Today we have one of October’s giveaway authors guest posting on the TATB blog. Please welcome horror and sci-fi author,
“My vampires are different, though!” It’s such an oft-repeated line, there’s an entire portal of pages for it on TV Tropes (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/OurVampiresAreDifferent). It’s so common, that I consistently see reviewers say, “No vampires, and yes, I know yours are different.”
I guess the ubiquity of that phrase says one thing about vampire authors: at least we take our worldbuilding seriously. It’s a common lament that fantasy authors will say, “You know, they’re Tolkien- style elves” or, “You know, it’s a Warcraft-type orc” and call it a day. I guess because vampires are so common and come with so much baggage, vampire authors at least like to lay down the rules for their own work.
I find there are two basic methodologies for doing this. Authors will either treat their vampires like strangely exotic animals whose idiosyncrasies all have a scientific explanation (“The Strain” is a good recent example, or “Underworld” is a slightly older one) or they’ll treat them like nonsense magical creatures who can do whatever the author’s imagination likes (such as in “Buffy” or “True Blood”).
For myself, I mostly split the difference. I don’t hate the idea of trying to make vampires scientifically plausible, but folks like Guillermo del Toro have already taken a crack at that and I don’t feel like I have a whole lot to add. I do kind of dislike the whole “vampires can do whatever we say they can do because magic” method. Because I mean, how, physically how, would a two hundred pound man turn into a six ounce bat? Exactly how do fangs become hollow things you can suck blood through, and how do you retract them when you’re not aroused? Where do they go? Does anything in nature do these things? Snakes have fangs but they always have fangs, and they’re hollow for injecting venom, not for sucking blood. And tadpoles can gradually evolve into frogs, but they can’t turn back, and they certainly can’t go from tiny to giant and back again.
So I didn’t want to worry about every little aspect of my vampires having to jive with some kind of scientific principle, but I did want them to at least be reasonable physical beings. Which meant a couple of rules:
1.) Creating vampires is more like giving birth. You know the old math trick that if you take a penny and double it thirty times you’ll end up with ten million dollars? This is my problem with easy peasy siring, or bringing across, or turning, or the blood kiss or whatever you want to call it. In HUNTER OF THE DEAD only very powerful and ancient vampires can grant the Long Gift (hey, I had to come up with a new term, my vampires are different, after all) and they’re not always very good at it. Sometimes people have miscarriages or their children are born with deformities. It’s the same way with my vampires. Sometimes when trying to turn someone they simply die, other times they become subhuman ghouls. It’s not always just a bite and a turn.
2.) Ditch the fangs. As I said, fangs are cool, but they don’t make much sense and I feel like writers have come to rely on them as a crutch. If someone can give me a working explanation for retractable fangs, I will gladly rescind this statement. So my vampires have ordinary teeth, and when they need to drink blood, they use a razor blade.
3.) No mesmerism. Like fangs, I’ve come to think of mesmerism as a cheat. It’s a way to have humans witness a vampire story, then be able to erase their memories later. It’s a reset button, basically, and I think its crap. So my vampires do have humans working for them, but it’s not because they’re hypnotized. It’s because they’re convinced.
4.) Shapechanging is right out. I intend to at some point in the future tackle werewolves in a similarly reasonable-but-not-too-reasonable manner, and I will probably address the matter of a six-foot man bulking up into a nine-foot killing machine. But a man turning into a tiny little bat just does not work for me.
5.) Your humanity dies with you. After a century and a half of literature trying to humanize vampires, we’ve reached a point where vampires are basically just angsty regular people with special powers. I don’t like that and I’ve never liked that. I think a vampire should never be mistaken for a human, and vampires struggling to regain their souls constitute a trope so common it’s lost all merit. So my vampires lose their humanity and it stays lost. You can appeal to the better angels of their nature…except they haven’t got any.
And that, my friends, is just a few examples of how my vampires are…uh…dissimilar. 🙂