Under the Fang by McCammon, Robert ed., 1991

Under the Fang by McCammon, Robert ed. - Book cover from Amazon.co.uk

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I really have not been into horror since I was a kid, though I did go through a vampire phase during my teen-age years, and I am currently a zombie freak. My vampire phase ended about the time that this anthology was published sometime in 1991. This may have been the last vampire book I read during my horror-days, and though I loved it, I did switched over to SF then for good and never turned back. I have always had some serious questions about what horror is supposed to be about. Most critics argue that modern horror really is not about fear, but rather survival. I suppose that I can buy that, though what I really think is that a story about survival is nothing more than a re-branded story about the fear of death. These stories are all a little different though. The assumption here is that the world has been taken over by vampires. McCammon asked various authors in the Horror Writers Association to come up with some stories set in such a world. As themed anthologies go, its damn near perfect. There are very few stinkers in it, though the writing is a bit rough in patches. This is probably one of the best horror anthologies I have ever read, though since I'm really rusty with horror, that is not saying very much.

The Miracle Mile, by Robert McCammon: After a mistake at a secret government research center somewhere in the Dakotas, ten genetically altered humans escaped. They drink blood, are photophobic, but are not truly undead and can be killed as easily as human beings. They do reproduce like vampires, and in short order they have taken over the world. The vampires are evil, but they are also simpleminded and somewhat childlike. They do not have the sense to take care of infrastructure, and years after the scourge started few humans remain, and civilization has started to go back to the wild. A family of three with a foundling infant lived in the southeast in a home that had become a castle. One day the main character, a father in a family of three named Kyle, got a call from his father in Arizona. His father told him he had been converted to a vampire, and was coming for him and his family. In a panic the three left, but while on the road they decided to go down to Perdido Beach in Florida for a bit of vacation. The couple grew up at the beach, and they visited frequently with their son as he grew up. Upon arrival they learned that the city had been devastated by a hurricane. They found a place to stay and went out to forage for supplies. While they were out they played some games and tried to have fun together. Unbeknownst to the rest of the family, dad had decided to end his family's suffering. Before they knew what had happened, dad had murdered his wife, his ten year old son and the infant they found on the road. He was getting ready to join them, but before he could blow his own head off the rides and games on the boardwalk fired up. The vampires were enjoying the rides. The man decided then to kill as many of them as he could before he died. This story reminded me a great deal of Stephen King's short story Captain Trips, a variant ending of his masterpiece novel, The Stand. Its a post apocalypse story about revenge and hopelessness, and it was a great way to start off the anthology. Post Apocalyptic, Genetics, Revenge

Dancing Nightly, by Nancy A. Collins: A sick and demented story about a bunch of vampires that have taken over a condominium and party all night long; its essentially a vampire "lifestyle" piece, replete with bloodsport and child rape, with humans used as cattle. Fairly hum-drum at this point, I suppose. Definitely not erotica though, as stories like this often are. This one felt like an undead version of the Matrix, at the point right after Neo follows the white rabbit. A good read, but nothing extraordinary and dreadfully written in places.

He quickly pulled on his black silk shirt, black designer jeans, black motorcycle boots, black suede gloves, black raincoat, and black velvet beret. He didn't need a mirror to tell him he looked cool.

Though apparently we all did. Where's my eye-rolley smiley? Rape, Slavery, Sociology

Stoker's Mistress, by Clint Collins: A vampire coup in the United States has made the remainder of the former U.S. Congress into the equivalent of fine vintages. A Spanish vampire has just been made the envoy to Costa Rica by the vampire king. The two are long-time friends, and after the coup they retire to the underground bunker below the newly christened and painted "Black House." The king surprises the envoy by showing him an Irish vampire who had an affair with Bram Stoker and told him all their secrets. Fearing what would happen if Stoker suddenly turned up dead of mysterious causes, the king let Stoker have his vampire mistress if he would refrain from writing a non-fiction book and instead wrote some fiction. The result, of course, was Dracula. Stoker died in 1912 and the king has held the mistress in a cage since then. As the two leave to rejoin the party the envoy thinks to himself that the mistress gave humanity its last real chance to avoid what was about to happen to them under vampire rule. Good story about politics and love with a very sensual bent. Revolution, War, Politics, Love, History

Does the Blood Line Run on Time>, by Sidney Williams and Robert Petitt: The vampires have taken over the cities, leaving the rubble of the suburbs and rural areas for humans, who hate the vampires and raid them as often as possible. Dugan, a vampire thrall, serves the vampires by luring pre-pubescent girls and boys for them to rape and drain. One evening Dugan entered his master's quarters to clean up his latest mess, and found the body of his own estranged twelve year old daughter. Swearing revenge, Dugan made his way to the resistance and told them about an underground subway that the vampires used to move weapons, children and blood around. This story is about a raid on the train. War, Revenge

