Saturday, October 9, 2010

[Anthology Review] Evolve: Final Part 8

How Magnificent is the Universal Donor by Jerome Stuert [A]

After the disappointment that was Evolving, How Magnificent is the Universal Donor left me breathless by taking the vampire from the alleys, giving him scrubs and putting him in hospitals. In this Earth, humanity faces its biggest enemy, yet, the Beijing Blood Disease. The Battlefield is in our own veins and the first line of defense consists of the Red Coats, blood specialists, whose special techniques keep the disease in check worldwide.

This is the world of the World Health Organization, where each hospital is a link in an impressive armor. What has me excited is that it makes total sense for vampires to work as medical experts. I think their relative immortality eliminates times as a factor during slow and complicated research, while at the same time their intimate relationship with blood gives them the necessary drive. It is peculiar that it hasn’t been done before. But vampires are known as the children of darkness, so I am positive that you wouldn't have them as your doctor, which is what Jacob Moybridge learns.

How Magnificent is the Universal Donor reads like a medical thriller. Jacob's husband, Harlain, meets a sudden end, while on a regular check-up. His death is shadily explained. Medical records show Jacob has visited Harlain in the morgue – not the case at all – and then a quick cremation. As Jacob impersonates a doctor and sneaks around the restricted areas of the hospital, he sees morgue corpses rise from their slabs, dress and take up their shifts around the hospital. In the end, Jacob’s suspicions are confirmed. Harlain is alive, but he could very well be the universal donor with blood pure enough to permanently erase the Beijing Blood Disease.

How Magnificent is the Universal Donor operates on two level. For one, it is character driven, for it is Jacob’s love for Harlain that acts as a catalyst for the plot. Stuert has done wonders with his characters. Even though Harlain physically is present near the very end of the story, I felt as if he was present throughout the whole. Thanks to Jacob’s worry, love and memories. I fear whenever I start reading about homosexual relationships, because I keep expecting a message or a moral or something in that line. Not so well thought through and so well veiled in the story. Through the most part in this story Stuert manages to keep this more about two people, who are connected in a way that is rare and genuine, bypassing gender. What snapped me from it, however was when he spoke of minorities and pitted vampires against homosexuals. It was a rather pointless and out of place moment that had relation to the story and in my opinion should have cut out.

The second level deals with ethics in medicine. Is the life of many more important than just one? Who is to decide? Can the forced death of one for the sake of the many be justified? Can life be measured and quantified? Who calls the shots? And where are the lines that should not be crossed no matter the gain. The natural distrust of the healthcare system and the medical professionals, who run it, is reinforced with the vampires' amoral nature. Jerome Stuert deserves praise for he successfully handles the topic with subtlety. Yes, his opinion is there, but it’s sincere and has no ambition to preach.

How Magnificent is the Universal Donor does what few short stories manage. It remains strong on all fronts. Well developed characters, a clever and unorthodox world and enough suspense all result in a must-read page turner. It's a true gem that fulfills the anthology's theme and delivers a lot more.

The Sun Also Shines on the Wicked by Kevin Nunn [C]

The Sun Also Shines on the Wicked can be best described as one long dialog. It is a simple story that lacks action. Stefan and Kenneth are two vampires, who have known each other for centuries and they value their friendship. Stefan however desires to feel the sun, although that is suicide for their species, and this is the experiment that both conduct. Could a vampire experience sunlight in a safe environment?

This story is static, but compensates with meditation on the importance of the sun for the world, why it is lethal for vampires and its personal meaning to Stefan and Kenneth. The vampire here is romanticized, nostalgic and emotional. The wish to see the sun is not suicide, but a longing to reverse nature and experience humanity once again, which is impossible and remains as a mad man’s dream. According to Stefan a vampire could return back to human after the body saturates with filtered and reflected sunlight.

All together not dull, but also not engaging. The characters felt flat and their conversation boring. I also did not see a hint of evolution… Yes, there are hints that vampires hope circumvent their weakness as far as the sun goes, but it is not entirely convincing whether that is to move forward or to return to square one.

Quid pro Quo by Tanya Huff [B]

Evolve finishes in the same way it began: with the commercialized brand of vampire, which the current form of Urban Fantasy has popularized and trademarked. While Armstrong disappointed me with random and never-explained splashes of plot and character motivations, Huff boils down her story to a simple task. Newly-turned vampire Vicki – former law enforcer – has to save her former partner and sole person to know of her nature from a rich nutjob, who craves immortality. It is simple and to the point. It gives the reader a frame to work worth and sets expectations. She succeeds or she fails. No other alternatives.

Huff knows the tricks of the trade. Knows how to work the worn-out tropes that I’ve had enough of. She hooks right in with a sliver of dialog, which although not always effective serves well in this instance, and then cements my interest with a cat-and-mouse game and Vicki’s abduction.

The plot deals with familiar elements. Rich, ambitious businessman craves immortality, does his homework and targets Vicki. However, he has researched the vampire as the myth, the species by the book and not Vicki in particular, who is unlike most of her kind. Yes, this snowflake effect is present here as well, but it’s not nagging. The day’s saved and the message delivered. Vicki is not the run-of-the-mill vampire. She is human, has emotions and is far from the stereotypical fanger.

However, because I’ve seen this done over and over again, the novelty has worn off and become the norm. In this sense I can't say that this is a vampire on its path of evolution. It is a good story, action-packed and clever with its sarcasm at moments, but not what the anthology promises.


Jerome Stueart said...

Thanks for the review, Harry!

Harry Markov said...

Jerome: Pleasure. It was a spectacular shot story. :)

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