Sampath G

Archive for the ‘Vampires’ Category

Book review: The Twelve

In Book Reviews, Literature, Uncategorized, Vampires on April 22, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Book: The Twelve
Author: Justin Cronin
Publisher: Hachette
Pages: 576
Price: Rs695

Vampire fiction has been sucked dry, almost. If John William Polidori drew first blood, as it were, withThe Vampyre (1819), nearly two centuries later, Stephenie Meyer has carried out a transfusion of sorts, draining out whatever blood remained in the genre, and replacing it with a saccharine cocktail of hot chocolate and cough syrup.

The dilution of vampire fiction’s horror component has been accompanied by the genre’s rising popularity in global mass culture. Innumerable TV series and Hollywood adaptations have cashed in on the insatiable appeal the ‘immortals’ seem to hold for mortal consumers.

And there are countless websites peddling anything from custom-made vampire tattoos to vampire baby pacifiers to retractable fangs (I ordered a pair last month).

Into this expanding pool of dangerously diabetic blood jumps a middle-aged professor of literature named Justin Cronin. And you suddenly find, perhaps for the first time since Bram Stoker, fresh blood of literary vintage flowing into the ossifying veins of the genre. The effect is as dazzling, and as deadly, as daylight would be for a  ‘nightwalker’.

It is by now well-known that Cronin began penning The Passage trilogy on a dare from his eight-year-old daughter, who wanted him to write a book about a little girl who saves the world. But for the world to be saved, it must first teeter on the verge of destruction, and that is what happens in the first installment of the trilogy, The Passage, which came out in 2010.

A semi-autonomous wing of the American defence establishment, in its quest for the super-soldier, infects a bunch of criminals with a new virus, and as you’d expect, things go out of control. The twelve original test subjects escape from the high security facility, infect the population, and soon the entire continent is overrun by ‘virals’ — a hybrid monster with both vampire and zombie characteristics. As America descends into post-apocalyptic chaos, a few isolated settlements attempt to start life from scratch in walled, militarized colonies. A small band of humans attempts to fight back, and towards the end of The Passage, one of the all-powerful Twelve is destroyed, but so are two big human settlements.

In The Twelve, part two of the trilogy, Cronin takes us back to Year Zero, when the ‘outbreak’ happened, and fills the missing plot links between the original cast of characters and the bunch waging the battle a hundred years later. He also takes the story up a notch, getting new villains, adding layers to the old characters, and fleshing out the human dilemmas of living in a world where the old value systems no longer seem adequate for negotiating the slippery terrain where you have to choose between surviving as a monster and dying as a human being. A choice that, for many people today, would not appear unusual at all.

Anne Rice, in her Vampire Chronicles, reinvented the vampire as a metaphor for the ‘outsider’ struggling to find his bearings in a (human) society that has changed enormously from what it was when they were born, and changed faster than they could adapt to or understand.

Cronin explores the same predicament from the other side: how do you live when ‘being human’ renders you an outsider in a society controlled by a human bureaucracy that has made peace with the vampires, where the 99% lives and works as slaves of the quasi-vampiric elite, and the merest sign of resistance could have you branded a ‘terrorist’, turning you instantly into vampire food.

The Twelve opens in high epic mode, with the events of The Passage summarised in biblical prose. The story of an apocalypse survived is necessarily also the story of a new beginning — the story of genesis. And Cronin manages to chart, with painstaking attention to detail, the fears, motivations and inner conflicts of ordinary human beings who end up getting portrayed as legends and heroes by the historical imagination a thousand years later — without ever aspiring to heroism or seeming heroic in their own eyes.

The depth of Cronin’s characterisation is such that despite it being ‘only’ genre fiction, each of Cronin’s central characters — Amy, Peter, Alicia, Sara, Wolgast, Bernard — is worthy of a novel to himself or herself. Also, while the apocalypse is not a new element in vampire fiction — Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s recent Strain trilogy is also based on a vampire apocalypse caused by a virus — the imaginative recreation of a dystopian society surviving under perennial threat of vampiric invasion has never been achieved with the realism and panache that Cronin manages.

Cronin has set such high standards with the first two books that you can barely wait to sink your fangs into the final (and one hopes, equally fat) installment of the trilogy.

