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Fang Fuckers: some reflections (in a mirror)

So, I just wrote and handed in a vampire novel.

What bit me?

(Author pauses to allow the shower of rotten tomatoes to subside ...)

Vampires in fiction are a cliche. But a cliche isn't necessarily a bad idea; it's actually a good idea that has been overused.

Here in the real world, we don't see a lot of blood-sucking species. I'll grant you leeches and desdemontid bats. But these are highly specialized parasites. Blood is actually a rather crap food source in many ways: it's high in protein, really low in fatty acids and sugar, and vampire bats need to consume a third of their body weight in blood per day just to stay alive. It's no accident that vampire bats and leeches usually pick on host species that are several orders of magnitude larger than the haemophage! A hypothetical humanoid (and human-sized, mammalian, and human-predating) fanged fiend would have to leave a horrendous trail of drained corpses behind it—just one obligate humanoid haemophage would be enough to increase the UK homicide rate by around 50-70%.

Hence the first line of "The Rhesus Chart" (which is due out in July 2014):

"Don't be silly, Bob," said Mo: "Everybody knows vampires don't exist."

So what are vampires good for?

Leaving aside a whole bunch of different mythological tap-roots, some of which are quite interesting in their own right, the modern western interpretation of the vampire is largely the fault of Bram Stoker (although he, in turn, was working in a literary tradition with notable antecedents such as Varney the Vampire).

The interesting thing about vampires in fiction is what they're used to represent. Vampires are the talkative reflection of our fears; unlike horde-shambling zombies they're singular entities, intelligent and outwardly handsome, the exterior shell concealing festering horrors within. And the nature of the horrors in question changes with time. Back in Stoker's hey-day, the fear of contagion, of the degeneration and insanity that went with syphilis, was clear: so was the clash of uptight Victorian public morality and private lascivious debauchery that went with it. (It's no accident that Vampirism-as-AIDS was the big metaphor of the 1980s: blood, sex, and death are deeply intertwingled in our collective id.)

More recently, we have a whole bunch of other vampire metaphors. There's the untrammeled greed angle, the psychopathic serial killer angle, the sexual predator. Vampires are rapists, non-consensual sadists and torturers, serial killers. They are, above all, parasites and sociopaths—you can't be a vampire, a successful apex predator upon people, and feel much empathy for your prey.

So what do we make of that sub-species of vampire that fucks its food?

One of the weirder twists in the development of a sub-genre happened some time in the early 1990s, with the advent of the paranormal romance. In retrospect it's fairly obvious what they're for; they allow the reader to vicariously explore emotional aspects of BDSM without the troublesome need to find a partner with a roll of duct tape and a flogger who also understands the need for safe words. (This may also be a side-effect of changing gender/power relationships in society at large causing confusion, uncertainty, or dissatisfaction with traditional power roles: don't tell the Pope. Ahem. There's a really complex knot of issues here, including the implications of the demographic transition for human interpersonal and familial relationships, that is probably food for several PhD theses.)

Paranormal romance turned out to be a huge growth industry, inflating rapidly until it's a genre in its own right, and one that outsells traditional SF by a considerable margin. This is entirely reasonable if you view fiction as a play-tool we use to explore the emotional or intellectual scope of ideas that intrigue or disturb us. But that's not where I went with "The Rhesus Chart"; I had an existing framework (yes, it's the fifth Laundry Files novel) and wanted to explore a different issue—the existential dilemma that a non-psychopath might experience if they suddenly learned that in order to survive, they need to kill at least two people a year.

Blood, death, rape, disease, sex, and greed are a far cry from the biology of haemophagic carnivores. We've come a long way from Transylvania, and I suspect there are many more miles left in this not-obviously-tired genre trope.

104 Comments

1:

I find it interesting to contrast the vampire with that other intelligent supernatural threat: the werewolf. The vampire is intelligent and self-controlled, whereas the essence of the werewolf is that it loses control. Both are of apparent human origin, both are disease analogues, both are night threats, but that issue of control is what separates them.

The modern mythology tends to pit them against each other: whether Being Human or Twilight, the great cryptic fight is between the vamp and the wolf.

2:

The "werewolf as lost control" is relatively recent; in the original mythology werewolves were a different but familiar-to-modern-us threat; replay McCarthy with "werewolf" substituted for "Communist". It was a fear of the infiltrator, the witch, those with hidden power.

3:

Apologies for the mega-wildly off-topic posting, but this may be of interest to some of you - Save Sighthill Stone Circle!!

http://www.sighthillstonecircle.net/index.asp

4:

"the existential dilemma that a non-psychopath might experience if they suddenly learned that in order to survive, they need to kill at least two people a year"

Why would you need to kill two people? Unless the specific brand of vampirism requires it quite specifically, you could resort to the old staple of blood banks.
For sexy spice - get a harem of willing "blood dolls" - this can be very concensual and wouldn't require you to become a psychopath.

If your kind of vampirism requires you to feed on the psychic emanations of fear/terror as you torment the victims and ultimately they die by your hand, I'll agree.

But if you're pretty clever, patient and equipped with supernatural charm, there's many ways to gain access to blood without the killing.

5:

You'll have to wait until July next year to find out precisely why blood banks aren't a solution to vampirism in the Laundryverse. But they aren't. (In fact, they make things much worse.)

6:

Aww... That's unfair! Well, now I will most certainly be on the forefront getting it. Hopefully Tor.com's e-book store will be up and running then!

7:

I think my favourite vampire love story has to be Richard Calder's Dead Girls, Dead Boys, Dead Things.

And now I've been reminded of it I'm going to (yet again) see if I can get an ebook version.

Nope.

