If you’re going to write vampires…

So one of the things that slowed down updates on the last couple chapters of Enemy Mine was that my attention had largely shifted back to original fiction. And I disappoint myself when I admit that it’s about vampires.

Vampire fiction bothers me because everyone winds up inventing their own canon, picking and choosing from the vampire lore that has been defined largely by Bram Stoker and Anne Rice. Why even call it the same thing, if you’re going to make up all the rules? And yeah, while Anne Rice(‘s homoeroticism) was a formative influence on me and my writing, I really didn’t think there’s much new or interesting to be said about vampires.

There are basically three ways that vampires end up getting written. They can be (1) straight-up evil monsters, which is boring; they eat people and the good guys kill them, the end. Or they can be (2) otherworldly and sexy (hello, Anne Rice), but that requires atmospheric prose and a certain unrealism, a lack of specificity about vampire biology and bodily functions and where they get their fake IDs made. Because details are death to mystery and romance, with vampires losing much of their glamour when taken away from their shadowy backdrop and planted firmly in the mundane world that we live in. Which leads us to (3) sexy vampires brought low by having to put their pants on one leg at a time.

Vampires living like humans are disappointing. Vampires living in drafty Gothic mansions are ludicrous. What’s a writer to do?

(Although one recent vampire book that I enjoyed immeasurably despite its flaws was Robin McKinley’s Sunshine, for a very visceral depiction of vampires that was unlike anything else I’ve read. Vampires are all but incapable of passing for human; the one we get to know is described as large and spidery, with eyes the color of stagnant water and skin like old mushrooms, "the sort of mushrooms you find screwed up in a paper bag in the back of the fridge and try to decide if they’re worth saving or if you should just throw them out now and get it over with" — and he’s creepy and magnetic and triggers all sorts of hindbrain, run-like-hell prey instincts in the main character just by his presence, and there’s still sex in the air. I don’t think that description did it justice, but trust me, it’s really cool.

Unfortunately, when McKinley tried to go into more depth about vampire social structures and how the vampire lived, it sort of fell apart. She didn’t have original ideas on that front to match her original ideas about the creepy-factor of vampires, and given a choice between (2) or (3), she hit some pretty well-worn cliches in the interests of keeping them separate from humans.)

The more I thought about vampire fiction and its perennial popularity, the more I wondered if perhaps it indicates a failure of imagination. That it’s really just fantasy that doesn’t want to admit to being fantasy, because Fantasy Is For Loser Geeks. It’s fantasy where the author didn’t want to deal with the heavy-lifting of inventing their own creatures and building up from scratch, so they’ve piggybacked on the existing schema of ‘vampire.’ And readers are equally to blame, for preferring endless rehashings of the same mythology to trying something new. (Though yeah, I do get it, actually — vampire fiction is easier to pick up because you already have an in, you already know what vampires are, you have a life jacket to keep you afloat from the start. The same way that fanfic gives you an in because you already know the characters. Anyway.)

Vampires, I said. Not gonna write ‘em, I said.

…But alas, it was too late, because vampires and post-apocalypticism had fused in my head to create an idea that would not die. And while I resist vampires on principle, I have a deep-seated weakness for monsters and other non-human creatures as protagonists. The question that fascinates me is: How would their differences make them deeply, fundamentally different from humans? In the way that they think, the way that they perceive themselves and the world?

Take immortality, for example — an idea oft-used in fiction, but I don’t think the effects that immortality would have on one’s psyche have ever been explored to my satisfaction.

For one, how do vampires conceptualize their lifespans? As humans, we can make a number of generalizations and assumptions based on our age — about what our place in society now ought to be and where we ought to be in our development. We know about how much longer we’re likely to live and can probably make an educated guess about the general shape that the rest of our lives will take, or at least how we’d like it to go.

Vampires, who can live to indefinite ages and have no “natural” death to die, lose that framework. Do they think of themselves as old or young? Do they consider themselves to be at the beginning, middle, or end of their lifetime? How do they know what to do with themselves? How to carry themselves? Ought a two-hundred-year-old vampire behave like a human twenty-year-old, forty-year-old, or eighty-year-old? Or none of the above? Would it depend on the company they were keeping, that said 200-year-old vampire would act as protege to the millennial ancient but wise mentor to the 20-year-old human?

What would immortality do to your faith, if the world moves on and leaves no trace of the religion that you used to believe in down to your bones? Would you keep believing it anyway, or transfer your allegiance to a different faith, or lose the ability to believe in anything at all? If you’re twenty-five thousand years old, what would you think of the popularity of an upstart religion like Christianity? If you were raised a medieval Christian, what do you think of how your church has changed?

