Date Read: 6.1.09
Book From: Personal collection (purchased via BetterWorld Books)
100 Vicious Little Vampire Stories (ed. Robert Weinberg, Stefan Dziemianowicz, & Martin Greenberg) and I have a history that, like its title, is long and sordid. I first found a battered paperback copy on my fifth-grade teacher’s bookshelf and brought it home with eager trepidation. After reading two or three stories, I got so scared that I brought it back to school and put it back on the shelf. Then, in my typical fashion, I furtively picked it up back off the shelf about a month later and, over the course of the next three or so months, methodically scared myself to death on a regular basis. A++ judgment abilities, as always.
Several of the stories stuck in my head very firmly, and in high school I actually fantasized several times about sneaking back into my middle school expressly to steal my teacher’s copy for keeps. (Yeah, I need better hobbies. But what was the probability of anyone but me reading a book like that anyway?) So egged on by niggling remembrances of moonlit magnolias and glasses full of blood imbibed at spas, I finally ordered a copy of my own (no dust jacket, sigh) from BetterWorld Books this past winter, although I knew that the majority of the book was probably dreck.
Surprise! Or not. Ten years later, I found that it was, indeed, pretty much all dreck, with only about one memorable story in five, but I doggedly plowed through it again this spring, mostly reading a couple stories a night before going to bed. The stories are occasionally enlivened by a clever or fresh touch, but by and large dragged down again by monotonously poor execution. Many of the stories from which I derived the illicit thrill of the Darque and Edgy at the time of my first reading were, if not terrible, really solidly mediocre and easily forgettable.
This time around, I also only found one story legitimately frightening at all – Donald R. Burleson’s “And to See Him Smile,” which has a nicely creepy vampire concept. Several of the stories also have directly analogous elements, like “Undead Anonymous”-type organizations, that further the collection’s descent into a morass of indistinguishability. It was interesting, however, to see several stories treating some issues of particularly modern relevance, including AIDS and genetics.
A very few big-name authors are included, such as Ramsay Campbell and Thomas Ligotti, but many of their entries are still disappointing. Okay, I should stop ragging on it and just point out a couple of the stories that WERE worthwhile.
Lois H. Gresh, “Snip My Suckers” – A delightfully campy (if you couldn’t tell from the title) and squelchy tale from the point of view of a lust-stricken, vampiric rosebush.
H. Andrew Lynch, “The Shape of Turmoil” – Terrible title, but a psychologically compelling set-up in which the vampire protagonist is subsumed by the identity of her victims after feeding, and must cope with an increasingly fractured and self-destructive psyche as a result.
Thomas Marcinko, “The Dark Nightingale Returns” – Vampire + superheroes. OBVIOUSLY.
Lois H. Gresh, “Cocci’s Blood-Fueled Feud” – Hilariously florid and melodramatic tale of a turf war between two rival species of blood-sucking bacteria; gets enough science right to pull off the fictional liberties.
Steve Rasnic Tem, “Vintage Domestic” and “Mouths” – Another great of horror writing, and as usual, both of his stories are pleasurably off-kilter and highly disturbing. The former includes the highly memorable phrase, “ancient lesbian mops,” while the latter was one of the only in the collection to make me actually cringe (pleasurably), several times.
Simon MacCulloch, “The Nine Billion Names of Nosferatu” – A funny, experimental piece very successful in lampooning the repetitiveness of the vampire genre. Well done!
Will Murray, “The Skull in Her Smile” – The only story that I can remember being a favorite from my first read that I still liked on this read; pretty slick, and the concept, centering on a collector of skulls, is interesting.
Jean Lorrain, “The Glass of Blood” – One of the few translations of older works included; Lorrain was a 19th-century, openly gay dandy and Symbolist poet, and it shows in this delightfully decadent and unabashedly Sapphic piece.
Miroslaw Lipinski, “The Travelling Coffin” – Documents the voyages of a coffin with a singularly revolting inhabitant, from the American Old West to India. Weird with a capital W, and has some really arresting imagery.
A problem worth noting with subject-matter-specific collections like this is that the would-be twist in many stories, that would otherwise have been pretty enjoyable, is completely ruined by virtue of their inclusion in a collection whose title tells you from the beginning what the twist will be. But such is life, and such is genre.