8:
Here in the real world, we don't see a lot of blood-sucking species

Move to Brisbane. We have leeches, mosquitoes, ticks, drop-bears and some of the sneakier bunyips. The bats have wingspans over a meter and are terrifying (if you're a mango farmer)

9:

The new RPG Night's Black Agents marries vampires with the Ronin-esque Spy drama, having former intelligence operatives in Europe discover the existence of vampires pulling the strings.

The GM is encouraged to pick and choose the kind of vampires on tap, with explanations ranging from the alien to paranormal. None of them, and none of the plots, run to paranormal romance, its much grittier.

But I like the multiple potential explanations and types of vampires on tap.

You do get a brief shout out in the book, too, Mr. Stross, in suggesting the agents could work for a Laundry-esque Agency if the vampires turn out to be Lovecraftian. (I know there's a Laundry Files RPG too, but that has a very different feel than this game)

10:

Oh come on; everyone knows that drop bears are actively repelled by smearing Vegemite on your face!

11:

I recall the great pleasure I had anticipating a hardback copy of Apocalypse Codex from that nice bookshop in Scotland you endorse, and the self-satisfied smugness I had at knowing I was buying it in the way that presented the most money to you, the retailer, and the publisher.

Right up until the eMail shooting my hopes down and stating that actually Transreal Fiction could supply no such thing. Heartbroken.

What are the odds of this one being available in hardback US-import from Transreal Fiction (assuming there won't be a UK hardback edition)?

12:

A local acquaintace, who makes a partial living in film wrote her PhD thesis on Vampirism.
She claims that in mainstream Gothick novels, at least, (leaving Varney to one side) Vamps did not appear until Stoker's classic of fear of sex, particulalry with WOMEN in control, appeared.
Certainly nothing in the 16thC or ealry 18th saw anything of the sort.

cr @ 8
Oh Fruit Bats they're almost cuddly!

13:

My thought is that if teen girls want to have boyfriends that are cold, stiff, and emotionless, they should stick to the boys they meet in high school.

14:

It depends on what you mean by a vampire. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's vampires just needed a little blood and mostly lived on emotions. Her Compte St. Germaine, who was impotent and lived on women's orgasms (without taking them away from the women) might be considered an unsavory fantasy from some points of view.

More generally, I think men are more likely to write "it's an enemy, kill it on sight!" vampires and women are more likely to write sexy vampires who can be lived with, though iirc Martin's Fevre Dream has both kinds.

The big historical trend has been monsters of all sorts having large stable societies, and more recently living openly with humans.

15:

"just one obligate humanoid haemophage would be enough to increase the UK homicide rate by around 50-70%."
It immediately popped into my head that the US would be a MUCH better place for a few vampires to hide out.

16:

Paras 2 and 3 - I think that's probably true, at least in literature (I'm treating origins in RPGs, film and Tv as being different to having a film or series based on the books).

17:

So, did you end up managing to work that line into it that you were so taken with at fjm's party? (NAOAPSTV)

18:

Interestingly, Dracula himself is about a fear of consumption/consumerism. In the novel, Dracula never actually is caught consuming himself (the only time he is actually caught in flagrante, he is feeding Lucy (from his breast); whenever he is struck he only bleeds money (so its interesting that the late twentieth century vampire stories moved POV to being the helpless victim of compulsive consumerism). The anally retentive bourgeois men are let down time and again by women and 'thirsty' working class types who can be bribed.

19:

I would have thought that Polidori's The Vampyre (1819) was reasonably mainstream

http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/6087

to the point that by 1820 it had been adapted as a stage melodrama:

http://www.forgottenfutures.com/game/ff6/vampire.htm

Not precisely the Dracula model of vampire, but close.

20:

So far everybody's list of blood eaters in nature has failed to mention fleas. The fact that they can go dormant the way they do is particularly vampire like. They don't need to eat until a food source comes nearby. (Gargoyles would be a great alien species though, they live where seasons are very long and they grow a silicate crust to hibernate through the ages long dry season. Explorers land, are awed by all the old statues in the ruins, turn backs on them...)

Another thing I always thought vampirism represents is the parasitic privileged class. Certainly some of the beatifull priveleged parasites in the more recent vampire stuff fit that one.

The case could be made that since most of the Medicare payments that are bankrupting America are made to very old people in the last couple of years of life (ie, price being no object for just keeping people alive a little longer who are clearly doomed) there is something new for Vampirism to be a metaphor for.

Another vampire like story you could tell would be about a kind of being that can morph into other forms. It goes around collecting samples of genetic material, to get new things to turn into, and also it can inject a substance into others (by bite) that transforms them. The bite is to inject actually; specimin collection is by other means.

I don't know the exact laundryverse rules, but if I got vampirism and found I had to kill two people a year to survive I would see if I could get work with Dr Kevorkian. If not that, I might try to prey on people truly deserving of it (Taliban, KKK). Finally, if I could do none of those I would go for the severely brain damaged, which would finally be getting into territory that would make me feel bad, but that I would still be willing to do. If I had no choice but to prey on ordinary people I might just volunteer to be a test subject toward a cure.

Regarding changing sexual roles and kinkiness. Nah. It's been around. All kinds of stuff, very ancient. I think when we evolved brains we also evolved the ability to learn a wide variety of ways to attempt to breed. Evolution doesn't know what's going to work, it's just like, "Try lots of stuff, wierd stuff, people from the next village, the funny looking ones that stand upright and have those big heads. Or whatever. You know what's handy. Get creative." Maybe that's also present in other animals, but it got squared when the brain grew in.

21:

Para 1 - Rather surprisingly, Charlie didn't mention clegs or midges in his list of factual blood-suckers.

22:

Australia doesn't count as "real world", fauna-wise! :-)

23:

Another view of vampires: Men secretly longing to return to the infantile milk-sucking stage?