And if you live long enough, then sooner or later the society that birthed you will no longer exist. It may be go down like the Aztecs, wiped off the face of the earth with extreme prejudice, or it may simply evolve beyond recognition, but there will come a point when you realize that you don’t have a homeland anymore, that it’s gone and there’s no getting it back. Like discovering that your childhood home has been bulldozed, times a million.

This is particularly relevant to my story, because it’s set a few generations post-apocalyptic, but most of the vampires are pre-apocalyptic. It’s a hard reality for the vamp protagonist to swallow, that even if they manage to make the standards of living a little less, well, post-apocalyptic, the cultural fabric of America has shifted permanently and it’s never again going to be the country that he knew before. That this is America now, with its mutated language and mutated religion and survivalist culture, and he’s become the foreigner, on the outside looking in.

How does it feel when you know jokes that no one else living would understand?

How does it feel when you’re the only one left who speaks your language? Your head is full of words that no longer have any meaning.

How does attraction work when you start dealing the sort of age discrepancies that immortality brings into the picture? In our society we’re wary of relationships with even a few decades between the participants because of the inherent power imbalance. We’re suspicious that someone is taking advantage of someone — that the feeling isn’t genuine because the older partner just wants a hot young thang and the younger partner is overawed by money/fame/power.

It’s difficult to believe in a genuine connection between people of dramatically different ages, and it comes down to a lack of life experiences on the part of the younger person. I couldn’t date a high schooler, hot though they may be sometimes, because they lack the entire experience of being an independent adult, of living apart from your parents, working for a living, paying your own bills and feeding yourself. And conversely, a fifty-year-old dating me would probably feel similarly about my lack of experience with marriage, kids, career, mid-life crises, bereavement. They’re landmarks of the human life, shared experiences that put us on a more equal footing with our romantic partners.

So what landmarks would a vampire lifespan encompass? I’m inclined to think that the losing-one’s-homeland revelation — realizing that everything you valued as a human has ceased to exist — would be the biggest watershed moment (and probably also the point when most vampire suicides would happen). What experiences would a pair of vampires need to share before their lack of common ground came between them? Would the 25,000-year-old vampire really be interested in discussing her long-lost culture with a 200-year-old boyfriend who doesn’t get what that means yet?

What kinds of patterns would develop for relationships between vampires? As humans we have many different templates — the relationship between parent and child, siblings, classmates, BFFs, objects of all-consuming romantic passion, fuck buddies, colleagues, neighbors, rivals, boss and employee, teacher and student. What templates would spring up for vampires?

I don’t think vampires would engage in marriage per se, certainly not the till-death-do-us-part variety, but we do form emotional attachments and desire symbolic recognition of our attachments. It’s not hard to imagine an analogue for marriage that would accommodate vampire biology.

The relationship between creator and vampire offspring has been explored at length in other fiction, but what about the bond between vampires who happened to be born in roughly the same time/place as you? Even if you don’t particularly like them, hey’re the only ones who really understand where you came from. Especially as you get older and your numbers dwindle, I think that every so often, even if it was only once a decade or so, you would feel compelled to seek out your contemporaries for a pint and an afternoon of conversation devoted to references about lolcats and Captain Planet, just to reassure yourself that this existed once, even if it’s vanished off the face of the earth and survives only in memory now. I think the bond between people who shared those memories would be complicated — hell, they probably wouldn’t even want to spend too much time together, for the emotional upheaval of being reminded of your past like that — but I doubt they’d be able to break it even if they wanted to.

**

Moving away from the subject of immortality, to an issue more specific to vampires — humans: food or friends? Again, there’s a spectrum of attitudes depicted in vampire fiction, ranging from "HUMANS ARE LESS THAN CATTLE COMPARED TO US!" to weeping blood tears about the state of their damned souls. Standard operating procedure seems to be having the faceless majority of the vampire populace hold humanity in contempt, while the protagonist/love-interests are the liberal ones.

I think it would be a matter of dichotomies — that humans have a very distinct food vs. friends dichotomy that never overlaps (in America, we won’t even eat cute animals, for Chrissakes) but for vampires it’s not so clear-cut, because any human has the potential to be food, but any human also has the potential to be a vampire.

Tying back to what I said earlier about monsters being interesting for having a unique and distinctly not human worldview, I think we need to stop trying to understand the vampire psyche in the same terms as the human psyche. Yes, humans who regularly kill other humans are either going to be sociopaths or pretty torn up about it, but I don’t think vampires should be subject to the same standards. For one, if human blood is a biological necessity then they’re eating to live, and I think most people could come to terms with that in pretty short order. Hey, if it’s you or them, who you gonna choose? Do you really have to feel guilty if it’s a biological imperative?

(This is semi-connected in my mind with the [unnerving as fuck and no longer legal] psychological experiments that involve placing normal people in situations that encourage abuse of authority, and seeing how long it takes them to start losing empathy.)

