Tag Archives: vampires

Tracking Televamps with Brad Middleton’s Un-Dead TV

utv-400Billed as “The Ultimate Guide to Vampire Television,” Brad Middleton’s Un-Dead TV (published by By Light Unseen Media; 512 page trade paperback; $21.00) is a sizable tome, providing a broad, 30,000-foot view of vampires on TV, covering everything from the first appearance of a vampire on TV — in the form of Bela Lugosi appearing as Dracula on The Texaco Star Theater in September 1949 — right up through recent bloodsucker appearances in 2013.

In his Foreword, J. Gordon Melton provides a succinct, high-level view of the subject matter, noting that “Dark Shadows set the stage for the vampire to become a fixture in the nation’s living rooms,” before going on to decry how little research or scholarship there has been on vampires on the small screen…with one particularly notable exception:

“There is…one exception to the general lack of interest in the television vampire — Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In fact, it is the inconvenient truth for vampire scholars that over half of all the scholarly comment on the broad subject of vampires penned through the last century have been directed at Buffy…”

Middleton certainly tries to do his part to increase vampire scholarship with Un-Dead TV, which is broken into the following sections:

  • Single Episodes
  • The Series
  • Telefilms and Pilots
  • Animation
  • Documentaries and Reality TV
  • Variety Programming and TV Specials
  • Non-Traditional Vampires
  • No Vampires Here!  (stories thought to feature vampires, but which do not)
  • The Forthcoming and the Forgotten (projects in development, and abandoned projects)
  • Non-English Programming
  • A Trivial Pursuit (miscellanous facts and statistics compiled during writing of the book)

Each entry in each section includes production details and a synopsis, and many also include a review and some trivia.  The reviews feature both brief qualitative analysis and star ratings on a scale of Bomb to 4 stars (well, actually from a stake to 4 vampire bats, but you get the idea).

The sections seem well-researched and borderline exhaustive.  The “Single Episodes” section, for example, chronicles shows as varied as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, CSI, The Drew Carey Show, The Love Boat, and Night Gallery, to name but a few. In addition to that impressive variety, there are some intriguing episodes rated four stars, such as installments of Quantum Leap, Reaper, and Sledge Hammer!  The categories used serve as a strong organizational aid, making it easy to navigate the book, and a thorough index helps even further.

In terms of drawbacks… the book suffers from a distinct lack of graphics, resulting in page after page filled with paragraph after paragraph of unbroken text, while countless intriguing entries cry out for illustration.  (But I have to admit that adding a large number of graphics would have likely upped the page count significantly, resulting in higher production costs and likely a higher cover price.)  Also, I am somewhat mystified by the relative amounts of coverage afforded to various shows.  As a random but prime example, HBO’s influential True Blood gets a five-line entry, while Italian network Rai Uno’s obscure two-part mini-series Dracula gets nearly four times as much analysis.

All in all, however, Un-Dead TV fills a previously empty research niche, and provides lots of browsing entertainment.  Vampire lovers and scholars should find much to like in these pages.

 

Thelma and Louise are Hot, Sexy and Dead in Glen Hirshberg’s Motherless Child

Does the world really need another vampire novel?  Or, to quote the cover copy from Glen Hirshberg‘s new novel, Motherless Child, “”Another vampire novel? Really?”  Well, my initial thought was, “no, probably not.” But if there were any authors out there who  could change my mind, it’s likely that Hirshberg — frequent occupant of Year’s Best compilations and a long-time favorite of mine — would be near the top of the list.

Motherless Child, Earthling Publications’ Halloween title for 2012, is indeed a fresh take, mixing road novel with buddy story (and female buddies, at that) and adding a healthy dollop of good old-fashioned horror.

Natalie and Sophie are small-town, low-income, twenty-something single moms who mostly manage to maintain smiles as they roll with the punches.  One night at a club, they encounter the Whistler, whose much-rumored underground performances had previously seemed purely mythical. Once the Whistler has the club’s patrons under his sway, his true vampiric nature comes out to play.  And even hough he has been trolling humans for a very long time, the Whistler falls for Natalie like a starstruck teenager, quickly becoming intent on making her his personal possession.

“God, but he loved her already.  Would show her the wonders of the nightworld as they fled forever down its face, leaving their ghostprints for the water of the world to swallow. Leaving no trace but melody.”