Blood and milk mixed together is actually pretty good food; ask the Masai.

Great vampire dissertation; I'll definitely bookmark this one!

24:

"Move to Brisbane. We have leeches, mosquitoes, ticks, drop-bears and some of the sneakier bunyips. "

Same kind of over abundance in vampires here. Right now we have a foot of snow on the ground, sub zero weather and not a flying insect in sight.

But come spring they will all be back.

The anopheles are the ones with a life closest to a vampire's., Although they swarm they also come into a house as loners, ready to terrify us with their hard to pinpoint bzzzz once we've turned out the lights.

And of course, there's the deer fly, the bear fly, the midges, the deer ticks and the BLACK FLY:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qjLBXb1kgMo

The only solution is wearing a spacesuit or a car. Vampires are the enemies of public transit.

25:

What are the odds of this one being available in hardback US-import from Transreal Fiction (assuming there won't be a UK hardback edition)?

It won't be. Alas. I'll try to arrange another source for signed US hardcovers; however, it may involve a multi-month wait until I next visit the US after publication. (Because Worldcon in 2014 is in the UK, I obviously won't be making my normal/frequent trip to the USA in August of that year.)

26:

I can't remember the line in question. Jog my memory?

27:

It was a vampirical perspective on obituaries.

28:

You haven't turned poor Bob into a vampire have you??? Reassure us, please....

29:

I am so stoked for this novel (a cha cha cha!)

Also doesn't seem like anyone's given a shout out to Peter Watts's evolutionarily rigorous vampires: http://www.rifters.com/real/progress.htm

30:

Wait a minute.

Varney the vampire. Allen Varney.
Allen Varney. Varney the vampire.

Oh my god it all makes sense now.
Somebody tell friend Computer immediately, and send mr Varney to sector 3/1~3, i hear they're overpopulated.

31:

library mole @ 13
Actually if the boyfriend is “Stiff”, then surely she has nothing to worry about?
*cough*

32:

These highly annoying tiny blood-suckers do rather point up the tendency mentioned by others of their being MUCH smaller than their prey.

But yeah, my first response to "we don't see a lot" was startlement. I spend considerable effort avoiding feeding many species each summer.

33:

Although I'll be (at least virtually) in the queue for the release, it's worth noting if you're going to generalise from vampire bats the amount of blood will change a lot. Down. At least if there aren't metaphysical reasons involved in it.

Your classic vampire is cold blooded after all, only warm when they've drunk recently and so on. So the energy the bats spend on staying warm, being mammals, will not be required. Even if your vampires are mammalian they'll need a lower proportion of their body mass in food to maintain it... heat generated is roughly proportional to height cubed, surface area to height squared.

Add in a humanoid vampire not flying (at least not in a human-sized form), while vampire bats definitely fly, and that's a high-energy mode of movement, so your humanoid vampires use quite a lot less energy.

If you assume 10% of body mass in blood, and a typical reasonably fit adult to be 70kg (that's often the assumption in lift safe loads for example)... then you're looking at 7kg (roughly 7l or 12 pints). That's comfortably more than a person's worth of blood a day... ouch.

There are some obvious choices though - if there's no metaphysics and cow, sheep, etc. provide good blood, working in a slaughterhouse ought to let you feed OK, if you're a bit careful. If it doesn't have to be your classic fangs in the neck - say you're adapted with a contact anaesthetic and some sort of fang and anti-coagulant in the hand/wrist area, lots of jobs become possible. Nurses, business men (lots of handshakes), politicians, nightclub bouncer and so on are all good. And to keep the sex link, I imagine a lap dancer would be great. You probably, in all of those jobs, get to touch enough people that you could take ~100-250ml per feed and score your 7l quite quickly. Bouncer, nurse and lap dancer are probably the safest for lots of different contacts and spreading the drain.

And yes, I've spent way too long thinking about it!

Of course, if you're using it all as a literary device, you probably don't care in most circumstances. Although I suspect OGH will be different, most people writing vampire stories want dark, brooding, creature of the night. Not an in-depth consideration of their biology.

34:

Saberhagen's Count Vladimir doesn't seem to fit the general mould either. (But I think he does whitewash the historical Vlad Teppis a bit.)

35:

In your universe, can vampires thrive on zeta-globin-based hemoglobin from a living, nonsentient, but essentially human source?

(See, one of my idle kick-around-the-idea thoughts for solving blood shortages, ever since I started idly thinking about genetic engineering solutions to medical problems around 1980 or so at the age of twelve, is to engineer something similar to and based upon the mammalian yolk sac, which produces zeta-globin. It has some real advantages -- the blood created absorbs oxygen more strongly than alpha-hemoglobin, which allows the foetus to pull oxygen from the mother's blood supply to the foetus's. It seemed to me that this could have advantages in situations where an artificial blood supply was needed, as *well* as sidestepping an ethical issue by essentially engineering a modified thing that *isn't* actually part of the foetus, more like placenta or umbilical cord, rather than modifying a foetus/human for direct medical use.)

36:
In your universe, can vampires thrive on zeta-globin-based hemoglobin from a living, nonsentient, but essentially human source?

Charlie's universe seems to place mathematics above biology, so I'm going to go ahead and wager that his Vampires aren't going to be feeding on blood, per se, but on death itself - the destruction of information, etc. Maybe the blood is just a handy conduit, or maybe it's just a way of sinking in your teeth and making damn sure you stay in contact while their soul joins the universal entropy pool.

37:

Also, would it be possible to style BLOCKQUOTE tags differently? It'd be nice to quote people and have it be unambiguous that I'm actually quoting someone.

38:

I'm not going to describe how Laundryverse vampirism works. Let's just say, drinking blood for calories, proteins, shits and giggles is not the point.

