Thursday, July 06, 2006

Vampires and Mr. Spock

What does a vampire have in common with Spock on STAR TREK? No, I'm not suggesting that the average vampire has a hyper-rational mind, pointed ears, or green blood. For me, however, the appeal of these two figures is similar. Both epitomize the allure of the Other in a form I find particularly attractive. When I first read DRACULA at the age of twelve, I was fascinated by the vampire because of the sensuality of blood-drinking. The scene in which the Count forces Mina to drink his blood was my favorite from the beginning. Many years later, I figured out that I responded this way because sharing blood represents the ultimate intimacy, and I still find such scenes deeply stirring. But I'm also drawn to vampires because of the same reason I love Spock. In each case, the character occupies the liminal position of "almost human but not quite," a person who looks a lot like us, yet with enough physical differences to appear exotically attractive, and thinks something like us but differently enough to embody a skewed perspective on the human condition.

Another appeal of both Mr. Spock and the typical vampire of fiction springs from his special relationship with the heroine. A Vulcan rigidly controls his emotions, never expressing them in the presence of others except during Pon Farr. The average vampire regards himself, with considerable justification, as superior to "mortals" (a term I don't find quite satisfactory, since vampires CAN be killed, but oh well) and views most of us as prey or, at best, pets. The heroine, whether a fan author's Mary Sue alter ego or a vampire novel's unusually strong woman, becomes, through her unique qualities, the Vulcan's or vampire's exception to the way he treats most of us mere mortals. In Suzy McKee Charnas' incomparable THE VAMPIRE TAPESTRY, psychologist Floria Landauer is the ancient vampire Weyland's "exception," just as, to cite an extreme example, Clarice Starling is Dr. Lecter's "exception." Depending on the behavior and attitudes to which our heroine becomes the exception, this situation may open a deeply troubling can of ethical worms, but that topic holds material for another entire essay. That's my main problem with the misnamed film BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA. Unlike many fans, I find Vlad unattractive (well, aside from his physical appearance, which strikes me as silly, not sexy) because his “love” for Mina constitutes making her an exception to the cruel way he behaves toward most other people, including Lucy, a pattern of evil and cruelty the film apparently expects us not to notice.

For a fascinating treatment of the reasons why the Beauty and the Beast motif appeals so strongly to many women, why we love monsters and feel regretful when the Beast turns into a handsome prince, go to Suzy McKee Charnas' website ( under the “Byways” category and read her enthralling essay “The Beast's Embrace.” You can find these principles explored fictionally in her VAMPIRE TAPESTRY and her unforgettable Phantom of the Opera novella, narrated by Christine telling the TRUE story, “Beauty and the Opera, or the Phantom Beast” (reprinted in Charnas' collection STAGESTRUCK VAMPIRES AND OTHER PHANTASMS).

Another provocative examination of the allure of the alien monster, the Other, is presented in James Tiptree Jr.'s short story “And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill's Side.” A character in this tale, cautioning the narrator against falling prey to the fascination of meeting his “first real aliens,” theorizes that human beings throughout our existence as a species have been erotically attracted to “the stranger” because exogamous mating “kept the genes circulating.” With aliens from other planets, although mating may sometimes occur, interbreeding can't (unlike in the STAR TREK universe). But many people find aliens irresistibly attractive because of the “supernormal stimulus” effect. If we innately desire the Other, we desire aliens most of all because they're EXTREMELY Other. Tiptree's story presents this compulsion as completely negative. The human species is having its soul bled away by this fruitless yearning for aliens.

Needless to say, I don't find the situation quite so hopeless. Friendship or love between human and nonhuman is the central theme of many of my favorite stories. One reason I was a devoted fan of the TV series BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was that there was absolutely no chance of Vincent's ever becoming “normal” in appearance. Vampires appeal to me on the same level. Therefore, I'm always a bit disappointed when a paranormal romance ends with the “cure” of the vampire, which, to me, negates the very aspect of the character that attracted me. Hence, unlike many vampire fans, I don't respond strongly to the resonance of the “repentant bad boy” theme, in which curing or at least reforming the “evil” or “cursed” undead monster plays an integral part. Having the human partner become a vampire doesn't please me much more, in most cases. (There are exceptions, of course. A talented writer can make either of these scenarios satisfying to me for the duration of a novel.) The ongoing challenge of two unlike characters embracing across the distance between them is what I enjoy reading and writing about. My own vampires are members of a different species who appear human and live secretly among us. Like human beings, they have the capacity for ethical choice and can be either good or evil. I've written an entire book of literary criticism about this kind of vampire fiction, DIFFERENT BLOOD: THE VAMPIRE AS ALIEN, published by Amber Quill ( The bibliography contains many titles that would interest fans of alien romance. For my own series, all the stories and novels are listed in internal chronological order at the “Vanishing Breed Vampire Universe” link on my website (