On the other hand, I don’t think they would come over all vampire-superiority-complex either. They all started out human after all, and while it’s not rare for people to repudiate their origins, they’re also aware that any human is capable of becoming a vampire. Turning someone into a vampire doesn’t make them instantly smarter, so it makes no sense to scorn them one day and accept them the next. (And not just the speshul humans, those awesome diamonds in the rough who are worthy of the vampires’ attention, unlike the tawdry ugly masses around them, Anne Rice and Storm Constantine, I am LOOKING AT YOU.) It isn’t that some humans are for eating and some are for befriending — everyone is both. And humans would have a hell of a time wrapping their heads around that.

I don’t think it would be considered unusual or gauche or embarrassing for vampires to become emotionally attached to humans – vampires don’t procreate the way humans do, after all, so how else would the species continue if not through love, through the desire to have a loved one stay in one’s life forever?

**

That got quite long. And though I’ve read a lot of vampire fiction, I suspect that I’m having trouble remembering examples that don’t fit my thesis — so how does this jive with your reading experiences?

25 thoughts on “If you’re going to write vampires…

  1. Hi, I wandered over here on a rec for some of your fiction and just wanted to say that I though I share your reservations about vampire cliches I am convinced that with a bit of lateral thinking one can find a new take on almost any idea, and I really love the way you’ve done so here. I’ve heard of post-apocalyptic vampire stories about once or twice before, usually focused more on the issue of how the vampires dealt with their prey becoming an endangered species, but the idea of vapires in a setting where they’re the only ones left who remember ‘our’ world, hanging out with contemporaries every few decades to talk lolcats – that has so much potential. Though I don’t know if you’re planning to play up that particular angle, it occurs to me that, from the perspective of the reader, it could be a way to make the vampires into more sympathetic characters than the surviving human populace, which could be quite the mindscrew.

    As a point of curiosity and sorta leading on from your points on how the average vampire views the average human, where do you stand on the issue of whether vampires would normally kill the humans they feed on/drink from humans but don’t kill/can survive on animal blood/etc, and how much of that decision is the individual vampire’s choice versus how much is determined by biological necessity? I get the impression you’re not planning to take the easy way out (the latter two options) so popular in ‘heroic’ vampire literature, but there’s whole slew of practical problems in vampire feeding as well as the moral ones, and that I feel a lot of writers tend to gloss over. My own introduction to cheesy-teen-vampire-lit was Christopher Pike’s The Last Vampire series, which in retrospect were pretty close to being Anne Rice Light (lots of romance, the angst of being immortal, the increasingly convoluted mythology and ridiculously overpowered heroine, just with a much lower page count). However they did do what I felt was a better job than most of managing the food/potential vampire dichotomy, with a protagonist who had few remaining qualms about killing but usually preferred to mindwipe her victims after draining a couple of pints. While a lot of mythologies don’t give vampires those kind of psychic options, I do remember it as being one of few examples that did tackle the question of how the vampire manages to avoid suspicion and keep hiding all the bodies night after night in a convincing manner. Of course, depending on just how bad the destruction was, in a post-apocalyptic setting the balance of how easy human prey is to find and the risks of being found out as a vampire would likely have changed immensely – what worked before may or may not be what works now.

  2. Okay, so I was ECSTATIC when someone finally wanted to talk about vampires with me, but I’m moving overseas in < 4 days and I've been so ridiculously busy that I haven't had any time to spare for writing the sort of thoughtful response I'd like to make.

    Give me four days — I will get back to you!

  3. part 1

    Okay! That was more than four days, but here we go. :D

    I’ve heard of post-apocalyptic vampire stories about once or twice before, usually focused more on the issue of how the vampires dealt with their prey becoming an endangered species…

    I don’t think I’ve ever read any stories of that variety before. Anything worth reccing?

    …but the idea of vampires in a setting where they’re the only ones left who remember ‘our’ world, hanging out with contemporaries every few decades to talk lolcats – that has so much potential. Though I don’t know if you’re planning to play up that particular angle, it occurs to me that, from the perspective of the reader, it could be a way to make the vampires into more sympathetic characters than the surviving human populace, which could be quite the mindscrew.

    See, this is exactly why I wanted to bounce these ideas off other people, because other people can bring more things to the table. I had definitely envisioned playing up the America-he-remembers vs. new-post-apocalyptic-America as something that would be disconcerting to both him and the audience, but it hadn’t occurred to me that it could make the vampire more of an “in” to the reader than the “normal” human characters would be. And that is awesome simply by virtue of the fact that it hasn’t been done before.

    I have all the characters worked out already, and a number of plot events as well, just haven’t pieced them together coherently quite yet. I hadn’t originally intended on having the vampire be a viewpoint character, but as I did more world-building on how vampires perceive and approach the world (things I did not explain in this point, gotta keep some secrets after all) I realized that a great deal of it was going to be invisible to human observers. I needed a narrator on the inside, to explain that thought process, or else it would be entirely lost.