Red Eve, by Al Sarrantonio: A group of effeminate human beings live on the Moon under a glass dome, feasting on dishes reminiscent of blood. They watch mash-up videos of "The Last Beast," on the ruined Earth below them, and criticize each other for boring the group. Well written and strange, but out of place otherwise. Evolution, Last Man

We are Dead Together, by Charles de Lint. Vampires control big business and finance, but keep humans to create works of art. Most vampires appreciate art but are incapable of creating it themselves. One particularly well known artist, a Roma girl, has a deal with a very powerful vampire that protects her extended family. When a group of "youth" vampires kill her husband without knowing about the deal the businessman tells the artist to just get over it. No such luck. The artist secreted a firebomb into her next performance and cooked a room full of vampires. Freedom, Slavery, Art, Revenge

Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, by Chet Williamson: Robert and Jill, two surviving humans, have escaped a Nazi-like vampire empire and are holed up in a cabin in the mountains outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The vampires run a clockwork empire and move the humans around like the Nazis did the Jews, but they stay in the cities. Richard and Jill are left alone, and can even raid towns for supplies during the daylight hours. The only extraordinary problem that they face comes from the Ronin, which are genetically modified vampires. The Ronin were created accidentally by vampire geneticists who were attempting to engineer a vampire that required less blood. In fact the opposite resulted; the Ronin have animal intelligence and ravenous hunger, and wander free in the forests. After years in the woods Jill developed cancer and began the slow path towards death. Richard had no life at all save for Jill, so when she died, he set her out for the Ronin to turn (the Ronin made ordinary vampires, not more Ronin). Jill had begged Richard to behead her so that she would stay dead, but Richard was too cowardly to live without her. Richard's plot did not quite work out the way he planned. This is one of the better stories in this anthology. Its full of atmosphere and interesting detail about the vampire society that conquered our own. The characters were also developed well enough for a short story, and the conflict (much more than I noted here) is believable. This one would would have made a great novel. Love

Advocates, by Suzy McKee Charnas and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro: I was expecting a lot more with this one, and hated that it had no ending. Charnas was one of the feminist vanguard of 1970's SF and Yarbro has made quite a name for herself in speculative fiction in the last two decades. Advocates is the story of the next generation of vampire; one who attacks and feeds upon "ordinary" vampires. In it the evolved vampire was captured after draining twenty-eight others to the point of coma. The story wanted to be a courtroom drama, but instead most of the action and dialog took place in the vampire city's jail, between the accused and his appointed advocate. I tried mightily, but could not get interested. It is essentially a legal story about a superman who commits horrible acts but is revered by most of the population for his strength, and put into the cross hairs by those in power who feared him. Law, Superman, Revenge, Evolution

Special, by Richard Laymon: Brutal rape story about a fantastic looking human amazon woman who is captured by vampires and put to use as a breeder. One of the vampires thralls (or was it one of the vampires - I could never tell) fell in love with her at first sight. His sorrow and love seemed to grow each time he raped her. Love, Rape

Herrenrasse, by J. N. Williamson: Could not finish it.

Duty, by Ed Gorman: Another strong story. Keller lived in the country in a small town of humans. The disturbed, sickly vampires rarely got out of the big cities, but whenever they did they would raid farmhouses for a human. Keller's wife and daughter were caught and turned in such a raid. Rather than watch them become disgusting vampires, he killed them both during the change. Now others in town call on Keller to asses the condition of their loved ones whenever they suspect that they are beginning to change. In this story a couple from a nearby farm has called Keller because they think that their seven month old daughter is starting to change. Keller agreed to help, but a group of locals who might as well have been carrying pitchforks and torches tried to stop him from doing what needed to be done. This one was heartfelt and sorrowful. It was beautiful. Family, Love, Regret, Atonement

Midnight Sun, by Brian Hodge: Strong story, but a bit too long. In this story a group of humans run a ham-radio base on Ellesmere Island in Northern Canada during the summer, then flee into towns around the Hudson Bay during the winter while another base in Antarctica picks up the slack. Ordinarily the humans are very safe that far north as the sun never sets. Years after establishing the base the vampires have developed SPF ten million, and with a chemical on their skin are able to withstand exposure to the sun. They come at the human radio base with a few Chinook helicopters and lots of ground forces. Military, Vampires-In-The-Sun

A Bloodsucker, by David N. Meyer, III: Albinus, a vampire talent agent, specializes in giving artists the "gift" of immortality. This is probably the one story in the anthology where the vampires have not taken over the world. Its also the only one where the characters are not obviously vampires, though they are immortals. Perhaps Meyer did not get the memo, as Albinus worked in secret in a very recognizable world, not overtly in a vampire dominated world. If an artist or musician comes to him asking for immortality, he will give it, but only in exchange for 15% of everything that person earns forever. The catch is that after twenty to forty or so years of fame the artist had to go into sixty years of seclusion, until the public has forgotten about him or her. Only after that can they make a comeback, and then only for another twenty years or so before its back into a secluded place in the middle of nowhere.

