By Lyndsey Holder
Kilpatrick, Nancy, ed. Evolve: Vampire Stories of the New Undead. Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing (September 15, 2010). $15.95 USD; $16.95, CAN. ISBN-13: 978-1894063333.
I’ve read more than a few anthologies in the decades I’ve spent as a confirmed bibliophile, and I have found that the general rule of thumb is to find an editor whose tastes run parallel to yours. Compilations of stories are much the same as compilations of music – full of stylistically-similar pieces, designed with one specific taste in mind. Once you know whether or not you like the first piece, you will know whether or not you’ll like the rest. Sounds great, right? It can be; however, even the most delicious meal becomes tiresome after you’ve eaten it enough times in a row. Sometimes, the best way to stop liking something is to read an anthology about it.
Evolve isn’t like that. Nancy Kilpatrick, the editor, cleverly picked out a wide range of diverse stories. Vampires are the only common ground these tales share. Each approaches the topic in a way that is in stark contrast to every other one. Some of the vampires that stalk these pieces have had children with humans, resulting in half-breed offspring. Some find the very idea of having a sexual relationship with a human unthinkable or even impossible. Some are voracious predators, clearly defined by their bloodlust as they swim amongst us with the murderous grace of a shark in a reef. Some are sympathetic, kind, even helpful. Each tale completely redefines the modern perception of vampire, tossing aside dated notions, sloughing dead perceptions to reveal something raw and fresh.
The collection opened wonderfully with the poem, “Let the Night In”, by Sandra Kasturi. It was a perfect introduction to the eclectic mixture of vampires in the rest of the book. From there, I ran through alleys with vampires in the chase sequences in Kelley Armstrong’s “Learning Curve” and listened to the tale of a grandmother-turned-vampire in Rebecca Bradley’s “The New Forty”. It was so wonderfully written, so beautifully real, I began to wonder why there aren’t more vampire stories featuring people over forty. How great would it be to watch a movie with Judi Dench as the hard-nosed, tough-as-nails leader of a pack of vampires? I’d watch that on opening night.
Next, I was introduced to a vampire jazz musician, who stalks his prey during his performances in “Red Blues” by Michael Skeet. The writing is amazing – blending equal parts vampirism and music into a perfectly delicious mixture. Victoria Fisher’s “The Drinker” is another beautiful story, with a completely different idea of what it means to be a vampire and to feed on people. I don’t think it’s possible for me to overstate how much I enjoyed having my stereotypes about vampires completely dashed by these stories.
I’m taken to the streets in Claude Bolduc‘s “The Morning After” (translated by Sheryl Curtis), a very poetic what-if vampire tale, and “Alia’s Angel” by Rhea Rose, where a vampire is faced with a moral choice. Both feature vampires in humble situations, in stark contrast to the opulent Victorian mansion life we’re all so used to. However, while “The Morning After” is beautiful in its simplicity, “Alia’s Angel” crafts a complex world whose intricacies seemed too many for the few pages of the story to properly contain. I would love to read a series set in this world.
One thing I’ve noticed about many vampire stories is that they often seem to be written about a person who is either completely boring or too weird to comfortably fit in with conventional society, until a vampire comes along and transforms that person into someone amazing, fantastic, interesting, and most importantly, enviable. The problem with these stories, no matter how well-written, is that they aren’t actually about vampires at all – “vampire” could easily be substituted with “unicorn”, “eccentric long-lost aunt”, or “winning lottery ticket”, with very little difference made to the actual story. If I want to read those sorts of books, I’ll go to the self-help section. There are plenty of books about people who go from downtrodden to mighty there, and at least they don’t pretend to be about vampires.
I had pegged “Sleepless in Calgary” by Kevin Cockle as just another one of these tales and I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I was entirely wrong. It’s funny now, looking back on my notes from reading it that start out with me complaining about how much I hate the ending that I am entirely certain is coming, then waxing poetic about how wonderful it was and how shocked I was by the actual ending.
More worth noting: “When I’m Armouring My Belly” by Gemma Files. From the perspective of a vampire follower, it was bleak without being unreadably miserable, depressing and yet ultimately uplifting. Also, “Mother of Miscreants” blossomed from a somewhat-clumsy start into something fantastic. Finally, there’s “Come to Me” by Heather Clitheroe, a tale of a woman who left her home in Alberta and moved to Tokyo. A feeling of homesickness fairly drips off the pages, and the protagonist is so utterly human that you can’t help but sympathize with her.
There is also some vampire noir (If I ever own a bookstore, “vampire noir” will have its own section) to be found in Bev Vincent’s “A Murder of Vampires”, and Kevin Nunn wrote something that sounds like a collaboration between Jane Austen and HP Lovecraft (in the best way possible) in “The Sun Also Shines on the Wicked”.
I’ve written this much and yet, there are many more tales worthy of discussion that I haven’t even mentioned to be found within the pages of Evolve. The stories are short, but each one is crammed with more vampire goodness than an entire novel should be able to hold. Although, I would be lying if I told you that I loved all of the stories – like any group of tales, there were some that I found a bit disappointing – I can honestly say that each story, even the ones I didn’t like, had a clever idea or two at its core.
I had thought that vampires were a dead horse, that we had done everything possible with them, imagined them in every conceivable way, and every “new” vampire story was simply a re-telling of the older ones. I am pleased to say that this anthology has proved me wrong. The authors in Evolve have done the unthinkable – they have given life to vampires.
You can find Evolve: Vampire Stories of the New Undead at Amazon.com.