After the Whistler has started the gradual process of converting Natalie and Sophie to the vampire life, Natalie realizes that the hunger pangs they’re feeling, and the dark nature of what they’re becoming, will force them to leave their babies behind for good, for the children’s own safety.  It’s an awareness  that brings with it infinite sadness, as expressed in one of the novel’s many well-crafted passages:

What was she crying about? So many things: the trailer; her son’s bassinet wedged between the fold-down table and the sink; her mother the lawn gnome; these people moored in this nowhere place on the outskirts of this 200-year-old void of a city like lost boats at a buoy in the middle of the ocean; that sawing in her ears; her best and oldest friend’s face, so bright, so familiar, hovering over her son, smiling and aggravating and beautiful as ever. She let the tears come, put a hand to her heart.”

When Sophie and Natalie hit the road, it’s hard not to think of Thelma and Louise — but it’s to the author’s credit that no sooner did I draw the parallel in my head than he pointed out and made light of the similarities himself.

The Whistler’s plan to make Natalie his undead mate (or, as he calls her, “his Destiny”) necessitates driving a wedge between her and Sophie, a manipulation that he expects will bring him satisfaction, but ultimately disappoints, as related in the following, another of Hirshberg’s finer exercises in phrasing:

“What stunned him most of all…was the lack of pleasure he felt, as his Destiny twitched on her feet and her mouth opened and real loneliness, the kind people dread and dream of all their sorry, scrabbling lives, rushed into her for the first time.”

The two friends’ attempts to leave their old life, and the Whistler, behind are foiled when their children are threatened, pulling them back into conflict with the Whistler, as well as  a former cohort of his.  The resulting finale is carefully-orchestrated yet unquestionably moving.  This is largely a story about a mother’s love — but quite likely not the particular mother that you were expecting.

For the most part, Hirshberg hews to traditional vampire mythology, although there are a few exceptions, most notably a scene of Sophie serenely skinnydipping with obsequious alligators that is both unique and creepy.  Minor quibbles?  Only a couple. The Whistler’s obsession with Sophie is never really explained in any satisfactory way.  And the book almost feels too brief, wrapping up too quickly, a rare complaint in these days of doorstop-sized treekillers, but a feeling that’s nonetheless hard to shake.

As implied, Motherless Child is a brisk novel, clocking in at just 236 pages, and moving at a crackling pace.  From its striking cover art to its somber last page, it’s a vampire novel that deserves your attention.  Really.

Checking in on Cemetery Dance Alumni – Steve Vernon’s Sudden Death Overtime and Keith Minnion’s It’s For You

In this post, we’ll examine recent books by two long-time Cemetery Dance contributors — Steve Vernon, who authored the “New Voices” series of interviews with newer writers (and has also had multiple stories published in the mag), and Keith Minnion, whose illustrations for the magazine preceded my stint as editor of the mag and have continued after my departure.

Let’s start with Vernon’s Sudden Death Overtime, a novella that serves as the Canadian author’s love letter to the game of hockey, couched in a story that features both horror and humor, with the balance perhaps tilting more towards the latter. At its heart, the story is a simple one, as a bus full of vampires pays a dead-of-winter visit to the small town of Hope’s End in northern Newfoundland. Where they’ve come from is never explained, nor why they’ve come to this particular town, but all that’s really important is that they’re there… and their presence may cause Hope’s End to live up to its name.

“That long black bus parked and idling on the road that crossed in front of his fence. Rufus sized it up. You just didn’t see a bus of any kind in this old town. There wasn’t bodies enough to fill one, and where would they go once they filled it?”

Throughout, Vernon’s voice and tone are notably singular, and his facility with language can be seen in passages such as the following:

“Her hands weighed heavy on the scarred pine tabletop. Her knuckles were cracked and leathered like old alligator skin, tattooed with nicotine and age. Her eyes had grown dull and nothing that hinted of girlhood was left to her save a shotgun blast of freckles playing hide-and-seek within the wrinkles and worry-lines that troughed down her cheeks like a memory of tears.”

The character in the preceding excerpt is secondary to the story, but Vernon’s protagonists are similarly elderly, and more than a tad bit eccentric, resulting in a group of primary characters that are far from the norm, and quite memorable as a result.

