Roc, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-45918-0
I don’t buy specialty magazines (too expensive over here), but I understand that Dreams of Decadence is a vampire-themed horror literature magazine, yes? Apparently it’s a good one, if the mostly above average short stories in this anthology are anything to go by. While not exactly romantic, these stories are so varied in theme, style, and atmosphere that they are all a very interesting and enjoyable read.
There are forty-one entries here, including around a dozen works of poetry (yes, poetry). Don’t expect forty-one variations of the now tired “super slayer loves vampire” or “super vampire brooding to bits” though – the stories here may just bring back some much-needed variety and fun factor in a subgenre increasingly saturated by Laurell K Hamilton clones trying to be hip like Joss Whedon. There’s love, there’s heartbreak, and there’s even a post apocalyptic story. Vampirism is a metaphor for everything from AIDS to bigotry to death of the imagination/creativity/artistry to self-loathing to declaration of independence from conformity. I guess I should also point out that those expecting gory pornography like Hamilton’s Anita Blake series will be disappointed. The stories here are more to the types of PN Elrod and Tanith Lee.
Since I can’t review all stories here, I’ll just talk about those that I find noteworthy.
There are some authors who take their craft (writing) too seriously. Sharon Lee’s Passionato portrays vampires are creatures who feed on the “passion” in their victim’s blood because vampires cannot have imagination and hence they crave it. Witness how an artist is conned into becoming a vampire only to commit suicide when that idiot no longer can do his artistic thing. Warren Lapine offers another view on the canon in Mona Lisa: an artist, after realizing that he has multiple sclerosis, decides to die after creating his best work ever, until a vampire offers him a chance to live and be an artist forever. What a too-serious lot these artistic peoples are. Lighten up, people.
The closest to a love story here is a cute story by Diana Pharaoh Francis (is that a pseudonym?), All Things Being Not Quite Equal. Most vampires are gorgeous and have no problems attracting willing victims, but not Esther. She’s ugly. She’s a bouncer, mind you, in a club and she’s, well, probably the only guys who go for her are those with Amazonian dominatrix fetish. But she’s also very powerful and this attracts the attention of the vampire head honcho of the area, with some pretty interesting consequences that result.
Tippi N Blevins’s Presumed Icarus tells the tale of a vampire who learns the meaning of love and loyalty from an insane old man who rescued him and thought the vampire his son. This one ties in nicely with the Greek legend of the idiot boy who flew too close to the sun, with an ending that makes me sigh rather sadly. Robin Simons Fitch on the other hand presents a bleak tale of a vampire’s lover/victim who loves too much in After the Fire. Another sad sigh from me.
Steve Patten’s Colour Vision is a Hitchcockian tale of crime and murder that explains why villains in Boston’s Chinatown disappear after a few months never to be seen again. The hero is a very disillusioned and almost insane fortune teller who finds the rising crime rate of this place very favorable. Read: it’s like a cheap sale at the supermarket for this guy. Noir is never this cool.
Sarah A Hoyt’s The Blood Like Wine is a personal favorite. Here, vampires are truly villainous or dishonorable people who arise after death to face eternal torment. In this case, Sylvie loved an aristocrat during the French Revolution only to leave him to his death and move in with his betrayer. Today, she is a vampiress in a world where someone is murdering her kind one by one. Haunted by her lover’s ghost, she goes back to the man who betrayed her late lover – with some very interesting results, I may say. This short but beautiful tale of guilt and self-loathing really works and I wish it is a longer novel. The story and the heroine are too fascinating to be contained within a novella.
Oh, and Barbara Johnson-Haddad’s poem, Love Letters, is a short but violent and perverted piece that deserves a standing ovation. I’m printing it out and hanging it on my wall.
Angelique de Terre’s Deathlover is another favorite. In this story, vampirism is a form of legal euthanasia – you can sign up to die at the hands of a vampire. It’s a good way to die: a vampire’s bite has orgasmic properties and the vampire will woo and treat you so well you’ll feel loved. How this false illusion of love can drive the desperate to sign a legal contract with their soon-to-be murderers is the premise of this story, as a secretary to a vampiric Dr Kevorkian relates the case of one particular woman who signed up. Underlying this is a fatalistic unconsummated love story between her and her employer: she is diabetic and her blood is fatal to her employer whom she loves, and he keeps her around because she will be his key to death should he get tired of immortality. Again, a really good story that screams to be made into a full-length novel, and I’m just disappointed that it ends too soon.
Tanith Lee’s Vermilia is a darkly humorous but eventually depressing tale of a condescending, powerful vampire who meets his downfall in the hands of a silly Anne Rice human vampire-wannabe. It’s embarrassing for the silly vampire, and I feel so sorry for the bastard.
Lawrence Watt-Evans’s The Note beside the Body is actually a first-person plea from a vampire to her victim, asking him to not let her in when the hunger consumes her and she comes to his door. (Remember, a vampire can’t come into your house unless you invites that fangface in.) They never say no, of course. And she never really wants it to happen, but she is just too hungry. It makes a lot of sense, really: he could’ve just said no, but I guess the sight of her in that hot red dress is too much to turn down.
L Jagi Lamplighter (pseudonym?) tells of a secret Church organization that forms a twelve-step program for vampire victims addicted to the bite. Feeding the Mouth That Bites Us is actually amusing and if one wants to read too much into it, it is a nice allegory of how stupid women can be in deluding themselves about the not-nice-at-all men they love. The way vampirism is treated (complete with videos and garlic/belladonna vitamin pills marked “Made with Holy Water”) are too cute.
In Brian Stableford’s Emptiness, vampirism is a genetic condition, and a woman finds a vampire baby and soon forms a bond with it, much to the disgust of the daughter and the local KKK equivalent, Defenders of Humanity. A pretty good story, but the fatalistic ending makes me blue. Why are the gloominess, people? I know Goths are supposed to be all about deaths and despair, but come on, have some levity, people!
The story that closes the anthology is a favorite of the editor. Charlee Jacob’s Under the Tangible Myrrh of the Resonant Stars, however, is depressing. It’s a very good story set in the future when vampires are reviled and openly murdered on the streets – a heavy-handed allegory to bigotry and racism indeed – and our heroine, a vampire, watches in horror as her husband and son (all vampires) are murdered before her eyes. The story ends with her vowing vengeance on all humankind. This is a powerfully written story that has me all choked up, but to be honest, I’d have preferred something more uplifting to end my reading this anthology.
Yes, most of the stories present a rather bleak view of humanity in general, but many are solid, readable stories that aim to please the most discriminating vampire horror fans. The many varied interpretations of vampirism and different settings, themes, moods, and styles only add to my enjoyment of this anthology. The Best of Dreams of Decadence is aptly-titled.