Title: A Whisper of Blood: A Collection of Modern Vampire Stories
Author: Edited by Ellen Datlow
Type of Book: Fiction, short story collection
Why Did I Read This Book: I love short stories. I love short stories about vampires. I love Ellen Datlow. I saw this in the bargain section at Barnes & Noble and I love cheap books. (It seems like I love a lot of things, doesn’t it?) It’s actually a book that contains two books of vampire fiction Ellen Datlow edited, Blood is Not Enough and a Whisper of Blood. So really it was a two for one bargain book. How could I lose? So I grabbed it and saved it so I could read it close to Halloween.
Availability: Released by Fall River Press in 2008, it no longer appears to be in print, but you can get a used copy here:
Comments: This is a hard one because overall most of these stories were entertaining and well-written. Yet many missed the point entirely or I am being too strict in what I consider a modern vampire story. I tend to think it is the former. Many of the stories really pushed the boundary of what it means to be a modern vampire story and not in a good way. In a “this really has nothing to do with vampires in any way, shape or form unless one redefines the notion of vampire to have nothing to do with the concept of a vampire in a context in which vampires are recognizable” sort of way. Yeah. Seriously, that mangled sentence is the mental gymnastics one must go through to find vampires in some of these stories.
A vampire does not have to suck blood to be a vampire. Most vampire fans also do not demand a strict adherence to vampire canon in order to find worth and entertainment in a vampire story. But on some level, the vampirism cannot be so postmodern in its interpretation of vampires that an audience has to analyze the story to the point of banality to find the vampiric element and too many stories in this collection demanded that sort of analysis.
I’m not going to discuss every story in the book but I’ll hit what I consider the high lights and low lights.
The ones that did not work for me:
“The Pool People” by Melissa Mia Hall uses rape as a metaphor for vampirism and while the story is intriguing, the fact of the matter is, this is one of the stories that stretches the notion of being a vampire. A teacher being assaulted by students is horrific, not vampiric. This story stretches vampirism into a metaphor for all modern violence and in so doing, stretches the concept of the “modern” vampire to the breaking point.
“Dirty Work” by Pat Cadigan flat out is not a vampire story. Period. Full stop. It’s an interesting science fiction tale but it has no place in a modern vampire anthology. I did my best, I questioned myself and asked if I was being too literal in my interpretation and came to the conclusion that asking for some form of vampiric behavior in a story included in a vampire anthology is not too much to ask. It’s a story of a “pathosfinder” who is overwhelmed mentally by an empath in a futuristic world. This was possibly the most tiresome story in the book for me, 35 pages of not very much happening at all, just… I think the issue is that I am not a fan of this sort of sci-fi, especially when I encounter it in a book ostensibly about vampires.
Interestingly, one of the other stories that did not hit me right was also a Pat Cadigan tale called “Home by the Sea,” wherein people are dead in a sort of post-apocalyptic world but still move around. They’re not really vampires so much as they are sentient zombies. A wife has sex with a man who is ostensibly still alive and he gives her the gift of life. Again, sort of entertaining, but also again, not really vampires in any sense, even modern. Vampires take life, they don’t give it, and given the zombie-like nature of the characters, it was hard to see what the point was of the story exactly other than just existing as a horror tale. It works as a horror tale. It does not work as a vampire story.
The last story I speak of in the “do not want” camp comes from Edward Bryant, “Good Kids.” This one I just plain didn’t like. In it, four girls in night-time child care facility discover their caretaker is a vampire. They turn the table of violence on him when they encourage the rest of the kids in care to act with them in an ending with a TWIST. Bleah to red herring endings and double bleah to precocious kids who as a group don’t speak or act as any kids I have ever known.
“The Silver Collar” by Garry Kilworth was the tale of a silversmith who is asked to make a silver collar for a woman who is to marry a vampire. She is beautiful and imperious, the silversmith of course falls for her, but eventually she wants the collar off and it ends as it should, with her becoming the undead. And she returns for the silversmith who is so smitten with her. It is romantic, predictable in some respects, but atmospheric and gothic, and all the more interesting because one never actually sees the vampire in question. Of course, silver is really more a werewolf deterrent, but as I mention above, departure from some elements of canon in vampire tales is not that problematic.
“Carrion Comfort” by Dan Simmons is a most excellent tale, novella-length, about a trio of psychic vampires. The three play a disturbing game wherein they affect the minds of others to terrible ends. They meet regularly to tally the score of who caused the most deaths, but things get completely out of hand when one of the vampires decides to quit the game entirely.
“The Girl with the Hungry Eyes” by Fritz Leiber is a story about a photographer and the model whose career he helps launch. She is a man-eater, in more than one way, and the photographer nearly succumbs to her. The story works so well because the author reveals that to look at the woman, one could not immediately see what it was that was so beguiling. But her eyes, the bewitching eyes of a vampire, made all the small physical flaws she had seemingly disappear when one looked at her. As one reads the story, not being able to see her, we have to rely on the narrator’s tale of bewitchment and obsession that almost kills him, and not seeing what he sees, only what he describes, makes the tale all the more unsettling.
“The Sea Was Wet As Wet Could Be” by Gahan Wilson was a creepy, interesting insertion of “The Walrus and the Carpenter” from Alice in Wonderland into a modern seaside picnic. This one was excellent – disturbing and clever as hell.
Finally, “Down Among the Dead Men” by Gardner Dozois and Jack Dann was considered such a horrible, tasteless story when it was initially written that no “respectable” horror or sci-fi magazine would touch it. It’s still pretty outre and pushes the boundaries of what one expects in a vampire story without completely bastardizing the concept of vampirism into a postmodern metaphor for violence. A vampire preys on his fellow Jews in a concentration camp. The degradation and horror of the concentration camp as a back drop for a vampire story was and still is outre, a place where one does not expect to find vampires. A concentration camp is a place where one assumes one already knows the worst of what can happen to a man. The way this story explores the nature of the vampire, how even in the worst that man can suffer the nature of the vampire does not change, is shocking, strange and upsetting. An excellent example of a modern vampire story.
It’s a shame, in a way, that some of these stories were marketed as they were. Even the bulk of the tales I felt ambivalence about for the most part were still good stories, or at least stories I could recognize were well-written even if I did not care for the genre, as was the case with Pat Cadigan. I didn’t feel as if reading them were wastes of time or an insult to my intelligence. It’s just that when someone tells you to expect steak for dinner then gives you fish instead, no matter how well prepared and delicious the fish may be, it’s not steak.
Redefining a genre is often what breathes new life into it. Making vampires modern is a very good idea. But there is a line that should not be crossed, in that if any object in any capacity drains you of any sort of anything, that does not make it a vampire. Insisting otherwise does not breathe new life into a stale genre subset but renders it so universal and pointless that there is no sense even labeling. That was a problem with too many stories in this book.
I generally find that I can’t go wrong with a collection Ellen Datlow edits but this one proves that even the best of the best will sometimes fall a little flat with even the most die hard fan.