The Vampire In Science Fiction Film And Literature by Paul Meehan (book review).

April 9, 2015 | By | 3 Replies More

The brief of Paul Meehan’s book ‘The Vampire In Science Fiction Film And Literature’ is wider than it looks. It opens covering real life events of vampirism, neatly explaining how fear confused judgement when it came to how bodies decay look like vampires when people opened up the coffins after a week or so. Oddly, none of this was propelled by any of the Victorian vampire stories because I doubt if they had travelled that far into the Balkans. Speaking of which, John Polidori’s novel ‘The Vampyre’ (1819) predates Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ (1897). Then again, ‘Varney The Vampire’ came out in 1851. Interestingly, Meechan points out that ‘Dracula’ was a metaphor for syphilis although I have to confess my own doubts on this. I mean, syphilis has been around along time. People don’t read the book and realise that today neither, do they? Would they have known that then in much more simpler times when a lot of the population still couldn’t read? They just see a predatory Count out to selectively increase the numbers of his clan on a holiday in Great Britain.

VampiresInSF

Although the opening chapter on SF literature occasionally sways into horror literature, there has to be a grey area between the two sub-genres. Oddly, Meehan doesn’t actually qualify what makes each genre divisible from the other, although clearly the earliest examples clearly indicate aliens but that is often the choice of SF authors when there are no examples beyond bats on Earth. An alien vampire is a lot easier to explain than an infected human turning into one because if you analyse, you have to wonder what infected the first victim and why didn’t it repeat across the population the same way?

There’s an odd contradiction where Meehan classifies ‘Carmilla’ (1872) as the first actual vampire novel, which is at odds with the other examples noted above and I doubt if syphilis was involved when bathing in the blood of virgins. It was even predated by a French opera ‘Le Vampire’ (1820) as the first stage production. I do have to wonder on the inclusion of some examples but, equally, there is a grey area between blood-suckers and psionic vampires who drain life-force, especially as the latter don’t actually turn them into beings like themselves. There certainly needs to be some discussion as to the qualification of different types of vampire.

Nevertheless, its looks like the first Science Fiction psionic vampire belongs to ‘Shambleau’, a 1933 short story by C.L. Moore as first of her ‘Northwest Smith’ sequence where she combines psionic absorption with a medusa-like alien. It’s also not surprising that A.E. Van Vogt had proper alien vampires in his short story ‘Asylum’ (1942) who drank blood and life-force equally. C.M. Kornbluth’s ‘The Mindworm’ (1950) also kept to psychic vampires as well. As indeed Richard Matheson with ‘I Am Legend’ (1954) and is probably the first to turn an entire population into vampires although never qualifies what they do when their food supply runs out.

The films are divided into five sections, each following through from the earliest to the latest in each category, 2014 when published, in each chapter. I’m in two minds about this. Yes, it does make it easier to track through the development of a particular theme but I doubt if the studios were thinking along these lines when they produced their films. I also wonder what the purists would think by his inclusion of comedy horror films featuring Abbot and Costello. I can see some justification including the likes of ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space’, but ‘straws’ and ‘clutching’ come to mind.

I should point out that Meehan gives brief synopsis and analysis of everything so you get a good grounding and keep a notepad handy to note books or films that you want to read or watch for yourself. However, a lot of the time, I couldn’t help feel he’s not spending enough time justifying many of these films as actually Science Fiction and not supernatural horror. In some respects, as they cover both, Meehan could have done better to cover both genres and satisfied everyone.

Although Meehan includes the similarly named film ‘Ultraviolet’ (2006), he doesn’t include the UK 1999 TV series ‘Ultraviolet’, which must surely be the most SF tech vampire series, especially in the manner of detection. It isn’t as though he ignores TV as ‘Kolchak The Night Stalker’ is covered. Likewise, Vampirella is mentioned in the last chapter, nothing is said about her only film. When you consider Vampi hits on being an alien blood-drinker, she must surely be top of the list for belonging to Science Fiction.

If you want background on a lot of vampire films with some SF connotation and a few SF stories, then this book can be useful but don’t think it entirely inclusive. You might also find it useful to decide which films you’ve missed and want to pick up.

GF Willmetts

March 2015

(pub: McFarland. 230 page illustrated indexed enlarged paperback. Price: £31.95 (UK), $33.95 (US). ISBN: 978-0-7864-7487-5)

check out websites: www.mcfarlandpub.com and www.eurospanbookstore.com

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Category: Books, Horror, Scifi

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About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

Comments (3)

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  1. avatar Paul Meehan says:

    While I’m gratified that the reviewer has thought enough of my work to offer a critique, I’d like to take issue with some of the points raised in the review.

    Regarding syphilis as a metaphor for vampirism, this was not proposed by me, but by SF author Brian Aldiss and vampirologist David j. Skal. I am just duly reporting on the concept. There is also some historical evidence that Bram Stoker died of the disease.

    I never referred to “Carmilla” as the first vampire novel, but as the first significant vampire novel in the English language.

    When it comes to mixing the sci-fi and horror genres, this meld has a long history, especially in the cinema. In fact, the vast majority of SF films are also horror films. I was indeed trying to cover both genres, but the supernatural element only comes into play when it is put into conflict with science in the films I discussed.

    Finally, television treatments of the theme were outside the scope of the book, with the single exception of “Kolchak–The Night Stalker,” which I included because of the Richard Matheson angle. The book was intended as a historical/thematic treatment of the theme and not an encyclopedic one.

    Anyway, thanks for the review, regards, Paul Meehan.

  2. avatar UncleGeoff says:

    Hello Paul
    Call me old-fashioned but when you don’t argue the point from the source you refer to then it means you agreed with them. Just because Stoker might have died of syphilis, doesn’t mean he saw it 15 years earlier when he wrote ‘Dracula’.
    Strictly speaking, horror is an aspect of fiction more than a genre. SF has a mix of other genres under its name. Outside of medical conditions, the media vampires and werewolves are more fantasy than reality or even SF.
    The point I was making about Kolchak was because you used it. If you’re going to infringe on TV, then you should have done a proper chapter. It isn’t like there are many vampire series on TV after all.
    Geoff

  3. avatar Paul Meehan says:

    Stoker, along with other Victorians, would have been well aware of the ravages of syphilis. Besides, Bram would surely have known about this from his brother, the knighted physician William Thornley Stoker.

    I think there’s enough credence in the vampire/VD connection to report on it, but only in the case of Stoker’s DRACULA. The other diseases I mentioned have more to do with the origins of the myth in central European folklore.

    BTW, the novel CARMILLA has nothing to do with Elizabeth Bathory or bathing in virgin’s blood. This is strictly from Hammer films.

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