a blank slate

a blank slate

Tag: vampire fiction

Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin

SO I have no intention of ever reading the Game of Thrones books; not out of a sense of I’m-too-good-for-it, but rather, Who-has-the-time? But I was curious about Martin’s style, so I have been meaning to get this book for a while now. Fevre Dream is a vampire story, which is much more up my alley than chain-mail-clad sword-brandishing fantasy, anyway. Written in 1982, this book is what one might call steampunk science fiction.
Summary: It is the story of a steamboat captain named Abner Marsh who is commissioned to construct a new boat by Joshua York, a strange beautiful gentleman and businessman who wishes to be his partner. The magnificent new steamboat is called the Fevre Dream and it is Abner Marsh’s dream to make it the fastest running vessel on the Mississippi. Part of Abner Marsh’s contract with York is to stay out of his away, no questions asked about York’s nocturnal habits or the strange company he keeps. Abner Marsh is more than eager to accept York’s conditions for the chance to captain his dream boat. That is, until he begins to discover a strange pattern to York’s secrets. A rumour floats upstream… vampire.
Meanwhile, in a small settlement along the Mississippi lies a haunted house. A house inhabited by such monsters that no slave is ready to work there, no guest returns alive. The property is run by Damien Julian, who calls himself the bloodmaster of his clan. As the neighbouring town turns against the demonic presence in their house, the ancient Damien Julian sends out his clan to find accommodation elsewhere. And a couple of them just happen to board the Fevre Dream.
“The very one, Abner. An astounding man. I had the good
fortune to meet him once. Our steamboat put me in mind of a poem he once
wrote.” York began to recite.

She walks in Beauty,
like the night
Of cloudless climes
and starry skies;
And all that’s best of
dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and
her eyes:
Thus mellowed to that
tender light
Which Heaven to gaudy
day denies.

“What shall we name
her?” York asked, his eyes still fixed on the boat, and a slight smile on his
face. Does the poem suggest anything? I had in mind something like Dark Lady,

“I had somethin’ in mind myself,” Marsh said. “We’re Fevre
River Packets, after all, and this boat is all I ever dreamed come true.” He
lifted his hickory stick and pointed at the wheelhouse. “We’ll put it right
there, big blue and silver letters, real fancy. Fevre Dream.” He smiled.

For a moment, something strange and haunted moved in Joshua
York’s gray eyes. Then it was gone as swiftly as it had come. “Fevre Dream,” he
said. “Don’t you think that choice a bit… oh, ominous? It suggests
sickness to me, fever and death and twisted visions. Dreams that… dreams
that should not be dreamed, Abner.”
My thoughts: To me, a well written speculative fiction contributes to the existing lore, offers an alternate. (To me, for instance, the ‘vampires don’t come out in the sun as they sparkle and stand out’ bit of the Twilight series is the least of its faults because of its sheer innovation. Did anyone ever even consider that the sun did not in fact harm vampires directly but made them more conspicuous?) In this aspect of lore-feeding, Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin fares rather excellently. The vampires of Fevre Dream are not supernatural, but rather a distinct race – humanoid yet different. A race afflicted by a thirst which might just find itself a cure in science.
The popular vampire myth is steeped in Christian ritual. The vampire is a reanimated corpse that rests in its coffin, leaves it at dusk, can be repelled with the cross, may not enter a church, gets burnt by holy water. Take all that away and what is left may not be a vampire at all. Hindu mythology speaks of batlike demon creatures but they bear only a vague resemblance to our walking dead. Like all recent vampire mythology, Martin’s story is a fight of good versus evil. It is also very Christian, but in a different way. Martin tells the story of Joshua York as a messiah come to free the vampires of their curse, the Pale King come to lead them to a newer tomorrow.
On a more meta-level, Martin’s story is a fight between the popular contemporary myth and the old darker one. I have heard of Martin writing morally ambiguous characters. Here, however, there is a clear black and white, which serves its (unintended?) purpose. On the one hand, you have Joshua York, beautiful and alluring, leading a civilized life and on the other, Damien Julian, blood master, a frightening creature wrought with pure evil and destruction. The vampire myth has adapted itself to the needs and likes of every generation and Martin’s story tests our allegiance. It does not leave you with a satisfying ending, but rather, drags you along till you make a choice – which is more enduring? The tragic prince-turned-Beast or the terrible monster? I chose the latter. Abner March, loyal to the end, remained alongside the beautiful and tragic Joshua York; the perfect friendship.
Fevre Dream is engaging; a surprise, for its size is tremendous. Martin’s lengthy descriptions of characters and their physical appearances bored me. Literary references abound, with Shelley and Byron being particular favourites of Joshua York. But the atmosphere of steamboat racing, breaking the chains of slavery, bubbling invention is a fantastic capture. The writing loses its way sometimes, gives in to gimmickry, but on the whole, it pulls you in. I have been chewing on this review for a long time, and one thing is clear, the book has left an imprint on my thoughts, if not always a positive one. 
Accidentally slitting my hand on a knife yesterday may have played a major part in pushing my opinion in favour of Martin’s book; the uncaring spillage of blood in modern vampire stories, its supposed beauty, now brings a particularly bitter taste, and having a young man or woman lust sacrificially after the metaphorical knife seems plainly objectionable. Dracula makes more sense than Prince Lestat, and Fevre Dream lets you pit one against the other.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Love