    In terms of Captain Planet and lolcats, the vampire protagonist has exactly such a person. He doesn’t even like the guy much (and said guy doesn’t like him much in return, thinks the protagonist is a pinko-communist-probably-queer), but then shit happens and this guy is the one who turns up to save his life. Because if there are only four people left in the world who get your cultural references, could you bring yourself to let someone else just kill them?

    …And yeah, that pits reminiscing about lolcats vs. people who resort to cannibalism during bad winters. That could definitely serve to make the vampire the more accessible of the two protagonists — a violation of expectations that is delicious.

  4. where do you stand on the issue of whether vampires would normally kill the humans they feed on/drink from humans but don’t kill/can survive on animal blood/etc … I get the impression you’re not planning to take the easy way out.

    You are absolutely right, I have no intention of taking the easy way out. Consequences and sacrifices are a major literary kink of mine, and that was something that I felt Anne Rice did right. Her vampires required the death of the human every time they fed, no way around it. If you’re going to be a vampire, with the sexy immortality thing going on, you’re also going to have to kill someone every night. No shortcuts, no hall passes, no get-out-of-jail-free cards. It also legitimizes Louis’s angst, in a way that the vast bulk of her imitators didn’t seem to get — Louis was conflicted because he knew that the only decent thing for him to do was kill himself rather than continue to live at the expense of so many others, but he couldn’t bring himself to quit living — but if your vampire protagonist doesn’t need to serially murder people, why the hell is he whining about how cursed he is?

    It’s on points of biology where sexy!vampire fiction schisms with overanalyzed!vampire fiction. Swear to god, least sexy thing ever is vampires feeding on blood-bank blood, or drinking bottles out of the refrigerator. And yet… if it’s the mineral/nutritional contents of blood that they require, why shouldn’t bottled blood be equivalent to freshly attained blood? The only way to keep it mysterious and sexy is to not look at it too closely.

    Or even assuming they do require it fresh, having feeding be not necessarily fatal also feels like taking the cheater’s way out. It means there’s no real drawback to being a vampire, and so any excuse for not converting the human protagonist (and there always is one, in vampire fiction) within the first 10 pages is contrived and ludicrous. It also eliminates any cause for real conflict between humans and vampires, if vampires can exist without needing to kill people.

    Anne Rice equates the blood-drinking with sex, basically, where the climax (in all senses of the word) coincides with the human’s death. It suggests that what they’re actually feeding on is not just the physical blood itself, but also the death. That’s an idea I can get behind (possibly because Anne Rice was my formative influence when it came to vampires) — however, my BFF is a biochemist who can find no rational explanation for WHY they would need to kill the human to feed, and thus rejects it.

    In any case, I haven’t decided how I’m going to play it yet.

    My own introduction to cheesy-teen-vampire-lit was Christopher Pike’s The Last Vampire series, which in retrospect were pretty close to being Anne Rice Light (lots of romance, the angst of being immortal, the increasingly convoluted mythology and ridiculously overpowered heroine, just with a much lower page count).

    Ohhh, damn, I had completely forgotten about those books! Hah. Yeah, I read them as a teenager too, and I recall being impressed from the very outset with Pike’s prose. I don’t know what he did, but his writing just sucked me in and kept me there, provoking extremely intense emotional reactions for was — and I was aware of this even at the time — objectively, melodrama. I don’t remember them well enough to talk about them, but now I’m curious. I wonder how well those would hold up to a rereading.

  5. Okay! That was more than four days, but here we go. :D

    TBH I was more or less expecting that – I’ve never had a move finish in the time expected, and the furthest I’ve ever moved is across the city. ^^; Good to hear back from you, anyway.

    I don’t think I’ve ever read any stories of that variety before. Anything worth reccing?

    Nothing I have details about, I’m afraid when I said I’d heard of them once or twice before I meant it fairly literally. The one I remember the most about was a webcomic I heard of in passing. IIRC it was set post-zombie-apocalypse, and the few remaining vampires were having to deal with the fact their food supply was facing extinction. Sounded like it could be an interesting way to merge a couple of familiar genres, but I never did get around to checking it out.

    See, this is exactly why I wanted to bounce these ideas off other people, because other people can bring more things to the table.

    Glad to help – I always love bouncing ideas around, whether my own or other people’s.

    And that is awesome simply by virtue of the fact that it hasn’t been done before.

