09 August 2009

Lumley's vampires

My earlier posting on lesser-known SF novels got a good response -- so now it's fantasy/horror time!

I'm rather a fan of vampire stories, but recently pop culture has not been kind to the classic bloodsuckers. Vampires have become wimpy and watered-down. They're not evil, just misunderstood, the poor things. They don't need slaying, they need therapy. They're bland.

Well, not in the world of Brian Lumley.

Lumley, a Briton, is the author of a series of vampire novels which he has been writing since 1984 and which now stands at over a dozen books. The first five, Necroscope, Vamphyri!, The Source, Deadspeak, and Deadspawn, revolve around British vampire fighter Harry Keogh, who has the power to communicate with the dead and, under certain conditions, to call upon them to rise from their graves. Working with "E-Branch" (a secret British agency made up of people with various psychic abilities) Keogh battles not only vampires but also Soviet agents (the Russians have a malevolent counterpart to E-Branch). In The Source, we learn that vampirism actually originated in a parallel world, a nightmarish anti-Earth ruled by vampires. A Russian experiment accidentally creates a sort of gateway to this vampire world, with terrifying results; it turns out that a similar gateway has existed for millennia, with its Earthly terminus underground in Romania, and it was by this route that vampirism originally infected our world. The next three novels, Blood Brothers, The Last Aerie, and Bloodwars, form a trilogy set mostly in the vampire world, and are Lumley's best work.

Lumley's vampires are not sensitive, misunderstood creatures. They are EVIL -- exuberantly, flamboyantly evil. Beyond drinking blood, they torture, rape, and murder with sadistic glee, reveling in the most diabolical cruelties, even against rival vampires. Part of what makes a good story is a good colorful villain, and Lumley's vampires are villains who leave no scenery unchewed.

The vampire world is a masterpiece of nightmarish imagination. It is a planet which does not rotate but keeps one face toward its sun, as the Moon does to the Earth. Half the world is roasting hot and the other half frozen; only a narrow ribbon of land in between is habitable. This ribbon is itself divided lengthwise by a mountain range. To the sunward side of the mountains, "Sunside", human beings live a primitive, nomadic, fearful existence. The other side, "Starside", shielded from the sun by the mountains, is the home of the vampires, who consider humans little more than cattle -- their food and slaves. So long as the sun is (barely) above the horizon, humans on Sunside have some degree of safety; but the planet has a slight wobble, enough that the sun regularly drops completely below the horizon -- and "night" falls on Sunside. And then the vampires come over the mountains to hunt.

In the permanent dimness of Starside stand naturally-occurring stone pillars thousands of feet tall, honeycombed with chambers and tunnels in which the great vampires (the "Lords" and "Ladies") rule in barbaric splendour, attended by their cowering vampirized human slaves, and guarded by huge flying "warrior" monsters built from human flesh warped beyond recognition by the vampire art of "metamorphism". Vampire architecture, furniture, "flyers", and almost everything else are built of living flesh or fossilized bone, from humans culled from Sunside for the purpose and twisted into the desired forms.

The vampire world has no birds, but it possesses an abundance of (naturally) bats and of large, very nasty spiders. The vampires, treacherous backstabbers all, are constantly quarreling over power, territory, and access to human prey, and the lifeless soil of Starside is littered with the bones of warrior monsters left over from millennia of wars between rival Lords.

The first humans from our Earth who are sent through the Russian gateway to explore this strange new world quite understandably feel that they have arrived in something rather like Hell.

Lumley's storylines, despite their blood-drenched grand guignol exuberance, are intricate and embrace a broad mix of elements. Besides the themes of talking to the dead and Cold War spy drama already mentioned, other established fantasy and SF themes such as ghosts, raising the dead, ESP, mind control, teleportation, and werewolves also occur (one of the best vampire-world characters, Lord Canker Canison, is apparently part wolf as well as being a vampire). The complexity of the stories, as well as their sheer length (each novel is over 500 pages) probably preclude film ver- sions ever being made. This is unfortunate, since some scenes are visually evocative. The climax of Bloodwars, with rival airborne warrior armadas soaring and clashing around the summit of a mile- high stone tower, could be great spectacle in the right hands.

Lumley's website is here. See in particular artwork depicting the landscape of Starside and a giant airborne warrior; a sculpture of the deformed vampire Lord Vasagi (warning -- gruesome); and Lumley's biography.


Anonymous rita said...

Jimminy Christmas! That is scary stuff. It brings to mind one of my lines in the play...."Percival, even in ones darkest hour, the Sun is just beyond the horizon." :)

09 August, 2009 11:07  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Perhaps Sawdusters can adapt one of Lumley's novels for the stage? No doubt the prop department has a few sets of fangs available..... Not exactly their usual cup of tea, though. :-)

09 August, 2009 17:13  
Blogger mendip said...

Great review - thanks. Will try to check Lumley's tales out. Might I also suggest the font from which so much else flows - Stoker's Dracula.

10 August, 2009 05:03  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Dracula is definitely on my to-read list. Not at all a "sensitive New-Age vampire", from what I've heard.

10 August, 2009 07:07  
Blogger North Northwester said...

I'm a vampire fiction fan though I have to say I grew bored with Necroscope a couple of decades ago - but perhaps, given what you've written today, perhaps I should get un-bored and try it again.

Have you read Anno Dracula - now THAT'S entertainment...

10 August, 2009 12:20  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Have you read Anno Dracula - now THAT'S entertainment...

Just looked it up -- sounds interesting. Thanks for the recommendation.

10 August, 2009 13:46  

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