Edit: This post is infested with Spoilers! Don’t read ahead if you haven’t watched the series. 

Willow – The one boy that’s really liked me, and he’s a demon robot. What does that say about me?
Buffy – It doesn’t say anything about you.
Willow – I mean, I thought I was really falling…
Buffy – Hey, did you forget? The one boy I’ve had the hots for since I’ve moved here turned out to be a vampire.
Xander – Right, and the teacher I had a crush on? Giant praying mantis.
Willow – That’s true.
Xander – Yeah, that’s life on the Hellmouth.
Buffy – Let’s face it, none of us are ever gonna have a happy, normal relationship.
Xander – We’re doomed!
Willow – Yeah!
[They all laugh, though their laughter quickly becomes nervous and stops..]

This post may be ten years late, (and ten pages long… sorry!), but I’m still going through with it.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BtVS) is probably my favourite television show ever. If this makes you roll your eyes or smirk or go ‘ew, really’, then you’ve never seen the show, or worse, only seen the movie. I don’t like love stories, which diminishes my stock of Valentine’s Day themed posts considerably. What I do like are witty, romantic sub-plots, which this series is full of. I know it’s old, but what the show lacks in effects and technology, it makes up for in the ingenuity of the plots and the amazing script. It’s not a love story, because it’s more like an action-story about the Slayer and all her fighting and saving the world stuff. The trio, Buffy, Willow and Xander, fight demons on a regular basis, guided by Watcher and high school librarian, Rupert Giles. Sunnydale high is situated directly on the Hellmouth, a place where all the evil in the world converges. And isn’t that what high school is like, anyway?
Still. BtVS has got a lot more to do with romance than it initially lets on. A witch in love with a werewolf; a witch losing control of her powers, using dark magic, and wanting to end the world when the love of her life dies; a thousand year old demon girl falling for a human boy; a vampire restoring his soul for a human…

The vampire-in-love-with-a human concept is old news, now. I haven’t seen it as deep and insightful ever as in Buffy. In Buffyverse, when a human is turned into a vampire he loses his soul or conscience, his ability to care, making him just a ruthless killer. Angel, however, is a vampire who is cursed with a soul, to make him eternally suffer for his sins.

Buffy can’t help being attracted to him (I mean, have you seen David Boreanaz?) They kiss and he turns into his vampire self. Being the slayer, she sets out to kill him, until she finds about the curse that keeps him “good”. Their relationship develops and when they have sex, in that moment of perfect happiness, the curse on Angel is revoked, turning him ruthless again. He begins to terrorize Buffy and her friends, and plans to destroy the world. Prior to a huge fight, Willow somehow restores Angel’s soul, but it’s too late. Buffy kills Angel. He is banished to a Hell dimension, where he seemingly spends an eternity before mysteriously returning to Earth, a few months later. Though Buffy and Angel get back together, noticing the effects he has on Buffy’s life, Angel decides to leave her; hoping that she would be happier without him. And unlike most vampire-human love stories, he goes for good. He loves her enough not to risk her life. She keeps loving him till the very end, though. I think Buffy and Angel make the perfect example of forbidden love, the most real one at any rate.

With Angel gone and high school over, Buffy is at a turning point in her life; soon, she meets the perfect guy, Riley Finn. Riley is an agent in a top secret government operation to capture, study and incapacitate demons. Riley already knows about the supernatural world and Buffy finally finds a human boyfriend, whom she can be completely honest with. Soon, though, Riley begins to think of himself as a liability to Buffy. Seeking thrills (and also, assuming Buffy loved Angel because he was a vampire) Riley lets a female vampire feed on him, which later turns into a sort of addiction. Buffy finds out and their relationship ends when Rileys leaves Sunnydale.
The third big romance for Buffy is another vampire, Spike. After Buffy is magically resurrected from the dead by her friends, she feels lost and lonely. Spike is everything Buffy hates about this world, and the only one she can talk to. They start a violent, sexual relationship. Buffy breaks it off, when she realizes that she is just using him to get over her own suffering. Afterward Spike almost rapes her, losing her trust completely. Wanting to prove that he is good enough for Buffy, Spike undergoes a series of trials and – wins back his soul.

