There are a lot of vampire stories out there right now, most of them occupying the Ann Rice (with Buffy Extensions) World. Rice, I suspect, as primary architect of the AR(wBE)W, is justifyably proud of the impact she’s had on mainstream literature, as writers of every skill level have adopted the AR(wBE)W — some to add interesting twists on it, others because they aren’t inclined (or able) to come up with a world of their own.
But is that really the world vampires would build?
Let’s say you’re a vampire, oh, around the time of the ancient Greeks. Give or take. You have been around for a while, much longer than the fleeting human lives that surround you, and you understand that now you are a fundamentally different animal. A more evolved species. What do you do? Do you run out willy-nilly and vampirize the cheerleader squad and the buffest dudes?
Probably not. You would probably be very selective about who you invited in to your immortal fraternity, choosing the best and the brightest that humanity had to offer. Centuries pass. Your cabal now holds the greatest minds, and preserves lost knowledge. You are part of a secret cult that weilds immense power, subtly. Things are going pretty well, but there’s one problem. People. Those clever little bastards are getting better and better at killing each other, and killing your kind. You see the day coming when everything will change.
Let’s call that day the Victorian Era, a time when Learned Men spoke of the Triumph of Reason over Superstition. Scientific method and exploration are turning the mysterious into the Known at a dizzying pace, and a technology boom looms close behind.
The Delicate Dependency by Michael Talbot is a story told by one of the champions of reason of the Victorian Age. Dr. Gladstone is a physician and a medical researcher. He is rather passionate about influenza (it’s personal) and has devoted his life to understanding the virus. As a result, under a bell jar in his laboratory, he has an influenza virus for which the human body has no resistance whatsoever. It is a supergerm. To him it is a professional triumph, to others it looks more like the first weapon of mass destruction, and an entirely indiscriminate one at that. A global catastrophe waiting to happen.
That’s when the vampire comes to live at his house. Dr. Gladstone wants to study the creature. There is nothing that can’t be explained, after all. His teenage daughter Ursula has other ideas. Yet when the vampire leaves suddenly, it is neither Ursula nor the virus he takes with him.
He has even warned his host: Nothing the vampire do is as it seems.
The language of the book feels authentic to the period, and reads right along. One thing I noticed: adjectives. Lots and lots of them. Dr. Gladstone would never lay something on a desk, he would lay it on an oak desk with teak inlay and gold trim. Rarely is does a bit of setting escape unadorned, even if it’s the third reference to the object. I think this is deliberate on the writer’s part; the good doctor has an eye for the finer things in life and when details of craft or workmanship catch his eye, he will report them faithfully. He is an object-oriented person.
The prose takes its time moving through the story, and much of the action is intellectual, as clues and mysteries mount up. There is a rip-roaring chase or two, however, and you can feel the breathlessness of the characters as they dash for survival. This is a fine read, a story well told, with plenty of surprises and twists along the way.
Note: You’ve really got to want this one, as dealers are asking huge prices for used copies, but as always if you use the above link to buy this book (or a Kindle, or a new car), I get a kickback.