Another series that fascinates me because of its “alien vampire” dimension as well as the search for understanding between people who differ from yet depend upon each other is the Sime~Gen series by Jacqueline Lichtenberg and Jean Lorrah. It takes place in a distant future when humanity has mutated into two halves (“larities”). Gens look like us but produce the essence of life-energy, selyn. Simes, who look like us except for tentacles on their forearms, need selyn to live but don't produce a measurable amount themselves. They have to draw this substance monthly from Gens or die in agony. You can learn about this universe in depth at When the first book, HOUSE OF ZEOR, was newly published, I saw Jacqueline on a TV interview in which she said the novel would appeal to fans of vampires and STAR TREK. It sounded like my kind of book, so I read it, and she was right. In fact, on the Sime~Gen website you can also read about how the “Star Trek effect” shaped the writing of HOUSE OF ZEOR. Which brings us back to vampires and Mr. Spock!


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  3. I wonder how many of us embrace 'the Other' because in reality we feel we are as well. Not that I'm suggesting, Margaret, that you're a Vulcan or a vampire. :-) But rather pointing out that although we may quantify ourselves as 'humans' or 'Floridians' or 'romance readers' or 'SF fans', we are uniquely solitary creatures. Our designations or naming of ourselves as part of [fill in the blank] are artificial. Philosopher Alan Watts touched on this when he remarked humans tend to think of themselves as a brain under which dangles a bag of skin. That's our physical boundary; that's what keeps us from merging or melding with others.

    So we are the Other. I think reading about the vampire or the Vulcan resonates with us. No one really understands what we think or feel. We can try to explain ourselves to others but they never really 'know' us. That's not always a comfortable realization. So when we come across in a novel a character that embodies or expresses our own feeling of strangeness, we respond.

    In the same way, each of us inside hides his or her own Beast. Groucho Marx quipped that any club that would have him as a member he didn't want to belong to, and I think, again, many of us feel that we. We know what we are REALLY like and feel if others did as well, they'd abandon us.

    So the Beast or Other is just as often ourselves. And when that Beast or Other also becomes hero, we feel heroic, too. ~Linnea

  4. Ooooo, Linnea. You make me want to sweep you off to Brazil and make you happy forever after. I just love how your brain works.

    Not only do we identify with The Other because of our innate isolation, as you suggest, but also because The Other Can Take Us Away From All This.

    Since Margaret, who continues to awe me with her thoughtful analyses, brought up Dr. Lecter, and he made an appearance this week on another blog, can I use him as an example? Clarise, his exception, was pretty much rejected and marginalized by the old boy network of the FBI. Lecter, her other, swept her off to Brazil at the end.

    So the cannibal, not calgon, took her away.

    It's so heartrendingly romantic an idea, isn't it? deepdeepsigh.

  5. Jooyce said: Ooooo, Linnea. You make me want to sweep you off to Brazil and make you happy forever after.

    Muito obrigado, Joyce! Estou feliz que gosta minhas palavras... (as they say in Brasil)... ;-) ~Linnea, who is sadly out of practice with her Portuguese...

  6. Linnea, you are so right about our feeling like the Other! I have a strong belief that the tale of the Ugly Duckling is the personal Ur-myth of most fantasy and SF readers and writers. We identify with the character who becomes a misfit because of traits that at first appear negative but ultimately prove to be valued. We don't feel as if we belong in the mundane world. We would not be surprised to learn we're really fairy changelings or orphaned aliens. Weyland in THE VAMPIRE TAPESTRY, who's an anthropologist and therefore understands human myths, uses this common fantasy to seduce one of his victims -- playing on the feeling that "this has all been a mistake," you aren't one of these ordinary mortals, someday the starship will come to take you home. James Tiptree Jr. (who was actually a woman, of course) has a heartrending story along this line, "Beam Us Home." The protagonist clings throughout his life to the belief/daydream that he was placed on Earth by highly advanced aliens as an observer, and someday they will take him back where he truly belongs. I suspect that the story's last scene, in which he's killed in Vietnam and wakes to find himself on a starship, is supposed to be his dying delusion, but I prefer to believe the author intends it as a genuine eucatastrophe.

  7. Margaret wrote: "someday the starship will come to take you home."

    You's not? I've been waiting all these years in vain?

    ::Linnea pounds head on desk:: ~Linnea (Never Give Up, Never Surrender...)