Spike returns to Sunnydale completely crazy. He is haunted by the memories of the people he tortured. When Buffy learns about his newly-acquired soul, she lets him back into her life. They never develop a relationship again, though they are close. He is her only support, when everyone else turns their back on her. In their very last fight, Spike dies to save the world. And when’s he’s about to die, Buffy holds his hand and tells him that she loves him. He goes laughing in the face of death, becoming a true champion.
Spike: A hundred plus years, and there’s only one thing I’ve ever been sure of – you. Hey, look at me. I’m not asking you for anything. When I say I love you, it’s not because I want you, or because I can’t have you. It has nothing to do with me. I love what you are. What you do. How you try. I’ve seen your kindness and your strength. I’ve seen the best and the worst of you, and I understand with perfect clarity exactly what you are. You are a hell of a woman. You’re the one, Buffy.
Now that’s true love, or unconditional love, or sometimes true love, which doesn’t really work out because the time isn’t right. You know, some love stories end happily, some not so much. But the thing is, I love they way they are written. It’s not that original, true, but it’s very grown-up, mature, well thought out.
I love how every single thing has an in-depth explanation, how carefully every single action is filmed and how all the seasons are sort of related and tied together. It’s what I feel when I read Harry Potter, like the entire plot was planned first and then divided into seven parts. Which is crazy, because, of course they didn’t plan the tv series beforehand! But must be some show if it makes you think that…
More than anything, this is one of those shows that knows it has to become super-intense and dramatic at times, but makes up for all the cliches by laughing at itself the next moment. You may think that the dialogues are cheesy, you’re just not in on the joke.
Angel: I saw you before you became the Slayer.
Buffy: What?
Angel: I watched you, and I saw you called. It was a bright afternoon out in front of your school. You walked down the steps… and… and I loved you.
Buffy: Why?
Angel: ‘Cause I could see your heart. You held it before you for everyone to see. And I worried that it would be bruised or torn. And more than anything in my life I wanted to keep it safe… to warm it with my own.
Buffy: That’s beautiful. Or, taken literally, incredibly gross.
Angel: I was just thinking that, too.

Wonderfully Wicked Read-a-thon Update #3

Wonderfully Wicked Read-a-thon is hosted at Kindle Fever and My Shelf Confessions for this weekend. With Halloween coming up, I decided to have a horror/thriller reading list (Though that is not a must for the read-a-thon.)

Reading Stats:
Total Books Read – 4
Total Pages Read – 973

Last Book(s) Read: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson – This is definitely one of the best horror/thriller novels I have read. It’s eerie and creepy and really just a classic ghost story

I am Legend by Richard Matheson – The story of a the last man surviving in a strange, new world, where every other creature is a vampire. If the “apocalypse due to a disease” theme sounds too cliched too you, you ought to keep in mind that this book is one of the books that introduced the theme. Cool, huh? This makes me want to read books about zombies.
My (tentative) to-be-read list: (I can definitely manage one more book)
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H. P. Lovecraft

Cavemen vs. Astronauts

If cavemen and astronauts got into a fight, who would win? Spike and Angel (the two main characters from the tv series Angel) have a passionate, 40-minute argument over this; Spike supports the cavemen and Angel, the astronauts. Many thanks to Joss Whedon for this!!

Spike: I am talking about something primal. Right? Savagery. Brutal animal instinct.
Angel: And that wins out every time with you. You know, the human race has evolved, Spike!
Spike: Oh, into a bunch of namby-pamby, self-analyzing wankers who could never hope to—
Angel: We’re bigger. We’re smarter. Plus, there’s a thing called teamwork, not to mention the superstitious terror of your pure aggressors!

(P.S. – No weapons allowed)

Scenario 1: The cavemen see the astronauts. The cavemen attack. The astronauts die.
Scenario 2: The cavemen see the astronauts. The astronauts attack. The astronauts die.
Scenario 3: The cavemen see the astronauts. The astronauts run. The cavemen attack. The astronauts die.
Scenario 4: The astronauts play mind games (see: psychological warfare) on the cavemen. They turn the cavemen against each other. The cavemen fight among themselves. The cavemen die.

In spite of the glaring obviousness of the cavemen’s victory in the first three scenarios, I support the astronauts.