    I’m always hesitant with new ideas to assume they’ve never been done before, but if this one has I’m certainly hard-pressed to think of an example that even comes close. Dozens where the viewpoint character is a regular guy/girl gets thrown into some alien world early in the narrative (or made a vampire, which in some respects can be a similar experience), plenty where you follow the POV of one of few survivors of the Apocalypse through the event, and a few where the only human characters are the villains (though that’s usually done more with the intention of making us hate humanity than sympathise with the villains) or where you have one hero and one villain from ‘our’ world turn up in another, but none which throw the reader straight into an unfamiliar world where the only people who remember our time are blood-sucking monsters. And probably a big part of the reason why it hasn’t been done before is that it would be a quite a job to make it work, but personally I think that would just make it all the more awesome to see it done well. *g*

    Her vampires required the death of the human every time they fed, no way around it. If you’re going to be a vampire, with the sexy immortality thing going on, you’re also going to have to kill someone every night.

    I think technically even Anne Rice’s vampires didn’t have to kill their victims – Louis did go through a phase of feeding only on animals, and I’m sure I remember there being victims who were passed around a group or kept alive for later snacks – but there don’t seem to have been many Ricepires who considered that a serious option. The vampires killed the majority of their victims because that’s what vampires did – Louis in particular seemed to be suffering from overwhelming peer pressure as much as to his own urges. I’m a little torn on the subject of Anne Rice’s vampire mythos myself – on the one hand, I can’t think of any other writer who could match the atmosphere of her stories – it’s not for nothing that it’s so easy to forget that Louis had the option of going back to feeding on animals any time he wanted to when she made the vampire = a death every night equation such a convincing part of the mythos. On the other I was forever reading them with a little voice in the back of my head going, “Every night? And Lestat usually kills a couple every night, with a preference for victims who are likely to be missed? What was the population of New Orleans in the 1800s anyway? Could they really have not noticed over a thousand bloodless bodies turning up every year? And even more per year in Paris?” Plausibility will vary a lot with setting, and giving a vampires a body count on the order of a small natural disaster is a great way to make them scary, but overdo it and suspension of disbelief rapidly becomes overstretched. A few vampires killing once every week or so in an area with sky-high crime rate is a lot easier to buy than a small population of them killing every night somewhere relatively civilised – the Vampire Masquerade would have to be incredibly powerful to keep that under wraps.

  6. but if your vampire protagonist doesn’t need to serially murder people, why the hell is he whining about how cursed he is?

    Well, that one can depend a lot on the set-up. On the one end of the scale you’ve got the pure monster variety, on the other end you’ve got the variety who live on pig’s blood with no side effects (who can sometimes still be decent characters, but piling then with the angst is unlikely to be very convincing), but I do feel that the ones who fit into the middle somewhere – those that don’t have to kill but want to, to the point that keeping the urge under control is a constant struggle – can still be reasonably compelling, though what you have is a fairly different sort of story. In those cases, instead of the vampire as the monster you’ve got the vampire as the addict, and any alcoholic could tell you that can be an ample source of angst. The best example I’ve seen recently would be the BBC series Being Human, and they take the vampire-as-addict concept all the way to the point where blood isn’t a necessity for their vampires can survive at all. However, the vampire addiction to blood is so consuming that even the most dedicated vampire pacifists (an incredibly rare breed – we’ve met of all of two) rarely manage to stay clean for long. No alternatives will even take the edge off – animal blood doesn’t work, medical blood doesn’t work either, it’s either blood from a living human or going cold turkey. One of the things I like most about the series is that even though they do have their obligatory vampire-with-a-conscience protagonist, they really do make you believe that he struggles with it, up to and including showing him screwing up with minimal angst in the very first scene. It’s also a somewhat notable for making vampire feeding a universally ugly, messy activity, and having a local head vampire who is not remotely sexy, holds down an incredibly ordinary daytime persona as a uniformed police officer, and yet nonetheless manages to be charismatic and terrifying. You’ve got a lot of very ordinary, down-to-earth, vampire characters who are nonetheless remorseless killers and all the scarier for it.

    I think when it comes to whether or not vampires have to kill their victims you’ve got a lot of overlapping factors – whether it truly is a biological necessity, whether it’s merely supremely unsatisfying for them not to (the sex-with-no-orgasm metaphor) and the practical matter of whether the vampire considers it safer leaving no witness or safer to save themselves the job of hiding a body. I wouldn’t actually consider the option where vampires feed on living humans without always killing them too much of a cop-out because it still generates problems – the amount of self-restraint required, the fact you have to attack a lot more people to get the same volume of blood, the trouble with finding willing volunteers and/or preventing the unwilling contingent from spreading the story, and all of that compounded if there are other vampires out there who don’t see the point in showing the same restraint. Now that I think of it I’m not sure I can think of any vampire story where killing the human was presented as a biological necessity for survival, it’s done because the vampires are fundamentally evil and don’t give a damn either way or because the cravings are too strong to be resisted and dead men tell no tales.

