Saint-Germain’s manservant, Rogerio, in his efforts to free his master from incarceration in 17th century Spanish territory in the New World. Readers of the novels already know that Saint-Germain is imprisoned when his oldest friend, the vampire Olivia, dies in an explosion in Rome. This story includes that event. However, I found “Intercession” to be the weakest of the five pieces in this collection. To me, it merely seemed repetitive: the years go by as Rogerio writes letter after letter seeking answers or aid. The point–that in such historical times even a wealthy person could be unjustly imprisoned indefinitely without hope of redress–is made long before the story ends. Including Olivia’s death in that time frame without any mention of its effect on Saint-Germain leaves too large a gap. “Intercession” demands that the reader imagine how Saint-Germain must be feeling: helpless, cut off from all friendly communication and aware that Olivia is gone. This can be an effective device, but in “Intercession,” it simply doesn’t work for me.

The novelette, “Lost Epiphany,” doesn’t actually tell a story, but it delivers a highly entertaining account of how Saint-Germain maneuvers his way among several groups of colorful and hostile antagonists. Despite his vampiric state, Saint-Germain possesses few supernatural powers. He survives primarily through his own resourcefulness and his long knowledge of the human psyche. In “Lost Epiphany,” set in the early first millennium A.D., Saint-Germain’s merchant ship has been captured by pirates in the Mediterranean, and one of his only advantages, enhanced strength and endurance, is severely curtailed by starvation and exposure to running water. Given an opportunity to go ashore on an island and negotiate with a monastery there for supplies, Saint-Germain uses his wits to gain an edge for himself with the monks–who have some surprises of their own. “Lost Epiphany” is an ingenious object lesson in how an immortal might survive a crisis without any of the deus-ex-machina tricks that are usually associated with vampires.

The novella “Tales Out of School” forms the heart of The Saint-Germain Memoirs in every sense. I thoroughly enjoyed this story. Set in 14th century Padua (then Padova), Saint-Germain attempts to help a widow suffering from a terminal disease, as he negotiates the tricky political and social issues related to his teaching alchemy and herbalism to students at Padova University. “Tales Out of School” is rich with historical detail, colorful and interesting characters, and true human drama. Containing all the core elements of the novels, it is complete as is: any longer, and it would be over-stuffed and lose its strong narrative threads. It is worth the price of the book alone.

The Saint-Germain Memoirs was initially issued in a signed and numbered hardcover edition by Elder Signs Press. It includes a brief, but informative Afterword by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro discussing her character and how the series began and evolved, and an Introduction by Sharon Russell. I enthusiastically recommend it to any reader who has enjoyed at least some of the Saint-Germain novels. Those who are new to the character may be mystified by the stories, but can find some answers to their questions on Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s official website.

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Another gratuitious swipe at the online vampiric community

I don’t usually read mundane advice columns. I’m always suspicious of the veracity of the letters and the advice generally ranges from “calculated to preserve the conventional status quo” to downright dangerous and bad. For example, I’ve seen people in overtly battering relationships given suggestions that could get them hurt. But a friend brought my attention to today’s “Annie’s Mailbox” column. In their reply to a purported 18-year-old woman who was worried about telling her parents she met her new boyfriend online, columnists Kathy and Marcy inserted the comment, “We trust it isn’t a chat room for, say, vampires.”

And what if it is? What the fuck do they mean by that? A rhetorical question, of course: the implication is that parents should be upset if their 18-year-old daughter has met someone from a “vampire chat room.” By dropping this stupid and gratuitous smear, the editors promote all the stereotypes about the OVC and vampire-themed websites: that the people in them are predatory, weird, dangerous, or belong to cults. Since the letter-writer hadn’t said anything about the online venue in which she met her boyfriend, the speculation was completely uncalled for. While there are certainly dangers on the Internet, as I discuss in “Human Vampire-Like Predators,” these dangers are not focused in any topical venue. Predators go wherever their targeted victims do, and there are no more of them, proportionately, in vampire-themed forums than in forums devoted to teenage fandoms or adult singles. (In fact, singles chat rooms and forums are probably the most dangerous places online, hands down. I wouldn’t go near them!)

