Review: Blood and Other Cravings

By Amanda J. Spedding

Datlow, Ellen, ed. Blood and Other Cravings. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, 2011. USD $25.99 (hardcover), USD $12.99 (ebook). ISBN: 978-7653-2828-1.

Award-winning editor Ellen Datlow stopped by Innsmouth Free Press recently to talk about her latest anthology – Blood and Other Cravings –  and her inspiration behind the collection, plus her views on vampires and their current trend. Now, Amanda Spedding reviews the anthology. 

Blood and Other Cravings contains 17 stories of all things vampiric. From your (almost) ‘traditional’ vampire to those who draw more things than blood from their victims, this anthology – and its authors – transported me to places and introduced me to beings I could not have imagined.

With such an open-ended theme, the range of stories within is as diverse as the voices telling them. I knew from the outset there would be very few fangs and blood-sucking involved, but when you hear the word ‘vampire’, that’s exactly where your mind goes. Vampires have been around since…well, forever. In Mesopotamian and Hebrew culture, Ancient Greek and Roman folklore, all dating back millennia, vampires have been with us. Now, more so than ever.

With the market and horror genre flooded with vampires, one might be tempted to overlook “another vampire antho”, but take it from me, the stories here are not your typical Nosferatus, Lestats, or (thanks to all things unholy) any of those angsty pseudo-vampires. Ms. Datlow has asked the authors to take the reader down a different path, where not just your blood (and soul) is at stake.

As with all of my reviews, I’ve taken a bit of a deeper look at those stories that really shone for me. These were tough decisions to make, to whittle down, but the ones below are those that had me put the anthology down and mull over what I’d read.

Kaaron Warren’s, “All You Can Do Is Breathe”, kicks off the anthology with the ‘not-so-traditional’ vampire. The Australian author deposits us into one of my fears (I seem to have more than I thought) – being trapped underground. A mine collapse leaves Stuart alive but with little food, water and light. Is he alone in his very small pocket of air? Or is his vision playing tricks on him? The fear Stuart experiences underground pales in comparison to the discovery that he didn’t leave the mine alone. The last few scenes of this story are chilling and a fantastic intro for what is to come.

My favourite story of the anthology was the second offering and was more of the ‘traditional’ (although not so ‘traditional’) vampire story – “Needles”, by Elizabeth Bear. From the first sentence, I was dragged into Mahasti’s story; the twists and turns of this tale had me switching allegiance between predator and prey, which is the true test of the characters created by Ms. Bear. I loved this story, from the violence, fear and dread to the hollow sadness of Mahasti – it was a beautifully woven tale.

“X for Demetrious”, by Steve Duffy was a close second. I read this story in the early morning hours, while holidaying at a farm in the middle of nowhere (Seriously, I did), and when I finished the tale, I wanted to kick Mr. Duffy – never before had the cabin been riddled with unexplained creaks and groans. Myiciura is a Polish immigrant, his beliefs and his dreads ingrained from an early age. Being locked so decidedly in Myiciura’s point of view, we live the mortal fear in which he is slowly drowning. We see the shadow on the edge of his vision, hear the footsteps that prowl the hallway outside his room…or do we? The signs are everywhere. But is this a product of Myiciura’s degeneration? Is Myiciura, essentially, his own ‘vampire’?  Mr. Duffy created his story from the very real death of Demetrios Myiciura in 1973 (noted in his foreword).

“Keeping Corky”, by Melanie Tem was another gem. Told through the eyes of Janie – an impaired and…gifted individual forced to give up her son – we are taken on a ride through her inward battles and outer challenges to maintain a relationship, however controlled and dysfunctional, with Corky. Injustice and the greater good are pitched against each other, but love (in all its purity and destructiveness) is the overriding factor, here, and this story stayed with me long after reading.

Another wonderfully weird tale is Nicole J. LeBoeuf’s “First Breath”. This tale hooked me from the beginning and kept me guessing all the way through. Told in the first person, it makes us see, hear and feel as the protag does, but that’s where it gets tricky – good tricky. The necessary and painful journey of ‘Jen’ is drawn remarkably well by Ms. LeBoeuf and the ending had me re-reading the story. Yes, I know, I haven’t said a lot about this story, but it’s too good for me to spoil it for others.

Barbara Roden’s “Sweet Sorrow” was another that truly captured me. Stories involving children (and being told from a child’s perspective) always seem to have an especially cruel aspect. Children’s lack of understanding of the horror(s) surrounding them brings the brutality just that little bit closer, but kids tend to see things we, as adults, sometimes miss. Ms. Roden does this extremely well and Sweet Sorrow was high on my list of favourites; her “vampires” are undeniably frightening in their perceived banality.

“Bread and Water” by Michael Cisco is dark and edgy, with post-apocalyptic overtones of mankind’s ‘re-creation’ via a virus. While we’re given snapshots and small glimpses of the world outside, and the sanitarium in which the infected are ‘housed’, it is the deconstruction of Mr, Emory, his mental and physical battle to maintain himself, that kept me turning the page. As with the current vampire trend, there are those who despise the infected and those who adore them – a parallel to today’s current, love-’em-or-hate-’em, sparkly kind, perhaps? The ending (resolution?) worked perfectly with the rest of the story – a very, very enjoyable tale.

Almost every story in this anthology rates a special mention. As with any anthology, there were a couple that didn’t quite rate with me, but when I looked back at the stories that did resonate, it was close to ninety percent. With such a range, such different takes on the ‘vampire’ theme, there is something in here for everyone.

Ms. Datlow has done it again, producing a top-notch anthology where each story leads readers up a dread-filled path, unsure of where they will end up, but knowing it ain’t gonna be good…still, we’ll take the journey just to see. For those of you wanting a different taste of the ‘vampire’ culture trending the market, then Blood and Other Cravings is a must-read. Let Ms. Datlow and the authors show you what else is out there, and how blood is not the only thing these monsters crave.