39:

One approach I find extremely informative is from Whitehead's Dark Shamans, Kanaima and the Poetics of Violent Death.

The Kanaima are killer shamans who use their skills to kill people in a characteristic, horrific, and depersonalizing way (anus is perforated, causing peritonitis and a slow death, the victim is beaten savagely, and the tongue is mutilated to prevent them from talking after the attack), and gain power from "sucking the fluids from the corpse" after the person dies. They're still around too.

They are similar to the perhaps more mythic Navajo wolves, who did something very similar (major sexual transgressions and/or corpse desecration were part of becoming a Navajo wolf).

Both phenomena were real, and both were vampire/werewolf hybrids by the standards of White society.

The interesting part is that both phenomena arose AFTER colonization/subjugation, and in both cases, the dark shamans preyed on their own people, more than on the dominant whites. In both cases, the dominant white culture is largely ineffective at suppressing this violence. Notice how seldom police catch werewolves or vampires?

There's an interesting interplay here: in the subjugated culture, there's a "legitimate" form of extreme violence, yet it cannot be suppressed by colonial powers using similar violence. To do so would legitimate the violence that the Whites often denied. We are, in our own mythology, better than the people we conquered, for that's the mission of civilization. Isn't it?

In other words, how can you be better than a monster if you have to become truly monstrous in order to combat it?

One can see this as a perverse form of cultural survival. So long as a subordinate people have their special monsters that the whites can't deal with, they can't be entirely absorbed into the mainstream.

Looking at older stories of vampires and werewolves, I wonder if this is a more common phenomenon than we realize. I seem to recall that vampires are more common in Ireland and the Balkans than, say, London and Vienna. How about werewolves? They terrorize remote regions, often around contentious borders, as much or more than they prey in metropolitan areas.

Looking at vampires in recent literature, we've got a similar interplay. Many people feel like they're part of the subjugated "99 percent" even if they don't support the Occupiers. There's something about our current obsession with psychopaths and mass shooters that suggests that we collectively feel the need for violence, either against the elites, or at least against ourselves, if we fear the elites too much. In a perverse way, we may need our own, distinctive kind of violence, something that the elites are powerless to stop, just because it empowers us to be our own people, and not just the serfs of the wealthy and powerful. Perhaps it's the kind of pain that lets us know that we're still alive.

40:

@23:
Blood and milk mixed together
---
Sure, as long as you inherited the mutation that lets you handle lactose...

41:

And now I am reminded of how a certain society of mind flayers was presented in the "Spelljammer" D&D campaign setting (in at least one case I recall reading, anyhow).

They told the universe they had figured out how to exist without devouring the brains of sentient beings. They had found a fungus that met their nutritional needs.

In "reality", the fungus *was* sentient, and the mind flayers knew this. But the fungus had no facility to communicate, and the mind flayers prevented anyone else from discovering the truth. In reality, as I recall, it was an immortal genius that was constantly being tortured without being able to die, and that's how it served as nutrition for the illithids.

Anyhow. It's virtually certain that I'll pick up this new book as soon as I reasonably can under terms I find tolerable. I shall have difficulty waiting.

42:

So, I'm continuing to brainstorm (because I just can't help it) about how these vampires might work, given that "calories, proteins, shits and giggles" is not the point, and the universe in question has infovores. This led me off on a tangent.

Consider an infovore that can find nutrition from the same foods humans eat. But it doesn't use the "calories, proteins, shits and giggles", it uses the information encoded in the DNA.

Wouldn't such a creature *hate* the move towards GMO food crops?

See, a side-effect of that is, there's *tremendously* less genetic diversity in our food supply. We're moving towards a small number of genetic monocultures rather than a diverse food supply pulled from species with a large gene pool. As the move towards dietary monoculture accelerates, the information content in the DNA in the food of an entire supermarket shrinks radically.

Gee. It's *almost* like a society was being infiltrated by infovores that were attempting to pass as human, and a conspiracy of industries and governments were colluding in order to starve them out without exposing the truth.

(Vat-grown meat from a single carefully cultivated cell line might be the next logical step.)

Okay, okay, I think I can stop now.

43:

I don't know about Irish vampires, but I'll point out that the kind of things that happen to mortals in stories we told about fairies and elves require meeting the Devil at a crossroads in other cultures. And the belief in such had quite some force.

44:

"the existential dilemma that a non-psychopath might experience if they suddenly learned that in order to survive, they need to kill at least two people a year"

A book that does tackle this rather well to my mind is Glen Duncan's The Last Werewolf. Of course it's like twelve times a year for a werewolf. And they hate vampires. You may already have an opinion about it, but if you don't (generally) I urge you to read it. Might make do until The Rhesus Chart is available.

45:

Scalzi will have to do a Zombie book, now...

46:

Well, in the Laundryverse Maths is Magic.
Blood is an essential component to complete for want of a better word "spells" in many of the books.

So where does that lead us to?

What part of blood is required to make "spells" work?

I would speculate that a vampire is a person that can remove the effective "spell" part (removal of Iron from blood perhaps?, via reduction ?? ).

sympathetic magic is the primary mechanism in the Laundryverse so I would head down that route. (reminds myself to try to dig out that book on African sympathetic medicine I bought many years ago.)

anyway only 18 months(ish) to go till its out .... drums fingers.....

47:

GMO does not have to cause loss of genetic diversity, in food or anything. In fact, if you want to increase genetic diversity, genetic modification is the quickest way to do it.

48:

Even before I got to your comment, I thought about AD&D mind flayers. The parallels are pretty obvious.

IIRC, in D&D version 3.5 mind flayers have very low food requirements -- they can get by with one brain every couple weeks. I found it a very unsatisfactory gimmick, and liked the solution in 1st edition AD&D much better: There illithids are omnivorous, and eat variety of plants and animals. They need brains in order to reproduce, and (not surprisingly) find them by far the most exquisite food. Depriving an illithid of brains is like depriving a human of sex -- illithid will not like it, and will not reproduce, but will not die from it.