  7. aargh, still *just* over the character limit

    I don’t remember them well enough to talk about them, but now I’m curious. I wonder how well those would hold up to a rereading.

    What I remember best about them myself is – like you – getting thoroughly sucked in by the first volume, then nearly giving up altogether when the main character’s boyfriend – being the same guy she’d just about sacrificed everything to save at the climax of the first book – was then killed off with practically zero fanfare in the middle of the second. They still kept my interest for the rest of the series and I’m sure they still play a part in what makes up my default image of what a ‘real’ vampire is to this day, but given that the plot eventually picked up aliens, time travel and the second coming of Christ, I’m not sure how well my post-teenaged brain would deal with them now. I guess when you have your epic showdown between the first and last two vampires in the world in your first volume it’s hard to know where to go from there.

  8. Oh yeah, Anne Rice definitely does a lot of hand-waving with the vampire mythos, which is I think the natural outgrowth of the other thing you mentioned — that no one can beat her for atmosphere, and it’s precisely because she doesn’t shine light into all the dark corners.

    And so, ignoring the fact that even a single vampire in a pre-modern city would leave a body count that no one could overlook, I’m fairly certain that death was a requisite of feeding. The death could be an animal’s (as Louis does it) or vampires could bite a human non-fatally for enjoyment rather than sustenance (the ones that tended to keep pets around), but to feed they had to kill.

  9. I saw the pilot of Being Human ages ago, was keen on it, but then couldn’t get into it with two of the lead characters recast. The girl playing the ghost could have grown on me, but the new vampire was just… no. =/

    Vampire-as-addict is an idea with potential, but what’s been kicking around in my head for the past day or so has been vampire as predator, for real, none of that Twilight “You should be careful of me because I’m a predator” crap, but actually making you feel it, courtesy of Peter Watts’ hard sci-fi Blindsight. (I’d like to do a separate post about Blindsight, in the way that I always mean to do reviews/talky-posts about the books I read, but I probably won’t get around to it, so…)

    The vampire isn’t the focal point of that book (it’s a first-contact story), but he has some damned cool — and genuinely original — ideas about vampires. And as a biologist by trade, Watts is all about taking the cover off and shining a light on vampires’ inner workings, and yet it doesn’t make his vampire any less freaky. He builds a creature that can certainly be quantified, same as any other natural predator, but knowing that a tiger can weigh as much as 300 kilograms and have canines up to 4 inches long will drop right the fuck out of your head when one is suddenly STANDING IN FRONT OF YOU. Watts’ vampires occupy an odd evolutionary niche, with the sentience of humans but with their instincts running closer to the surface, like wild animals. (An idea that I play with in another story, because monsters-as-protagonists and monsters-as-love-interests are a huge literary kink of mine.) Although as I said, vampires aren’t what the book is about, but I would love to see someone take that idea and run with it. I want it from the vampires’ POV, trying to keep up civilized appearances when all your instincts are yelling at you to chase when things run, to go for the throat when people show weakness. It seems self-evident, vampires as predators, and it’s been done a million times before, but I’d really like to see it done well.

    I think when it comes to whether or not vampires have to kill their victims you’ve got a lot of overlapping factors

    For the author, I think that means deciding which you’re going to privilege, plot or mood, and then sticking with it. Perhaps deciding what the defining attribute of your vampires is going to be. (Practical, angsty, semi-human predators, addicts, etc…)

  10. Sorry for the slow reply here, I have been variously sick and flat out with uni work most of the week. x_x

    I saw the pilot of Being Human ages ago, was keen on it, but then couldn’t get into it with two of the lead characters recast.

    Can’t really blame you, I know a lot of people who had the same problem with the recasting. I got into the series halfway through so I was already familiar with the new cast before I ever got around to tracking down the original pilot. While I’m still fairly attached to the new Mitchell and I have been enjoying the series, even I’d have to admit the original one had a certain something the new one can’t compare to.

    I want it from the vampires’ POV, trying to keep up civilized appearances when all your instincts are yelling at you to chase when things run, to go for the throat when people show weakness. It seems self-evident, vampires as predators, and it’s been done a million times before, but I’d really like to see it done well.

    Hm, interesting. I’m not sure if that kind of instinct-driven behaviour is the sort of thing I’d associate with vampires, which are usually more monstrous than animalistic even when they are being portrayed as predators, if that distinction makes sense. (Werewolf stories, on the other hand…) The whole idea of the man-shaped creature fighting animal instincts is something I’ve seen done badly so many times by writers who clearly put zero effort into developing anything beyond a basic pop-culture level understanding of how animal instinct actually works that the idea of someone with an actual background in biology trying out the idea is genuinely novel.