He does appear to be a bit surprised, though. His mouth works like a guppy's. Maybe now he digs immortality for the first time. The thing about immortality that's tricky for the layman to grasp, it's forever. With that forever looming up, especially the forty eyars of waiting around, he's got a question on his mind. I know what that question is. Men, women, grandpas, quadriplegics, they all ask me that question, sooner or later.

Here it comes.

"How'm I gonna get laid?" he wants to know, just like everybody before him.

A great story about the psychology and the "reality" of immortality. It was all too short. Art, Psychology

Prodigal Sun, by Thomas Monteleone: A vampire researcher invented a formula that made it possible for vampires to venture into the sun. It worked, but the vampire came out of it pretty wrecked. The researcher used the formula on himself and proved to the vampire government that it could be done. A few days after the experiment the researcher was walking on the beach at night. He met a woman who was scooping up sea life that was beached and returning it to the surf. The woman was human, but the researcher noticed that he had no hunger for her. He decided to help return the creatures to the sea. The formula had done something to him, perhaps given him some of his lost life back. This story was very well written, but was difficult to read. Monetleone threw the usual vampric tropes right out the window, and really did not explain what he was trying to do. That kind of tactic is not what I appreciate in SF, and this was partly a SF story, but in horror I find it more acceptable as it sometimes adds to the weirdness factor, as it did here. Based on the strength of this story I have bought a Monteleone book, so we shall see what he can do with the long format. Scientists, Vampires-In-The-Sun, Life-Force

There Are No Nightclubs in East Palo Alto, by Clifford V. Brooks: Loosely written but altogether fantastic short story with echos of racism and poverty. Palo Alto, a very rich California community, has been divided. Vampries, who have dominated business and science live in the mansions of Palo Alto, while the few remaining humans live in the slums of newly created East Palo Alto, or "EPA." The humans are sustenance farmers and live in tarpaper shacks. Some of the humans are California-style counter-culture revolutionaries with an outlook from the 60's, and want to storm the EPA civic center during the day, while the vampires are all asleep. Even though the worst that they will encounter during the daytime are thralls, they cannot get enough people together to take the building. A few of the movers and shakers of the group form a protest committee and march during the day, trying to change people's minds about the power of protest. During those marches they notice a new breed of vampire that thrives in the sun. They never really encounter any of them, but see them watching the protest marchs. A few years later the marches have spawned a few protest rock bands. One of them plays in a tarpaper nightclub in EPA. The vampires have made too many new vampires, and the human herds are becoming depleted. The band plays on, but nobody has the heart to listen any more, and in fact the band is starting to break up. This one goes absolutely nowhere, and usually that bothers me, but not here. The story is just a short view into the life of a doomed human community in a particular town. The character relationships are all finely done, and the story is plotted very well. I liked this story. Racism, Poverty, Slavery, Evolution, Revolution

Juice, by Lisa W. Cantrell: Lonnie, a former moonshiner, has changed his profession and is now a broker in blood that he buys from back woods friends and sells to vampires. He is conflicted because he is helping the vampires, and because his young daughter disappeared years ago, probably to a vampire hunting party. One day Lonnie was cornered by a Fifth Column party of humans who threatened to kill him if he did not reveal his source. He doesn't know where the blood comes from, but fearful for his life Lonnie leads them into the woods, to an old moonshine still that he knew about. They eventually found the camp where the Fifth Column were caught and bled to death. The blood producers thought that Lonnie had led the other humans to them to bleed, so they were grateful and let Lonnie go. But Lonnie saw that his daughter was being bled in the same camp.

This one was told well - much better in fact than many of the other stories in the book - but it fell apart near the end. The connection with the daughter was just too remote. How unlikely is it that the 'shiners would capture Lonnie's daughter years after she left, then bring her back to the town Lonnie lived in? The point that Lonnie was a race traitor could have been made without all the melodrama and far-fetched plot. Revolution, Traitors, Ops

Behind Enemy Lines, by Dan Perez: Two vampire fighter pilots were shot down over "daylighter" territory. One was captured by the humans, and given over to a woman named Julia to debrief. It turns out that Julia was the vampire's girlfriend before he was changed. The vampires catch humans, turn them, then wipe their memories and set them back against their former comrades. Dumb, dumb, dumb. War, Revenge

Copyright 2009, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 3.5 star(s)


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