Not surprisingly, the trio of protagonists are all hockey players, even at their advanced age. They’ve never been afraid to drop their gloves for a scrap on the ice, and they’re likewise not afraid to take on a bus full of vampires. Their nominal leader is one Sprague Deacon, who’s fighting a losing battle against incontinence, and who has a rink he’s built behind his house, where he and his friends clear the snow for a community game every Saturday night. Sprague’s best friend Fergus McTavish is a loner who spends too much time watching John Wayne movies, while the third musketeer, Rufus Timmerman, is losing a battle of his own, against cancer. Together, they’re three of the most offbeat protagonists you’re likely to find.

Although Sudden Death Overtime is saddled with some amateurish cover art, the fact that the novella is only available as an ebook should minimize any PR damage caused by that unfortunate illustration. Outside of the art, my only real complaint is with the tone Vernon ultimately settles on — in the early stages of the book, the author is quite successful at creating an atmosphere of tension and fear, and it’s somewhat disappointing to see him turn decisively towards humor in later stages of the book. The following passage is a good example of the frisson generated early on:

“And then the figure smiled, only its expression went way beyond what you’d call a smile. Its jaw dislocated and its gums seemed to peel back and its teeth grew icicle-long, winter-sharp and hungry until it looked like nothing more than a set of those wind-up walking false teeth.”

All in all, Sudden Death Overtime is fast, frenetic and fun…not unlike the overtime periods referenced in the book’s title.

Turning to Keith Minnion… his collection It’s For You gathers nineteen stories, five of which are published here for the first time, spanning a broad spectrum from horror to SF to fantasy to historical fiction and more. As I mentioned earlier, Minnion is better known for his work as an artist, but this collection clearly illustrates that he’s skilled with words as well. There are several impressive blurbs included on the book cover and press release, and perhaps the one that resonates the most is the following from Gary McMahon:

“Keith Minnion writes clear and lucid prose, not unlike a less verbose Stephen King. And, also like King, his stories tell us of a strange shadowy Americana that exists just off-center of the real world.”

A good example of the prose that McMahon is referring to can be found in the title story, “It’s For You”:

“American Street was a short block of narrow, tired bungalows, with postage-stamp front lawns and sidewalks that were cracked and tiled from trees long-since cut down. Every one of the houses needed paint; three were boarded up; one was burned out. It was a sad, lost little street in a section of the city that had last seen prosperity when people wore ‘I Like Ike’ buttons and parked Studebakers and Ramblers at the curb, one to a family.”

Told from the perspective of Detective Frank Graham, the tale concerns a series of phone calls, each of which results in the death of the call recipient, and is a real highlight of the collection. Also impressive is “On the Midwatch,” wherein a Navy Lieutenant experiencing his first opportunity to be Officer of the Deck unfortunately find that his big opportunity occurs in the Bermuda Triangle and culminates in an encounter with a UFO. In “Dead End,” a bit of inner-city vigilante justice goes seriously awry. “Up in the Boneyard,” meanwhile, is a mysterious and sometimes chilling tale about an elderly man, still sporting scars from his encounter with something in the clouds when he was a young daredevil pilot, and his quest to find and destroy his attackers.

Halfway through this collection, I was ready to declare it my most pleasant reading surprise of 2012, and to express my amazement that I had been so remiss in appreciating Minion’s writing talents — the stories in the first half of the book are that good. Unfortunately, there are a few less-stellar tales in the early stages of the book’s second half, before the author rights the ship and ends on the same high note on which he began.

Highlights in the latter half of the book include the post-flood-apocalypse tale “Empire State,” a Waterworld-style story (although predating the Costner flick) about a ship’s journey to a submerged New York City. “The Can Man” is another tale of the future, involving a couple of bored and inquisitive children who discover some long-neglected cryogenic freezers and release their occupants with an unfeeling curiosity not unlike pulling the wings off a fly. The collection closes with the excellent “Island Funeral,” in which a young widower visiting  the coast of Maine for his wife’s funeral discovers some highly unusual and unsettling family traditions.

It’s For You is a very strong collection overall, providing ample evidence that Minnion is versatile and multi-talented…and fans of Minnion’s art will be happy to know that the book includes several of his illustrations.