49:

Illithids ? t'was -4 vs wands wasn't it?

50:

Given that vampires a. don't age, b. burst into flames in sunlight, and c. can be killed (absent sunlight) only by staking or decapitation (these are the most common versions), I don't think applying physics, biology, and real-world predator-prey relationships makes much sense.

Of course, your vampires could just be ordinary living people who are sensitive to sunlight and can be killed by ordinary means, who need a lot of blood to live. (Though that biology would have to be damn clever, I have faith in your powers of goshwow to make it believable.) Why would killing two people a year be required? Can't just be the amount of blood, since they could just get pint donations from 20 people twice a year. Again, you could probably do this, but it's hard to see how.

All that said, I hear your #5 and will wait.

Ah, reading the comment thread, your #38 is even more on point, and makes everything I said above unlikely to be relevant. However, this seems to have turned into a general discussion of vampires in song and story, so I'll leave it as is.

Is comment #3 ("Apologies for the mega-wildly off-topic posting") anything other than pure spam?

paws4thot 10: So is everyone else. In fact a mere open jar of it will drive me from the room.

RDSouth 20: Another thing I always thought vampirism represents is the parasitic privileged class.

And two people a year is a TRIVIAL number compared to the human cost of having these useless privileged people.

Joan 23: Blood and milk mixed together is actually pretty good food; ask the Masai.

Or the Ancient Irish. And pork was their hospitality meat. How treyf can you get?

TRX 40: Sure, as long as you inherited the mutation that lets you handle lactose...

Dunno about the Masai, but it's prevalent among the Irish.

51:

To our host: Was including a vampire theme just a coincidence or did you have an eye on the emerging market where anything with "Vampire" on the cover sells well?

52:

Does make me wonder if one of the major characters in the Laundryverse suddenly finds that he needs to eat souls to survive, or some such. That would be inconvenient.

As for the blood and milk diet, the only reason it works for the Masai is that they also mix in a number of herbs, including some that bind some of the fat.

As for zombies, I still think it's unfortunate that so few writers ever bother learning the real reason zombies were made in Haiti, not the George Romero thing. Real zombies are quite a bit more interesting.

53:

Greg @ 12: Then what does she say about Carmilla? That book features a female vampire who is (implied to be) a lesbian that predates Stoker's work by a quarter century. In fact Stoker's work is very clearly influenced by Carmilla, to the point where early drafts of Dracula have it set in the Styria, the country where Carmilla is set, before later changing it to Transylvania. That seems to contradict claims that the sexual vampire in Gothic fiction starts with Stoker.

54:

It's no accident that vampire bats and leeches usually pick on host species that are several orders of magnitude larger than the haemophage!
Now I'm picturing the Twilight novels with three-inch tall vampires... :)

55:
Now I'm picturing the Twilight novels with three-inch tall vampires... :)

Don't be absurd. You couldn't possibly get that flat an affect out of three-inch-tall actors.

57:

My understanding of the modern vampire story is they're largely about the patriarchal fear of sexuality, both masculine and feminine. They tend to focus upon the detrimental effects of female sexual awareness (awareness of oneself as a sexual being, awareness of other persons as sexual beings) on the Victorian-era model of idealised public femininity, which largely required women be asexual breeding apparatus.

In Stoker's classic tale, there were also elements of comparison between vampirism and tuberculosis (a known bacterial scourge at the time, and one of the leading causes of death for the lower and middle classes), particularly in the death of Lucy. Lucy is described as looking ethereally beautiful toward the end of her life, something which was noted in contemporary accounts of TB deaths, which pointed to sufferers looking paler and thinner - and thus more beautiful - toward the ends of their lives as well.

The paranormal romance seems to be a way of bringing back the idealised Victorian patriarch (let's not forget there's a mild element of time travel in a lot of vampire stories, with the vampires being the last remnants of an earlier time who have lived on to be facing the present day) to face the modern, liberated woman, and either point out to her how far things have come since her great-grandmother's era, or point out how much BETTER things were back then and how much easier life would be if she just gave up these crazed longings for freedom and independence, and submitted to her master.

58:

(mumble mumble) "Pot 'o Immortality" (mumble)

59:

I think it's simpler. The Vampire is shorthand for the only predator normal people will ever face - the psychopath.

60:

the existential dilemma that a non-psychopath might experience if they suddenly learned that in order to survive, they need to kill at least two people a year.

Sounds like Interview With A Vampire with a backdrop of Spy Games.

61:

Possible, but people have made the same case for lycanthropy being partially about psychopaths (see the natural history of the European Werewolf).

Some people have made a case for rabies being a cause for vampirism as well. I won't make a strong argument for either being "the real vampire." The interesting thing to me is that, even though vampires and werewolves don't appear similar on the surface, when you look at possible causes (rabies, psychopathy, other diseases, cultural subjugation), they both come up, often mixed together.

62:

Now I'm picturing the Twilight novels with three-inch tall vampires... :)

Nah, the Nac Mac Feegle don't drink blood. And they're too dirty to sparkle!

63:

While I admire the exercise of remaking the fantasy vampire into something biologically plausible, even unto the crucifix glitch, I have to say I always found Larry Niven's ringworld vampires a lot more plausible - They used pheromones to prey on other hominids. No need for extra intelligence (They were nonsentient) or fancy metabolisms, just a lucky pheromone protein combo that works as a super signal and hacks the brains of your prey.

The pheromone angle also explains the predation on your own family group situation since the further away you are evolutionarily the worse it works, making them obligate predators on whoever falls for their only weapon.