If it comes down to physical strength, the cavemen will win, no doubt about that. But, like Angel says, we have evolved to have bigger brains. All the astronauts have to do to keep the first three scenarios from happening, is distract the cavemen. We can’t ignore the paranoia of the near-wild cavemen. If the astronauts make loud banging noises and showcase how terrifying they are, the cavemen will easily be scared. It will give the astronauts time to think, or even run away themselves.
And if astronauts are as intelligent as they appear to be, they might just be able to tackle the cavemen using something they are better at, i.e – their intelligence. They can make complex plans of action that the cavemen’s underdeveloped brains couldn’t even begin to figure out. All this assuming that they can keep the cavemen from attacking them for long enough. Which they will, as the astronauts must be physically trained in some way; they won’t be scrawny little boys. All the astronauts need to do is run and hide away till they can put their smart plans into action. I’d say ‘Brain over Brawn’ any day.

And yet, if you really think about it, if you put the classic caveman known to us against the classic astronaut viz. Fred Flintstone against George Jetson; it would be a miracle if Jetson managed to survive for more than a couple of minutes.

What do you think? Cavemen or Astronauts??

(On a nearly unrelated note, this is my 50th post on this blog! Yay me!! I wonder how I’ll celebrate this…)

Un-Dead Man Walking

Many people, specially my age(which, by the way, is 17), think that the “vampire craze” started as a result of the Twilight series (that’s what initially got me interested in vampires, true, but that’s just because I was very ignorant when it came to fantasy fiction; a thing I regret). Vampire myths and folklore are, actually, as old as the human civilization itself. Vampire fiction is rooted in the ‘vampire craze’ of the 1720s and 1730s; when the vampires were quite unlike today’s vampires.

Why these myths first came to be, can be explained by the natural, but in those days inexplicable, processes of death and decomposition. People often suspected vampirism when the body did not look decomposed; as the gases from decomposition caused the torso of the body to swell, making it look well-fed. This body, when staked, would deflate with a groan-like noise, as the gases escaped. The idea that vampires can only be killed with a wooden stake through the heart, however, is a mere co-incidence; as the dead body, which was assumed to be a vampire, was in a cemetery close to a church; and the priest happened to stake the body with a wooden cross, right through the heart(which “killed” the vampire, effectively). This also explains a vampire’s fear of the cross. Also, after death, skin and gums lose fluids and contract, exposing roots nails and roots and parts of teeth that were concealed inside the jaw; which were mistaken as sharp, claw-like nails, and fangs. Porphyria is a rare blood disorder, often confused with vampirism, where the skin of the sufferers is affected in directed contact with sunlight – making them synonymous to the “Creatures of the Night”. Rabies has also been linked to vampirism; a disease which can cause a drive to bite others and a bloody frothing at the mouth. Of course, these myths were fueled by regular sightings of dead family members and lovers at night, which were probably just hallucinations.

From James Rymer’s Varney the Vampire, ofcourse, to Dracula by Bram Stoker and Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan le Fanu, to the Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice and Salem’s Lot by Stephen King, till the recent Vampire Diaries by LJ Smith and of course, the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer; vampires continued to captivate us, soon becoming not only terrifying, but also highly attractive and alluring.

It is safe to say, of course, that Twilight is not one of the best books about vampires. I wouldn’t even call it a great book otherwise, vampires or no vampires; but since I’m discussing vampires right now, let’s leave aside the too much use of adjectives, too many repetitions, too shallow/predictable characters, and basically the fact that they are four books of nothing, really. So when you are bad at all these things, you could at least get your facts right; i.e vampires don’t sparkle, vampires have fangs et al. And, finally, if you can’t do that either, come up with your own story!! But no, Twilight has everything from Charlaine Harris’s motorcycle gang of werewolves, to LJ Smith’s, well, kind of the whole same story, and also Edward Cullen: Twilight’s very own, rather badly copied version of Joss Whedon’s Angel: the good vampire who ran around saving people’s lives, the messy hair, the handsome, pale face, the falling in love with a human girl, all of it, and, not to mention, the fact that Meyer keeps calling him “angel”. It is also copied, apparently almost scene to scene from a book called The Nocturne by Jordan Smith: I haven’t read the book myself, but this was enough to convince me. And it has still sold around 100 million copies worldwide. Of course, in a world where people like Miley Cyrus become famous singers, Stephanie Meyer was bound to get lucky.

What I am concerned with is how Stephanie Meyer has single-handedly destroyed the entire vampire genre. The world isn’t divided into people who like vampires and smart/sensible people. People who like vampires are not necessarily crazy teenagers who are obsessed with Twilight. Twilight vampires are not real (or precise: because vampires aren’t real anyway!).