Authorguy's Blog

New takes for old!

Posted on: January 21, 2011


I just came across yet another promo tweet for yet another vampire novel. This novel was described as having vampires that actually kill when they feed, and find their nocturnal existence less than an immortal romp. Yes, vampires like they used to be, back when they were vampires.  I’m something of a purist when it comes to monsters out of legend. I say ‘something’ because, let’s face it, these are legends. Hard to be a purist about something imaginary, but there are certain core beliefs that we may cling to.

There was a philosophical paper that came out way back when about how, if someone were to discover a skeleton of a horselike creature with a horn growing out of its forehead, we still wouldn’t be able to say we’d discovered a unicorn, since the description of a unicorn is incomplete and ‘real’ unicorns may have three-chambered hearts or something. I wasn’t entirely thrilled with this view, my take on language is more prescriptive. A word means what I say it means, so if I call this item the skeleton of a unicorn that’s what it is. If we later find a sample with a four-chambered heart, that’s a unicorn too. I’m not about to get all angsty over it. But the horn matters a bit. The virginity and the purity matter more.

What I do get annoyed by is when an author whips up some new ‘take’ on a legendary being just for the sake of originality, completely sacrificing whatever it was that made the creature legendary in the first place. Looked at as a metaphor, vampires are people who are so conceited, arrogant, and/or strong-willed that they not only refuse to die, they feed off the lives of others to maintain themselves. Werewolves are people who willingly act like beasts rather than men, etc. Other humans can be ‘cursed’ by those who willingly exist this way (at least, the Universal werewolf can transmit the curse). The physical characteristics are all part of this legend.

I consider it a sign of mediocrity that an author has to come up with something “new” and then try to apply the well-known label to it. I have written a few vampires myself. The villain in A Warrior Made becomes a proto-vampire, and of course ‘Bite Deep’ is all about them. But they are vampires in the classic mode, with some slight liberties taken.  ‘Bite Deep’ recasts them as mythological, not merely legendary, and the story is about the salvation of the vampires from the perceived Evil of their nature, but there is nothing in it that contradicts the standard lore. And I have several other fragments, as well. In fact, I have only one story that treats vamps as anything other than blood-sucking monsters, and even in that one the only type that matters is the bloodsucking monster variety. It’s not hard to write stories within the classic limits.

So it kind of irks me when an author creates a creature that has only the slightest passing physical resemblance to one of these legendary beings and calls it vampire or werewolf anyway. While the clearest examples are Meyers’ sparklers, or Ward’s Brotherhood, neither of which are vampires but simply creatures that live a long time and drink blood, so also are vampires that have sex, or make babies. Vampires have traded all that makes life enjoyable simply to prolong it. Barbara Hambly created a techno-vampire when she had a magician who transferred his soul into a computer, using a magic life-sucking crystal to power it. As Dracula says in the movie Van Helsing, “I am hollow! And I will live forever.” If you can call that living.

There are lots who don’t agree with me, given the popularity of the vampire-smut school of paranormal fiction. Where do you stand?

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5 Responses to "New takes for old!"

Love your definition of a vampire and on the whole am inclined to agree with you here. Vampire smut… I hate the fluffy romance, but if they are still icky in some way, still taking and using and wrong then sex can be part of that. Vampires who are also sexual predators – to me that extends the metaphor in a viable way – vamps who are romantic heroes? I take a lot more persuading to accept.

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Vampires cause erotic reactions in women, that’s part of the mythos, definitely icky, wrong, and predatory, but they shouldn’t have the ability to have sex. I have problems with this variation simply on a physiological level, nor do I see that they would want to. They reproduce by infecting others.

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As an author of urban fantasy, I don’t see why I should be restricted by “legend”, especially since these things are all made up by someone anyway. My second book is about faeries. Why should I feel obliged to write tinkerbell, just because that’s what everyone thinks of when you say ‘faerie’?

I don’t like sexy undead either. I find it gross. None of my paranormal or fantasy novels are about the undead. But it doesn’t mean I disapprove of the creativity in them.

Just because a concept isn’t to my taste doesn’t mean authors shouldn’t write them. For me, writing is about exploring and pushing boundaries, and fantasy novels are about “what if?”

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I think faerie is a lot less defined than vampire, and you can do a lot more with it for that reason, as long as the story logic is well thought out. I’ve read lots of books where the faerie character sneers at the Tinkerbell stereotype, and others where Tinkerbell has a Brooklyn accent. But there is a reason and a logic to vampires and werewolves, and stories that don’t respect that logic aren’t about vampires or werewolves, just creatures with fangs that the author thought were cool, and stuck the word vampire onto so they could take advantage of the brand rather than create one of their own.

Another problem with a lot of books where these characters are creatively extended is that the author doesn’t think it through. For example, given immortality, sexiness, and every other human characteristic that vampires retain in so many recent novels, why would anyone in them want to stay human? I have the same problem with alien races, such as Vulcans, who end up being some kind of super-human, rather than truly alien. If that’s so why are humans running the Federation?

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[…] Any more than calling a fanged blood-drinker a ‘vampire’ makes it one, but I’ve already said what I wanted to say about that. I have no objection to a little metaphorical sideways slippage, […]

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