Book review: The Night Eternal

In Book Reviews, Uncategorized, Vampires on March 30, 2012 at 10:43 am

First published: Sunday, Jan 29, 2012, 9:45 IST 
By G Sampath | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA
Book: The Night Eternal
Guillermo Del Toro & Chuck Hogan
372 pages
What if human beings were supplanted at the top of the food chain by a “creature race of superior strength”? What if their staple diet was human blood? And how would this affect your relationship with your son/girlfriend/father/ boyfriend/mother/office colleague? This thought experiment is carried out with frightening attention to detail in film director Guillermo Del Toro and novelist Chuck Hogan’s trilogy of vampire thrillers, of which The Night Eternal is the third and final instalment.
The superior species in question is, of course, the vampire. But Del Toro and Hogan’s vampires are not Twilight-type creatures with emo good looks and a weakness for luxury sedans (Edward drives an Aston Martin V12Vanquish while Carlisle owns a Mercedes S55 AMG). They are humanoid monsters whose interest in you is similar to what a lizard feels for a cockroach. And human beings are pretty much below the cockroach in the new world order established by the Master, the super-intelligent, telepathic, preternaturally powerful, 2000-year-old vampire that takes control of the planet after subjugating the human race. 
With the wily vampire hunter Abraham Setrakian having died at the hands of the Master, it is now up to a motley crew of bickering resistance fighters — Dr Ephraim Goodweather, his former girlfriend Nora Martinez, rat catcherVasiliy Fet, a black gangbanger Gus, and Mr Quinlan, an estranged offspring of the Master and the lone vampire aligned with the humans — to overcome the Master and bring the old order back.
This page-turner strikes the ideal balance between effective characterisation and fast-paced plot. The consequences of a vampire-dominated world for human relations and outlook are imaginatively worked out. In one passage, for instance, Alex Creem, a gangster, talks about the women he has saved from being ‘turned’ (into vampires). He protects them so he can sleep with them. “The women were nothing very special, a few desperate strays they had picked up along the way — but they were women and they were warm and alive. ‘Alive’ was very sexy these days.” In a world ruled by the undead, where most ‘women’ are out to suck you dry — only of your blood, alas — ‘alive’ would indeed be the high point of sexiness.
The vampire-ruled world is one where there is no shopping, TV offers only reruns of shows past, and night is day and day is night (because sunlight is fatal to vampires). And human beings are organised into a new caste system based on their blood group. They are bred in captivity for their blood, much like livestock are for their meat or milk or eggs. No school for you, and no office — just sit there and make blood.
Contrary to what we might believe — given our exalted notions about humanity and so-called civilization — not all humans find the new reality to be worse than what existed before. Many make their peace with their vampire overlords, and do well for themselves. Everett Barnes is one of them. A doctor and entrepreneur, he runs industrial camps where humans are farmed for blood, which he packages and distributes to the vampire population.
Barnes’ justification for these camps (not unlike our SEZs and sweatshops) is eerily reminiscent of the neoliberal orthodoxy that dictates government policy in most countries today: “The basic human biological function — the creation of blood — is an enormous resource to their kind [vampires]…the camp exists neither to punish nor oppress. It is simply a facility, constructed for mass production and maximum efficiency.”
You can’t have a more accurate description of the moral philosophy of free market economics. If vampires and zombies have come back with a vengeance in mass culture, there must be reasons for it, and you can be sure cultural theorists and social psychologists will have some ready. Yet one can’t help but speculate on the socio-economic parallels between a world where humans exist to service vampires and a world where humans exist to service vampiric capital.
In both cases, the moral imperative is displaced by the economic imperative. Is the return of the vampire and zombies in popular culture also a return of a repressed truth about the plight of humanity in today’s world?
To their credit, the vampires in this book, unlike their human counterparts on Wall Street and the PMO, are no hypocrites. The Master admits that it believes in no morality. And this amorality makes it easier for the vampire to achieve dominance over humans who have retained a semblance of morality even under extreme circumstances.
The character of Ephraim Goodweather embodies this struggle between the logic of expediency and the logic of morality — a morality that is closely tied up with whatever it is that lends a person his or her humanity.
But in the end, which is a bit of a mish-mash in this book, it is this very humanity — which is not an economic resource, and therefore has no value in the calculus of capitalism — that trumps, and stumps, the all-powerful Master. Can the little humans in the real world put up a similarly strong fight against their equivalent of the vampire adversary, marauding capital? Well, you’ll have to be around for a really long time to find out. And that, only a vampire can do.

Book review: The Fall

In Book Reviews, Uncategorized, Vampires on March 30, 2012 at 10:07 am

Published: Sunday, Sep 4, 2011, 8:00 IST 
By G Sampath | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA
Author: Guillermo Del Toro & Chuck Hogan
l HarperCollins
l 390 pages 
l Rs250
Hardcore lovers of vampire fiction have not tasted blood for some time now. A majority of them have been feeding on synthetic blood substitutes, a product category where the biggest market share is held by a literary werewolf named Stephenie Meyer. Her sickly sweet concoctions, peddled under the brand name ‘Twilight Series’, had hardly any vomit-inducing gore.
In fact, earlier this year, an English professor called Justin Cronin struck a blow for true-blood vampire fiction with The Passage, a magnificent work of apocalyptic fiction. But readers will have to wait till 2012 for the second part of Cronin’s trilogy.
In the meantime, they can snack on The Fall, the second book of Messrs. Del Toro and Hogan’s own vampire trilogy. The first instalment, The Strain, unleashed upon the world in 2009, sets in motion a chain of events wherein The Master, a powerful vampire, one of the seven Ancients, lands in New York with the aim of gaining control over the human race.
As New York’s population falls prey to the vampiric virus, Dr Ephraim Goodweather, an epidemiologist, Abraham Setrakian, an old Romanian Jew, and Vasily Fet, a rat catcher employed with the New York Bureau of Pest Control, come together to fight the pandemic.
The Fall takes off where The Strain ends, in a New York that is fast moving toward apocalypse. Eldritch Palmer, a dying billionaire who craves immortality, is strung along by The Master with false promises, and together they take over a nuclear power plant near New York as part of a larger plan to convert humans into blood banks for a vampire ruling class.
The authors take painstaking care to ensure logical consistency in their depiction of vampire biology. The vampire in The Fall, with flesh like “pickled pig foetus”, no nose to speak of, atrophied ears, and blood worms floating beneath translucent skin, are a far cry from the chocolaty good looks of an Edward Cullen.
The authors also weave in acute social commentary that inverts, and explodes, some of the foundational shibboleths of modernity — the idea of evolution, progress, division of labour, and the necessity of an enlightened elite that will decide the fate of the working/ consuming masses.
Just like in The Strain, the climax zips past faster than you can turn the pages. The last line, “The Night Eternal had begun,” is a direct invitation to the final instalment of the trilogy, titled, The Night Eternal, due later this year. The vampires in this trilogy are not exactly the kind of people you might want to date — they are viruses. But they are perhaps the most richly characterised viruses in the history of non-viral writing. Go ahead, get infected.