When I was younger, I was heavily into role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons. I also ventured occasionally into other RPGs, and one of the popular ones was (and still is) Vampire: The Masquerade, in which one plays an Anne-Riceian vampire living secretly in contemporary society. I quickly got rather tired of Vampire, though; playing a character that is so much more powerful and special than ordinary folks left me with the pathetic feeling that I was trying to role-play somebody “cool”.
The ultra-trendy, ultra-sexy vampire seems to have become the standard image of the mythical bloodsucker. Alternatives exist, however; I thought I’d write a blog post highlighting some of my favorite stories in which vampires are depicted in a very different fashion…
- I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson. Lots of people are familiar with the recently-released movie version of this story. The novel is quite different, however, and well worth a read. The story describes the plight of Robert Neville, the last living man on Earth after a plague has turned the rest of the population into vampires. This is perhaps the first story that tries to give a rational explanation for the existence of the creatures.
- Manitou Blood, by Graham Masterton. In a sense this story is the flip side of I Am Legend: people start showing up in New York City hospitals vomiting up blood – other people’s blood. The doctors assume at first that the plague is natural in origin, but the patients are newly minted vampires, who tend to slash their victim’s throats with whatever pointy object they find on hand. Soon the city has been quarantined, and becomes an apocalyptic wasteland. It is up to erstwhile manitou-fighter Harry Erskine to demonstrate that a supernatural force is behind the catastrophe.
- Luella Miller, by Mary E. Wilkins-Freeman. We’ll discuss Mrs. Wilkins-Freeman in a future ‘horror masters’ post. For now, we note her story Luella Miller, an understated but disturbing story about a woman who is deadly to those who choose to get close to her.
- Hills of the Dead, by Robert E. Howard. One of the magnificant stories featuring the Puritan hero Solomon Kane. Kane is traveling in the wilds of Africa when he comes across a region plagued by a city of ancient dead. The vampires are savage and alien breed. This is both a good adventure story and a good horror story!
- The Colour Out of Space, by H.P. Lovecraft. Okay, this is stretching the definition of ‘vampire’, but that’s the point of this post, right? And ‘vampire’ is the only word that comes vaguely close to describing the nameless horror that Lovecraft conjures in this chilling tale. Some… thing… falls from the sky and takes up residence in a well on Nahum Gardner’s farm. The thing starts to take a horrible toll upon the all things living around the farm. It is a monster incomprehensible, only identifiable by its unclassifiable color. One of Lovecraft’s best tales, in my opinion.
- Vampire$, by John Steakley. No, the dollar sign isn’t a typo. Vampire$ is a novel about a group of professional vampire hunters, making their living in the most dangerous job in history. The story gives a new meaning to the phrase, “The most dangerous game.” The vampires here are intelligent and unspeakably brutal. Steakley has only written two novels, this one and Armor, a powerful story about a horrible war in humanity’s future.
- Update: Necroscope, by Brian Lumley. The first in many books that Brian Lumley has written about Harry Keogh, necroscope. My interest in this book had inspired this post in the first place, but I didn’t want to discuss it until I had finished reading! Keogh is a man who can talk with the dead, and they love him for it (being dead is really boring, you see…). The novel follows in parallel Harry’s rise in psychic power along with his nemesis-to-be, Boris Dragosani. Dragosani has his own, more gory, method of extracting secrets from the dead, learned as a youth from an entombed vampire. Dragosani uses the knowledge of the trapped vampire to further his own power, leading to a catastrophic confrontation by the end of the book. The vampires (wamphyri) in Necroscope are vile, twisted inhuman parasites that use human bodies as hosts.