64:

Aha, but Niven is no biologist, and forgets some important likelihoods:

1)As Charlie said, it's hard for an animal as big as a human to get the nutrition they need from blood alone (although I suppose Ringworld vampire blood-drinking could just be enough to get the prey unconcious, when the rest of its body could be eaten)

and more importantly

2)Reproductive isolation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reproductive_isolation#Sexual_isolation_by_behavior_or_conduct)
When several closely related species live in the same place, they evolve behaviors to prevent cross-breeding (mating with another species is a waste of time, since even if it does produce fertile offspring, those offspring will likely find themselves poorly adapted to either of their parents' niches.) There are exceptions, but usually there's strong pressure for mating behaviors (including pheromones and what features you find yourself attracted to) to diverge. On the Ringworld, vampires' sex-predation should increase the selective pressure to avoid inter-species sex even more. People of those species should be no more attracted to them than we are to chimpanzees and gorillas.

65:

Would this have something to do with paperclips?

66:

An argument could be made that #3 is spam, but I admit that it's off-topic, and the closest I come to "personal gain" is feeling that I've publicised something that's important to me.

If you don't know why, take note that I'm from there or thereabouts and have met the guys that the Sighthill Circle is a monument too (some of them more than once).

67:

xopherhobbit @ 50

Errr ... comment #3 does not appear to be spam – it is a trawl for small quantities of dosh to restore a modern stone circle (!) And an interesting link to information on said circle.

Heteromeles @ 52
That’s … unpleasant.

Destinationgirl @ 53
So, she’s wrong – next time I run into her, I’ll tell her.
Oh dear.

Magpie @ 71
Is this the right time to mention, errr … Out of the Dark - or not?

I’m not sure, but I don’t think anyone else has picked-up on a hint in the title …
“in a mirror”
IIRC vampires show no reflection in a mirror?
And reflections are front-to back inversions, are they not?
And the Laundryverse not only depends upon sophisticated mathematics for its’ operation, but uses “Translations” in the mathematical sense to step between world-lines & worlds through gates.
All of which suggests some sort of vampiric connection to world/line transfers, which could be exceedingly unpleasant.

68:

Ref #50 and #3 - We're not even looking specifically for money; signatures on the petition, likes and links on FriendFace, mentions in blogs... That sort of stuff will all help too.

69:

Dirk, the "emerging market" for vampires emerged about two decades ago.

This is just ...

The first four Laundry novels were to some extent pastiches of and hommages to thriller writers: in order, to Len Deighton, Ian Fleming, Anthony Price, and Peter O'Donnell.

But then the Laundry universe went all Discworld on me.

If you go back and read the first Discworld novels, Pterry was very effectively pastiching and satirizing the conventions of high fantasy. But after a few books it had acquired so much depth and so much internal structure that there was no room left for the pastiche elements; it had acquired a life of its own, and its own stories to tell.

After four books, the Laundry has gone the same way -- it has so much internal complexity that layering pastiche on top of it is going to result in an unsatisfying and mediocre outcome, or something that looks busy and over-crowded (a quart in a pint pot).

So I decided to change theme, and switch to novels focusing on specific urban fantasy tropes instead. The vampire novel is the first of these. There's a unicorn novella in the works. Zombies are already part of the background. You can figure out what the others are likely to be for yourself; let's just say that they're not going to bear much resemblance to the common-or-garden forms you're familiar with.

70:

Paws is a regular here (furthermore, someone known to me in meatspace), and as I don't generally run open comment threads I cut recognized regulars a little slack for that sort of off-topic PSA.

71:

My Little Laundry: Bureaucracy Is Magic.

Literally magic. 8-)

72:

Thanks for that Charlie.

For the record, I'll only do that sort of PSA if I think that it's of interest to the collective, and I will not gain financially.

73:

"Possible, but people have made the same case for lycanthropy being partially about psychopaths (see the natural history of the European Werewolf)."

I think the defining characteristics of werewolves, psychologically, are stupidity and extreme violence. They may be psychopaths, but they are the kind you find locked up in prisons and mental hospitals, whereas the vampire version runs the world.

74:

If the vampire is shorthand for "most likely predator = psychopath" (in that they never leave vampire-mode), then is the werewolf shorthand for the "beast within, revealed occasionally"? The most commonly-encountered example in village life would be the violent alcoholic.

I will confess to enjoying the BBC series "Being Human" (although I'm not sure whether it's jumped the shark). This improved the offspring-demanded holiday visit to the cinema to see "Nativity 2" just a little bit; you saw the major bad-guy vampire of the first two series (a fairly decent portrayal by Jason Watkins) wearing pointy ears, and being belittled by Doctor Who...

75:

Para 2 - I'd say it has, but that's partly down to the use of a "Big Bad who must be defeated" every series, rather than concentrating on the problems faced by being a ghost, a vampire and a werewolf who're trying to function as part of mundane society.

76:

Re. the stone circle, some of those who post on the blog are from Edinburgh or live in Scotland and find such things interesting. I've been through Sighthill quite a few times over the years, never knew there was a stone circle.

77:

@64:
Aha, but Niven is no biologist, and forgets some important likelihoods:
---
Yes, but the hominids on the Ringworld are evolved breeders, not adult Pak. Niven got into the problem a bit in "Protector."

Without tree-of-life to trigger adulthood, it's not unreasonable that breeder evolution would try various ecological niches, many of which, of course, would not be viable in the long term.

78:

@62:
Nah, the Nac Mac Feegle don't drink blood.
---
And a good thing, too! Otherwise the only solution would be to take off and nuke them from orbit...

79:

Looking at this thread (and drawing on a backgroun in parasitology), most bloodsuckers seem to be cold-blooded, with the notable exception of just two species of bats.

