Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Taste for Blood by Various Authors

A Taste for Blood A Taste for Blood by Martin H. Greenberg

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Here is what I thought about each story in this volume:

Carmilla by Jospeph Sheridan Le Fanu: Three stars. I posted a review separately.

Murgunstrumm by Hugh B. Cave: Three stars. It was pretty good. Had some moments that inspired terror. I really felt for Paul and rooted for him to prevail. I also liked his sidekick Jeremy. The vampires were thoroughly evil and disgusting, and Murgunstrumm was a complete and utter ghoul.I won't even say what he was up to. I picked up a little bit of xenophobia in this story. Why is it that in the older stories, the bad guys are always described as having thick, disgusting lips? What's wrong with having thick lips. Seems a little bigoted to me. Pretty good if you like over the top vampire stories.

The next story was The Hills of the Dead by an author I admire a lot for his pioneer offerings in the sword and sorcery genre, Robert E. Howard. Okay it was really good, except for the racist leanings. I will try not to hold it against Howard. He lived in a time that was really not very enlightened when it came to equality and diversity. The fact that he does have a protagonist that is a Black man who has saved Kane's life numerous times and who is not protrayed as a stupid 'bestial' type does help me to feel he is not a total racist. Also knowing a little about his life, he had friends that were Black. But I really did not like this passage: "The girl was a much higher type than the thick-lipped, bestial West Coast Negroes to whom Kane had been used." Again with the lips: "...,her lips were not too thick." Argh!!!! That really turned my stomach. That is the problem with pulp fiction from this time in the United States. You do have to wade through a lot of racist, xenophobic, elitist, bullcrap. I still like Howard for his good storytelling abilities, but I will cringe everytime I read passages like this. Another issue I had with this story is the word 'black' was way overused. I think it must have been used at least thirty times. As a writer I know that it's hard to avoid using the same word, but I do wish that Howard had a thesaurus handy when he wrote this story. Other than the overuse of 'black' and the blatant racism, I'd give this story four stars.

Black Thirst by CL Moore is a different soft of vampire story set on Venus. The vampire is a creature older than any other life on the planet, who has bred a race of beautiful courtesans as his food source. Our hero is Northwest Smith, sort of a gunslinger in space. He might be a tasty snack for said vampire. But not if Northwest and his trusty raygun have something to say about this. This was a very good story. My first experience with CL Moore, I am happy to say I enjoyed reading it. How could I not? She writes very well, in a poetic and visual style. Plus it's a gunslinger in space fighting space vampires. Too good to resist. I'd give it four stars.

The Shunned House by HP Lovecraft is the next story. It was pretty good, 3.5 stars. Typical Lovecraft. He's a good writer, and he started out calmly telling his story, but slowly he builds up with fantastic terminology that you only read in a Lovecraft story. Lovecraft is no stranger to hyperbole and drama. I still don't know what the heck is going on. But it's probably some tentacled, blobby thing. Oh, could I be right? You have to read it to find out. No spoilers here. One interesting thing about this story is the pretty optimistic ending (I know it's sort of a spoiler, but in a good way). I think this is atypical for Lovecraft (or as much as I have read by him). I think that calling this one a vampire story is a bit of a stretch. I'm just saying.

The Feasting Dead by John Metcalfe follows Lovecraft. I must say this story was a waste of time. Meandering and going nowhere. Almost getting scary but wandering off course so that the thrill is denied. I am quite angry that I spent my time reading it. I think the author just wanted to show off his French-speaking skills. 1 star.

Pages From a Young Girl's Journal by Robert Aickman is the sixth story in this anthology. This is told in the form of journal entries. It isn't especially interesting. Perhaps the writer wanted to highlight the inane existence of this young girl, and contrast this against the transformation that is occuring to her as she is slowly being transformed into a vampire by her lover. I would give it three stars, because it is well-written, but rather dry for my tastes. I thought the story I read by Aickman in "New Terrors" was better.

If you like your vampire tales lurid, then you will love Beyond Any Measure by Karl Edward Wagner. It has sex, drugs, rock and roll, violence, reincarnation, lesbian love (ahem, sex), you name it. It's set in London in the late 70s or early 80s. This story even has a Freud-esque parapsychologist chap who hypnotizes people to get them in touch with their past lives. Wagner is a very good writer. He is great at transmitting detail and setting the scene. I am not that interested in reading about people who take drugs liberally and party like it's 1999 in all the ways possible. But you definitely have to hand it to him in his skill of writing this type of setting. I felt like I was right there (and I wanted to head for the door). I must say this is a unique type of vampire story. I've read it twice now. The first time was in The Vampire Hunter's Casebook a few years aog. However, I was still surprised at the ending. You are drawn in, feeling a sense of slowly escalating dread and fear for what awaits the young woman Lisette. Although I got a little bored with some of the scenes, I wanted to keep reading to see where Wagner would lead me. While some of the lurid elements (including lesbian love scenes) weren't to my taste, and the psychobabble and girl talk was a bit long-winded, I'd give it three stars for having an interesting premise with building tension and a climax/conclusion that was superbly executed.

Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons takes a different approach to the vampire legend. Well-written, sharp, suspenseful, and I hated this story. These creatures that appear to be humans are complete moral vacuums. You may laugh and say, "That's what a vampire is, chica." I beg to differ. I do believe that some vampires are completely evil. But some are basically more like predators. They prey on humans to live. These creatures in this novel have made a game out of 'using' humans to do horrible deeds to win bets against each other. They are psychic vampires, and derive energy from humans. But there is a cruelty that is callous and unnecessary in how they use and destroy humans. Human life has no value whatsoever. This story is full of collateral damage, which I absolutely abhor in novels and books. While it succeeds in unnerving the reader, it also feels this reader with a complete repugnance. Let me state the obvious: I won't be reading this story ever again. I'd give it two stars for the quality of writing. I cannot give it any more because of how awful it made me feel to read it.

The Yougoslaves by Robert Bloch takes place in Paris, and the city comes alive in Bloch's deft hands. The glamor of Paris is paired to seedy squalor of the underbelly. This story is like believing you're going to get hit with a right-cross and instead getting socked with the left instead. I was expecting one thing, and was excited to see what Block would do with the Yougoslaves. Boy was I wrong. I love those stories that manage to surprise me. This was an enjoyable story. Definitely a four star story.

Bite-Me-Not, of Fleur de Fur by Tanith Lee was a beautiful fairy tale. I read the last sentence and felt tears come to my eyes. It was a story about love in its most unlikely, but somehow destined form. This story had vampires in the sinister form, but also a sympathetic vampire. It had bad, cruel humans, and a good-hearted human. It was a story of self-sacrifice and how love can come of it. I rate this story five stars for its beauty and for the pure message in it.

The Lost Art of Twilight by Thomas Ligotti was lyrical, descriptive, and sad. I felt for the narrator, who lived a twilght existence, but passes over into something much worse. The best kind of vampire stories, I find as I get older, are the ones where you feel a sense of pity for the creature of the night. The ones what make you sad, and wonder, what if? Maybe he could change. This is one of those. I'd give it four stars. This is my first story by Ligotti, making me glad I have The Shadow at the End of the World in my tbr pile.

Blood Disease by Patrick McGrath was another good story. It was very well written, and I liked the narrative tone, kind of like a person who is relating a case (in the past tense, but also in present tense). It's set in the 1930s and has a very interesting premise, that seems to veer away from what is expected with the information given at the beginning of the tale. Small town people in England drain the blood of the rich people who come to stay at their hotel, out of psychosis induced by pernicious anemia. This story has one of those endings that's like a question mark. This is a four star read.

An excerpt from the novel Midnight Mass by F. Paul Wilson is the next story in this collection. This was a five star read. Wilson is an incredible writer. He has an ease with words and is a very good storytelling. This story was chilling down to the bone. But at the same time, it was uplifting, showing something I believe down to the bottom of my heart. That faith can save a person. You don't have to be perfect or without sin. As long as you have faith, you can be saved. The vampires in this story were awful. To think how they desecrated that church. I love how the unlikely heroes, Joe (a disgraced, alcoholic young priest), and Zev (an orthodox Jew who has seen most of his people destroyed by the vampire horde) take a stand and take back the church that was Joe's first parish. It might be one of my favorite stories, other than the Tanith Lee story.

My absolute least favorite story (even counting the awfully boring The Feasting Dead) is Son of Celluloid by Clive Barker. This was a one star story as far as I'm concerned. It turned my stomach. I hate stories, movies, and tv shows that are gross just to be gross. This story had that sort of vibe to it. The concept was interesting, and I can't go into it without spoiling the story, but a malevolent presence made the movies come to life and kill in an old movie house. This is my second story by Barker, the first being the story that was adapted into the Candyman movie. That was a good story but pretty dark and scary. This one was not to my taste at all. I just had a yucky feeling during the reading of this story that only intensified as I read the last sentence. I did like the heroine, Birdy. That was the only thing I liked about it. Sadly, this was the last story in the anthology, and I ended this book with a bad taste in my mouth.

To sum up, this was a fairly good anthology, but at the same time, this was probably the worst one I've read so far. I've had good luck with horror anthologies, and this one hurt my streak a little bit. There were too many stories that were dry or left me annoyed, indifferent, or in the case of Son of Celluloid and Carrion Comfort, disgusted. However, I have to give this anthology three stars because of the high quality stories in here by Ligotti, Moore, Howard (despite the racist elements), Lee, and Bloch. I was a bit disappointed with Carmilla because of the dry moments, although it was a solid tale. If asked by a vampire fan if they should read this story, I would say yes with reservations. I do think there are some stories in this volume that are unmissable, but there are also some that I could have lived without reading. If that person is a devoted vampire story fan, I'd say go for it.

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