That’s a picture of Castle Dracula up above.
Monday, January 10, 2011

Out of the Dark

David Weber, who normally writes military sci-fi, and rarely has any supernatural elements in his fiction, has written a novel that blends military sci-fi with vampire fiction. Now there’s been a bit of a run on vampires and werewolves, “the children of the night,” and I think that’s a bad thing. The vampire of Bram Stoker and the horror movies that were based on Dracula, including the Hammer films of the ‘50s, ‘60s, and early ‘70s, whatever their quotient of gore, managed to take the idea of evil seriously. The vampires of that era were seriously malign. The modern day vampire, at least as embodied in the books and movies with Edward, Bella, and their set, and The Vampire Diaries, and similar shows manages to be a brooding, romantic creature who entices young girls into Mormonism, as in theTwilight series.

I’m not familiar with Fred Saberhagen, but David Weber takes over what is apparently Saberhagen’s conceit that Dracula, and the other vampires, are still creatures capable of moral choice. As such they are not necessarily dreamy, romantic creatures seeking heavenly marriage with the ghoul of their dreams. In fact the vampire aspect is not evident until the last 50 or so pages. They are creatures capable of great evil, and possibly of great good.

What I’ve said about the vampire mythology leads to a larger question. Is it really proper to speak of myth as a settled thing? We have the various myths of Troy, Odysseus, Hercules and all the rest. However, the Greeks and the Romans developed and used these myths in ways that were not there at the time they were formed. Later, non-Roman, non-Greek cultures developed them, and appropriated them for their own purposes. The appropriation has happened in both high (Chaucer, Shakespeare) and low (Steve Reeves in Hercules, Hercules Unchained) cultural contexts. The Dracula myth has also undergone a lot of handling as he has morphed from being a sinister creature of evil to a darkly brooding, romantic figure. Does the latest series of vampires contribute to the myth of the vampire, or is it fixed in the Victorian era, and earlier? Is myth formation and development an ongoing and continuing process? Should the 1950s sword and sandals epics be regarded as making in some sense a contribution to the world of myth?

The story opens in the early years of the 15th century. A survey ship from the Galactic Hegemony witnesses the battle of Agincourt, and is repulsed by the brutality. (If, like me, you know of Agincourt primarily through Shakespeare, you should be aware that while stage productions and even films, such as Olivier’s version, tend to downplay the bloodiness of the battle. Kenneth Branagh’s version is bloodier and gorier. In the course of the battle, after the main offensive, Henry gives the order to kill the French wounded.) The aliens are so repulsed by this that they decide that humans should go on the list to be eliminated once a fleet can be put together.

Weber has constructed a universe in which the earth is attacked by these alien creatures some 600 years after Agincourt. About a third of the population of the earth is wiped out in the initial attack. Military resistance is sporadic and is carried out by groups of guerrillas.

As with most of Weber it is fast moving, and well plotted. It’s relatively short, about 350-400 pages, compared to some of the 900 behemoths in the Honor Harrington series.

Next up is Victor Davis Hanson’s The Father of Us All.