    But on the more general topic of vampire-as-predator, yeah, as much as I’ve enjoyed some of those vampire-as-addict stories, it’s gone so far towards being the default way to make vampires sympathetic protagonists that it’s pretty much been done by this point, whereas most examples which do make the vampire a convincing predator make them either too old or too monstrous (whether by author intent or otherwise) to relate to at all. Vampire stories which actually give you a genuine predator among the protagonists – and I am excluding here a number where the whole evil-monster schtick has been pasted on mostly for the sake of ramping up the badassery and/or sex appeal to mary sue-ish levels, which it doesn’t sound at all like you’re at any risk of doing – are something it really is a lot harder to think of good examples of.

  11. For the author, I think that means deciding which you’re going to privilege, plot or mood, and then sticking with it. Perhaps deciding what the defining attribute of your vampires is going to be. (Practical, angsty, semi-human predators, addicts, etc…)

    Oh, certainly – you can get away with a lot of handwaving in gothic horror that won’t fly if you want a story where you can discuss vampire biology in fine detail, and as much as I gripe about ridiculous murder rates, executed right the whole idea that vampires can get away with it is a part of what makes them scary. On the very other end of the scale, I wouldn’t mind seeing more practical vampire stories myself – say, something with a population of vampires who live on animal blood not because they have any kind of moral problem with eating people but because hiding the bodies becomes such a damned bother – but that’s a whole other tangent.

    My original point was more that while I can think of a lot of vampire stories where vampires are killers, I’d be hard pressed to come up with any that make it explicit that the death of the victim is necessary to the vampire – instead, vampires usually seem to kill due to a combination of one or more of the other factors. Getting back to your original point about how to justify why a vampire would have to kill their victims, I don’t think there is a biological explanation that would work, but then again, I don’t think there’s a biological explanation for how drinking blood could keep a humanoid creature from aging indefinitely either. You could go down the route of specifying that a vampire’s bite is fatal to the victim for whatever reason even if they don’t drain them dry, or that any un-drained victim becomes a vampire, but that may not be quite the same thing as saying the vampire needs it. In-story I’d probably just go the route of specifying what happens to a vampire who feeds but doesn’t kill, and leave the biology intentionally vague.

    (Oooor you may have thought of all that already, just thought I’d bring it up in case it’s useful.)

  12. Once upon a time, in what feels like the faaaaar distant past (in reality, about ten years), I just absolutely adored vampires.

    It was all Anne Rice’s fault, of course, but that’s neither here nor there.

    I think probably the simplest explanation for my current blase state about vampires comes from the cliches you mentioned above. Also, vampires seem to have become the new “pirate” for cheap, tawdry, utterly unoriginal romance (Twilight I am LOOKING AT YOU). “Vampires” today seem to mean the dark, mysterious rebel, and if James Dean were still alive, I’m sure Hollywood would cast him as one.

    It completely detracts from the very fascinating psychological aspects of becoming a vampire, and from that point, maintaining a “vampire” mentality, rather than a human one. Storm Constantine’s the only writer I’ve come across that really seems to grasp that (as mentioned in Cal’s comment to Pellaz where Cal admits to feeling uncomfortable about Wraethu breeding, as most Wraethu still think of themselves as decidedly male. But then they all seem to get over it without really saying HOW or WHY aaaaaaaaaaaargggghhhh drive me crazy). I WANT to know this shit, not just the “omg, I’m not human anymore gotta kill people now waaaah” aspect that everyone seems to want to expand on.

    And truly, you even brought up points I’ve never even fully considered before, like the way vampires view humans. Not to say I haven’t wondered about it on occasion, but mostly in the “vampire cliche Number Five Thousand and Fifty-Two… NEXT” way. I guess that, subconsciously, I’ve always thought that vampires must have a sort of Schizoid response to humans, but surely they wouldn’t all be like that, right? Generalizing is something I try to avoid, but in such heavily cliched circles, I guess I just tried to avoid thinking too heavily about it at all. Otherwise, I’d be tearing shitty vampire books apart by the spines, and I feel like doing that often enough as is.

  13. I think I discovered Anne Rice when I was 13 or 14, and I maintain that she made me gay. That was certainly my first exposure to anything so homoerotic, and I was enthralled, and could not figure out why. :D

    Re: having a schizoid response to humans — agreed, and that can be a learned behavior even. Whenever soldiers are being dispatched to fight someone, job 1 for their commanders is to dehumanize the enemy (“they’re not like us, they’re not worth as much as us, they’re no better than savages/animals/etc”) so that people can bring themselves to kill other people, which is generally antithetical to human nature.

    When I was pitching the idea to my BFF, she remarked that the first thing a mentor-vampire would probably have to do after creating a fledgling would be to take them SOMEWHERE ELSE, where they didn’t know the people, preferably didn’t know the language or share the same ethnicity, to ease the transition into thinking of humans as a different species, and prey.