What also needs making clear is that quite a lot of blood-feeding animals do not actually exclusively use blood for sustenance; only female mosquitoes and midges drink blood, and then only to get a boost of protein so that they can lay eggs; the rest of the time the adults drink plant nectar. Larval midges and mosquitoes are bacteria-eaters.

In the Galapagos, quite a few finches will drink blood if given the chance; the much larger chicks of nesting seabirds are that easy chance. The finches again aren't exclusive blood feeders, but use the blood as a protein boost.

A large warm-blooded animal that drinks only blood and maintains a body temperature between 30 and 40 degrees celcius all the time is going to have to drink an awful lot of blood, and is going to have some pretty spectacular adaptations just to cope with the toxicity of what it eats. Blood is high in iron and protein, the breakdown products of which need getting rid of, so a blood feeder would drink quite a lot of water apart from blood, just to flush out the urea it generates.

80:

Yeah the ringworld vampires aren't really detailed that much, they serve their purpose by separating Louis from Chmee, who saves him from being eaten (He is being bitten on the neck, but presumably the vampires consume the whole victim once blood loss leads to unconsciousness)

Ringworld hominids are all derived from the same ancestor, the pak breeder, and are all branching out to fill the empty niches of the vast simplified ecosystem (Niven likes to play with simplified ecosystems, he also did it in Mote in God's eye and Legacy of Heorot).

It occurs that all the ringworld hominids are capable of transforming into pak, which involves a compulsion to eat the tree of life to trigger the metamorphosis*, so all these species come pre-loaded with a susceptibility to irrational compulsions that probably is fairly fundamental.

Otherwise the selective pressures apply to predator as well as to prey, in fact there's a far stronger pressure on the vampires than on the various races they prey on, since they literally are a one trick pony, no intellect, no strength, they rely on looking harmless until the victim falls for their scent.

Though Niven does mention the Ghouls, scavenger humanoids with powerful noses, will escape at the first whiff of a vampire.

*Of course the Pak metamorphosis is really fantastical biology, far more unlikely than Watt's vampires

81:

No idea what you mean by this comment; "illithid" is another term for "mind flayer"

82:

"Of course the Pak metamorphosis is really fantastical biology, far more unlikely than Watt's vampires"

One of the later "Man-Kzin Wars" books retconned Pak into being genetically engineered rather than evolved. They were originally tnuctipun's bioweapon.

83:

I always thought it was obvious that the Protectors were genetically engineered by the Outsiders.

84:

I'm inclined to agree. Although I might take some other routes if I had to have them warmblooded.

For example, I might have an extra enzyme chain so you react the excess N and Fe into something like Ferric ferrocyanide and have the vamps crap blue. Alternatively a system to mop up the excess N's into nitrogen (preferred if achievable) or ammonia (less good) and exhale it. Nitrogen is obviously better because it's less toxic, less odiferous and the like. That still leaves a lot of iron... perhaps the vampire's super resilience can be explained by substituting some calcium in the bones with iron. We're starting to more and more stretch the limits of what we've observed of course but there's nothing in there that's a real show stopper for a back-of-envelope biochemistry although I'm sure there's some lovely wrinkles in doing it in practise.

85:

Two a year? Work at a major metropolitan hospital, grab life-essence/soul from someone headed that way anyway, or from the crock in room 334 who has been flatlined for a couple of months but the family won't turn the machines off. Especially if you work in the ER during the middle of a major auto disaster or gang war. If you can work fast enough while saving someone else's life, nobody will notice how you lost that guy with the femoral artery wound. Or, if you don't have any ethics whatsover, in OB/GYN. Preemies often have trouble anyway. Or an abortion clinic, depending if the fetus will satisfy the urge or not.

86:

One could equally argue that vampires are "The dead that keep killing."

Part of the thing about lycanthropy and vampirism is that they are empirical diagnoses, made before the germ theory was accepted.

Lycanthropy (where a person thought he was "a wolf on the inside") was an uncommon but recognized affliction back in the Middle Ages. Thing psychotic break, where the person doesn't think he's human any more. It was also used to describe psychopaths (people who preyed on others). Later on during the reformation, it became a convenient reason to kill beggars and "heretics," especially within border communities. Gotta love that mix of mental illness and politics. Makes me wonder when someone will come up with a gun-toting lycanthrope, somewhere in red-state America...

Ahem. As for vampires. one could posit various plagues as vampiric activity--person dies, then their family members die the same way. We see an outbreak, they see the spirit of the unquiet dead coming back to take more victims. If they then unearth the corpse, they'd see the various stages of decomposition. Since they rarely exhumed corpses, they'd have little experience to draw on to assess whether decomposition was normal or not, so they could easily assume the changes were due to vampirism.

As for corporate suits as vampires, it's certainly an easy analogy. They've also been compared to ogres, stupid giants, and dragons, depending on how you read those stories. My favorite is the wendigo, the cannibal giant of Canadian Indian folklore. They are perpetually hungry, only satiated by human flesh. Unfortunately, when they eat human flesh, they grow, so that next time, they are bigger and hungrier. The Indians who tell wendigo stories love to point out that the wendigos of the world now wear suits and ties. I'd say they've got an apt description of capitalism there.

87:

Does a blood donation count as a blood sacrifice in the Laundryverse?

If so, is a blood bank a massive power source for some entities?

Or maybe destroying a blood bank is a massive blood sacrifice?

88:

hetromeles @ 86
made before the germ theory was accepted...
& where a person thought he was "a wolf on the inside"
Errr... ERGOT?
Or the "Zombie" effect described earlier?

89:

Today, whilst working on a vampirical shortish story of my own, I thought the vampire seemed more like a cat. Cats often like to fight, to laze about, have special powers at night, play with their food before killing it, and have lesser beings running around after them. Plus lots of loud sex, if they havn't been neutered. And they're not so gregarious.