I wrote to Kathy and Marcy objecting to the comment and saying they owed vampire forum members an apology. I don’t expect that they’ll pay any attention–although, if they receive a number of e-mails, they may have to. You can contact them at anniesmailbox@comcast.net.

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Oh, look, someone chewed me out!

When ignorant little young people write to me and chew me out, I’m going to post their letters here on this blog, with my comments. Here is an e-mail I just received, reproduced exactly:

Shame on you! {Hello to you, too!}
I understand that we all have the right of believing what we like best, some poor souls for instance believe in themselves. {? And “believing in yourself” is bad?} What you bring about however is horrifying. Not only a being who draws “life energy” isn’t a vampire, but a necrospectre, {a what????} you also eliminate the tangible mean of the blood and substitute it with prana energy to make the imposture even less detectable and thus more easily appealing. {Which is exactly what I tried -not- to do.} Furthermore the personality kinds you are describing here are best fit for the definitions of manic disorder and bipolar. {Not at all, as I explain more clearly in “Real Vampires Revisited.” Are you a mental health professional and qualified to diagnose, Enyl?} If vampire existed and if I were one of them I’d certainly like to pay you a little visit. {Ooooh, a threat! What a friendly guy!} How sexist must you be. There is, all throughout your essay, the feeling that a vampire can only be female. I though of vampires, as I did of angels and demons, that they weren’t sexual beings. {Another asshole who thinks vampires are all impotent like Anne Rice’s. Folklore vampires are -totally- sexual! Normally, I refer people who ask about the feminine pronouns question to “Real Vampires Revisited,” but this guy is just plain hostile–and seems to have trouble with English.}
In any event, let me conclude by saying that your gain must be egotistical here, {he writes an e-mail like this to a total stranger, and he says -I’m- egotistical?} mabe even monetary, {Oh? he paid to read my article?} but mostly you are drawing a kind of attention to yourself that will last. {Gods, I hope so!} The real vampire is you {At least he gets that one right} and in that you are really cursed. {Wow. And I just thought I was having a bad day.}
yours truly, {and sincerely to you, sugarlips}
Enyl.

“Real Vampires” was written twenty years ago and has been online for ten years. Congratulations, Enyl, on finally locating it. Now go read a book on common courtesy, and brush up on basic vampire folklore, because you don’t have the first clue what you’re talking about. Only an obnoxious little shit dashes off a rude e-mail like that to someone who has only authored an article. I’m tired of hearing from people like you. Bother me again and I’ll publish your e-mail address.

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The Lost Boys 2: The Tribe

The website Shock Till You Drop has an interview with Hans Rodionoff, the screenwriter for Lost Boys 2: The Tribe, currently in post-production. Twenty years after Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys redefined the cinematic vampire and launched the “punk vampire gang” motif, a sequel has finally been made. Warner Brothers has not yet decided whether the movie will get a theatrical release or go straight to DVD.

Shock Till You Drop reports, “Tad Hilgenbrink and Autumn Reeser star as Chris and Nicole, respectively, son and daughter of Michael and Star (Jason Patric and Jamie Gertz’s characters from the first film). With their parents gone, they relocate to Luna Bay where Nicole unknowingly takes a vampire for her boyfriend. Chris then turns to the authority on bloodsucker beatdowns Edgar Frog (Corey Feldman reprising his role) for help.

“Leader of the new vamp pack is actor Angus Sutherland, real-life brother of Kiefer, here playing Shane who travels the world with his fanged chums. Yes, they’re surfing vampires. But Rodionoff is quick to dismiss that these are not the stereotypical “bro” and “dude”-dropping wave riders we’ve seen in cinema countless times. Roving gypsies is more like it. Traveling the world and pissed off that they’ve been deprived of sunlight.”

The film’s story does pick up from the original, with cameos by minor actors as well as character continuity. Attractive 53-year-old Canadian actress Gabrielle Rose appears as “eccentric Aunt Jillian,” who takes in Chris and Nicole after their parents are killed in a car accident. The vampire “gang” in this movie are surfers, but we’re assured by Mr. Rodionoff that not much surfing is done on film. The movie is scheduled to be released in summer, 2008.

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