Friday, September 10, 2010

[Review Anthology] Evolve: Part 3

The Drinker by Victoria Fischer: A

I seldom succumb to praising, when I’m not in love with the prose. Writing can’t be summed with drop-dead gorgeous prose, which I do worship. Writing goes beyond the technical. It’s the author piercing through the words, distilling the story’s elements into a message, a moral, an opinion or a feeling. Prose acts as a tool, but it’s not all there is to writing, which I keep see is proved time and time again, in the current case by The Drinker.

The Drinker is a story about the human condition, viewed through the eyes of a vampire as a metaphor [better yet a representative] for a certain class of people we know of, may despise, may associate with or maybe even aspire to. I’m talking about the leeches and the so-called energy vampires, who take and take without asking whether something belongs to them. But I want to answer the question of the anthology.

Is this story a step forward in the evolution of the vampire? Yes, on many levels. For starters, the feeding ritual is devout of the sexual intimacy. Vampires hunt from a distance. They drink and savor their victims without even breaking the skin. A method, which can be found in the Cassandra Palmer series by Karen Chance. Now that I rethink the mechanical side behind the feeding, I think that this reflects the 21st Century to get near somebody, open up or even allow physical contact. The vampires from the past were physical [honestly though, vampires in the urban fantasy and paranormal vein still are], because intimacy was the communal desire at the time. Now however being safe takes priority and in a world everybody could an assailant, it’s not hard to see that the vampire has changed his core characteristics.

What’s more interesting is that vampires digest what comes along with the blood, the victim’s soul and success. This is, again, not very far from our reality. We have ambulance chasers, con men, identity thieves, soulless upper-managers [who keep copyrighting your ideas as their own] and intellectual pirates. All of the above feed on someone’s success and life in one way or another.

Vampires here are more creatures of avarice [the more-more-more syndrome of today] than of sexuality. The narrator is an example of how power corrupts, how needs begets need and how when the hunger dominates the psyche, social responsibility erodes. It’s exactly what happens here. The narrator wants all the things he never had. His wish is granted. All he must do now is simply take it, which he does until an innocent dies, because he’s no longer in control. And in a surprised twist of fate the vampire searches to redeem himself. The cycle begins anew in reverse. This time the narrator gives and gives away, until he has nothing left. It’s not an end I would have predicted, but from a metaphorical note it suggests that humanity in general may reach a breaking point, in which it sets its morals straight. But who knows whether it would be too late to undo some wrongs.

Overall, a pleasant surprise.

Sleepless in Calgary by Kevin Cockle: C

Cockle has written a very interesting story, in the sense that I both found generally enjoyable moments and that I did not really enjoy reading most of the story. Plot-wise we have David, a neurotic workaholic, who somehow manages to exist in-between his perpetual panic attacks. He leads an uneasy life, which becomes a lot more complicated, when he sees Karl, a vampire with the trademark charisma, who wants to turn David. Eventually, David caves under the stalker’s pressure and follows Karl’s exact instructions on to become a vampire. The end is a bitter and cruel joke that destroys David’s life, but I will remain silent so that I do not ruin the story.

Is this in tune with the theme? Is it inventive? Yes, the vampire in Sleepless in Calgary is a semi-tangible phantom. He’s been watered down to a presence diluted in the ‘now’ and only visible to those individuals, who are disconnected and tired from life. I love it as an idea, but I did not get it and the story does little to help add flesh to the concept. As a result was puzzled throughout the whole story as to what Karl’s motifs were. It prevented me from predicting the outcome, but what good when I could not enjoy it.

I am also not sure whether I should have sympathized with David or with Karl. Yes, David is the narrator and even though his portrayal as a man with psychological issues is believable, I did not like him as a character. I actually felt glee when Karl tricked David into a trap, which I am not sure was the author’s intention. I don’t usually find myself rooting for the enemy and Karl is a hunter; cruel, sadistic and Machiavellian. There is nothing complex or morally excusing about him. He’s the monster from beneath the bed.

These two issues spoiled all the fun and Sleepless in Calgary was a tedious read.

Come to Me by Heather Clitheroe: B

Vampires are not subjected to copyrights by neither Europe nor the US, and Come to Me is a reminder of that. Bloodsucking monsters are a widely spread phenomenon in mythologies and folklore, although they feature under different names and appearances. Clitheroe explores the vampire through the Japanese folklore and re-imagine the vampire as a kitsune, Japan’s most recognizable and popular mythological figure.

Come to Me is a simple story. Jane is an American in Japan. Jane had dreams and ambitions to begin her life anew in this country, which she admired. However, her design and the reality have little in common and she finds her dreams dying inside. It’s at exactly this moment when she thinks for the first time: “I will go into the forest and never come out.” The thought has become viral and no matter what opposition Jane exerts, she leaves her town, her routine long forgotten and travels by train to the Aokigihara forest [which is not named in the story, but I know of its reputation]. Once there she is greeted by a kitsune, the one responsible for Jane’s arrival in her domain.

Jane’s possession and the mechanic execution of it impress, while within these pages Jane expands as a character. Jane is a woman with a dream gone sour and a lust to live forgotten, but will never admit defeat and return to her home. She’s vulnerable and relatable, because I believe that the majority of people fake something in their lives in order to push through their lives. Jane projects the manners and behavior expected in Japan and she keeps quiet about the sexual advances from her boss. The fatigue attached to this act comes off as genuine.

Clitheroe combines two elements from Japanese culture that I love. First, the setting is none other than the famous Aokigihara forest, which has become the go-to destination for suicides by hanging. The numbers of suicide hangings in that area are so steady that looting the dead has become a lucrative business. I recognized the forest, but fact is that Clitheroe only hinted at it. She missed out on the huge cultural impact the forest has, which I think would’ve added a new level to the atmosphere.

From the forest I would like to move to the kitsune, which according to Japanese legends is a fox spirit with positive connotations as wise, benevolent and mischievous. While there are a few malicious individuals and although Clitheroe has masterfully exploited their possession skills, the kitsune is not a bloodsucker. It’s an interesting angle and it could have worked, but the ending is anti-climatic, because it followed vampire fiction by the book.

Despite this I enjoyed it.


Heather said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it - and thank you very much for the review!

Harry Markov said...

Pleasure. I hope that my comments about the creepy forest inspire you to write something about it. :) I want to see some hanged people.

Heather said...

It was something of a deliberate choice not to go too much into the heritage of the forest. I wanted to try to play more on the pull of the fox demon and the theme of homesickness. And keep within my assigned wordcount.

Evolve 2 is in the planning stages now, and I'm hoping to have a piece in it that looks at that vampire some more. Fingers crossed!

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