So, vampires as human versions of cats!

90:

According to natural history of the European Werewolf, which is a talk about historical reports of lycanthropy given at a Skeptic's conference, the people who thought they were "wolves on the inside" appear to have been psychotic in the "detached from reality" sense. Ergot could have been involved, although the symptoms are distinctively different.

Of course, diagnosing from early stories is kind of a silly pursuit, but the real point is that the only person who thought he was transformed into a wolf was the sufferer. Some of them died when people complied with their wish to see if they actually had a wolf's pelt inside their skin.

I recommend listening to that linked talk, if you have the time.

91:

Note that we have all kinds of Wendigos here in Canada. It's amazing what they can eat. They evolve, you know.

Some of them have been exported to France for various reasons (like playing a giant Easter bunny) and have evolved to eat cows instead of humans:

http://scarygoround.com/sgr/ar.php?date=20080422

Others were illegally imported into the U.K. after having already evolved into yak eaters:

http://scarygoround.com/?date=20100927

Yes, the wild yaks of the Canadian tundra!

92:

Back to the earlier posts by OGH ....
"Other" tropes, huh?
We've already got zombies, vampire & unicorns.
I assume "Weres" may show up - then Poul Anderson wound that one up some time since, didn't he?
The wee/fae folk in some form(s) or another? Quite possibly realted to Pterry's "elves", NOT friendly - in fact a slight distortion of those could make them very nasty infovores. And, didn't Micheal Scott Rohan do something like this in "The Forge in the Forest" ?
Black Dogs?
Water-dragons - it is very noticeable that a lot of "dragons" in British folklore seem to live in water, see "The Laidly Worm" for insatance.
Salamanders?
Banshees?
That'll do for a start!

93:

Charlie: "just one obligate humanoid haemophage would be enough to increase the UK homicide rate by around 50-70%."

"It immediately popped into my head that the US would be a MUCH better place for a few vampires to hide out. "

True. A place in serious chaos has major advantages (and disadvantages).

The other good place for a vampire is some stable and quite evil system, where the vampire has enough influence to keep the system from destroying him, while the system feeds him victims.

94:

Stalin?
Lavrenti Beria?

95:

Both of them were seen in daylight.

If you're going to allow that, then why not Harold Shipman?

96:

Plus, vampires do not necessarily have to kill people to feed. I assume evolution would favour those who do not kill.

97:

Charlie @ 95
Sunlight's weak in Russia a lot of the time.
Certainly later in life, Stalin was very much a night-bird.
All night film showings, not getting up until late, satying indoors, or in a closed car.
I wonder if the George RR Martin style (Fevre Dream) is closer to it for vampires - prolonged exposure to direct sunlight will harm them, but daylight as such merelt makes them slightly unwell - an extreme sensitivity to UV in other words.

98:

Looking forward to it.

Many vampire stories were unclear about whether death was required for feeding or was just excess on the part of the vampire. I think that greatly changes the nature of the problem.

Absolutely requiring the deaths of two humans per year puts a real wrinkle on things. We live with this in the abstract right now. In the west our food and clothes and doodads are all the result of what is effectively slave labor. We all live in Omelas. But there's a difference between abstractly knowing that there are probably Chinese children dying from heavy metal poisoning and personally tearing out their throats to drink their blood.

If I were placed in the position of being an obligate vampire, told that the only two choices were killing to live and dying, I'd ask if there might not be a third option. This feels like the crisis of capitalism to me. "Man exploits man and you're either the exploiter or the exploited. There is no other way!" Or is there?

99:

Presuming that there isn't a trick to escape the situation (kill 2 people a year to survive), the only real options are (1) suicide or (2) Become either a psychopath or something functionally indistinguishable from a psychopath, by adopting a very strong ideology. (And the sort of ideology that generates the kinds of psychopaths that can actually directly kill individual people rather than merely causing collective immiseration. Going Objectivist probably wouldn't help you too much here, but most flavors of absolute Utilitarianism will be right up the alley you want.)

100:

Boy, where does Our Genial Host live where there aren't incredible numbers of bloodsuckers? We've got ticks, mosquitoes, midges, gnats, horse flies, sand flies, deer flies, ticks, leeches, ....

They're all small invertebrates, but in the water there are lampreys and hagfish.

And the very frightening candiru.....

101:

Margot Adler is evidently working on a book about the meaning of the vampire in modern society; it might be interesting as she generally writes well, and because she went from having read very few or no vampire novels to O(100) over the course of a year.

102:

In addition to being something like economic vampires, many of us are also carnivores.

My thinking on this is that meat is a cheap (in America) way to ensure complete nutrition. I'm living in the world I'm in. I think most meat animals don't have much future, so killing them is acceptable. That extreme utilitarian thing: it's what they're good for. But, I would prefer that they not be tortured. While they will not miss golden years they never knew they had, they will know pain.
I could get nicer meat, but factory farm meat is much cheaper than free range health food beef that lived well until the axe quickly fell, but the latter is still available. Why don't I eat only the latter? Because it would be weakening myself relative to those who don't care. It is never right for the good guys to weaken themselves for being good. On the other hand, regulation of factory farms to make them more humane would be fine with me, even if it made meat more expensive for everyone together.

Also, beef is actually better than chicken because one cow provides a lot of meat with its life compared to a chicken. And the flavor is meatier.

103:

Morals vs. Dollars. Something always has to give.

104:

Pulling together some references posted here and spelling it out tabloid style - why the world as we know it might change radically within the next 5 years. I suspect there may be some material here for SF writers:
http://transhumanity.net/articles/entry/our-vampire-future-wireheading-and-hi-tech-psychopaths

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on January 8, 2013 11:55 AM.

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