  14. lmfao

    Yours is better than mine. I discovered my bisexuality when I watched Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Jessica Rabbit was a DAMN SEXY cartoon, and that’s just not a discovery an eight-year-old is ready for. XD

    Ooooooooooo… Combining all that mentally, I think that could make for a fascinating book cum psychological theory on the creation of a vampire. It really would almost be like soldier or assassin training, in a way, but without the accompanying sociopathic tendencies (hopefully). But I’m sure the “failed” training attempts would definitely result in some Fucked Up Shit.

  15. Haha, that’s pretty much what I’ve heard about Jessica Rabbit, which has certainly piqued my curiosity even though I’ve never actually gotten around to watching that movie. (It’s on my list.)

    I imagine that failed training would just result in a vampire who couldn’t bring himself to kill humans, who would mostly likely become a dead vampire in fairly short order. How were you conceiving failed training?

    If you’d like to write that, by the way, feel free to take it and run — I’ve got no monopoly on that idea, and that’s not the story I plan on telling.

  16. I found your journal on a random browse of my friendsfriends list and wow, you write so well and are so interesting, I hope you don’t mind if I add you.

    How does it feel when you’re the only one left who speaks your language? Your head is full of words that no longer have any meaning.

    This really stood out for me as such a powerful concept.

  17. Welcome aboard! :)

    I’m always happy to have more people around, because generating discussion is infinitely more interesting than talking into the wind. This one in particular is a pet topic of mine, and I was disappointed when initially nobody was interested in playing with me. Seriously? No one has anything to say about VAMPIRES?

    It’s cool to hear that that concept hit you the same way, because to me it’s one of those absolutely vertigo-inducing ideas. I’m a linguist by nature, and language cuts to the quick of what we are as human beings. We generally don’t tend to notice how language is really nothing more than a collective illusion — words, a sound connected to an arbitrary meaning, are worthless unless someone else agrees with you.

    With older languages that leave no actual, physical record, when the last speaker dies it’s as if the language never existed at all. What a mindfuck it must be, how you would start to doubt your memory, to have such knowledge in your head when there’s no way to prove that it was ever real to start with.

  18. Wow, really? I grew up on that movie. And honestly, half-cartoon it may be, but that thing is extremely adult. Don’t go in expecting hearts and daisies. It’s about murder – multiple murders, and it is AWESOME. It explains more than I’m willing to admit why I’m so weird, now that I think about it.

    Several different ways, actually. One sort of failed training could be that sort of thing, almost like that study where rabbits could be trained to not eat, even when a pile of food is right next to them. But another way of failed training could be to create a sort of serial killer psychopath. After all, it’s already been stated that vampires are extremely similar to humans (were, in fact, HUMAN up until a certain point). So perhaps that training could make them perceive EVERYTHING, vampire and human alike, as potential prey. There could be any number of ways to make that Fail Miserably. Most likely, for every one “success,” there could be as much as four failures, until the vampires learn the correct trick of training. And that wouldn’t even count the ones that are turned that are already fucked up in the head.

    I actually might, really. I’m going to have to tinker on it for a hell of a long time first, though, because at the moment, I’m almost imagining a vampire boot camp, and HELL if that’s where I’m going to go with that.

  19. So perhaps that training could make them perceive EVERYTHING, vampire and human alike, as potential prey.

    Now THERE is an idea that hadn’t occurred to me, but if the point is to loosen their moral stance on killing, then it might indeed be damned hard to keep from loosening it too much. That wouldn’t be a problem if vampires couldn’t prey on other vampires (didn’t provide the necessary nutrients or whatever) but if they could……… that might be a problem indeed.

  20. Or even just begin to enjoy the hunt so much that the end result of sustenance isn’t even the point anymore.

    In a way, it reminds me of Manna Francis’ Administration series, where the government intentionally hires the personality disordered for their para-investigators and interrogators. Only in this case, the vampires would be creating a personality disorder, rather than gathering them already home-grown.

  21. You should read Peter Watts’ Blindsight, if you haven’t already — the protagonist is a perfectly human sociopath, and deliberately juxtaposed with a vampire who is perfectly inhuman, for whom the word “sociopath” really ceases to have any meaning when applied to him.

  22. Sweet! Thanks for the book rec, I’ll check that out. I have just about run out of things to read at this point, and this just must not be.

  23. Thanks!

    It’s probably because I’m also a (multilingual) language lover that it resonated with me. I’m also trying to start writing and world building so the stuff in other posts about conlang makes me wish I could do linguistics for a living *_* I did a bit of it during my TEFL degree and it was definitely one of the most enjoyable aspects. I should let myself explore it more often.

    PS. You wrote elsewhere that Japanese is similar phonetically to Spanish. It made me happy! People don’t believe me when I say it.

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