H.G. Wells, Oscar Wilde, and Nicolas Tesla are among the real people who appear as characters in THE HUNGER AND ECSTASY..., while among the fictional people are a "Great Detective" and the doctor friend who chronicles his adventures (in the manner of Sherlock Holmes & Dr. Watson) and Count Lugard, a foreigner and Eastern European nobleman whose reputation is being systematically destroyed by charges of vampirism made by an English gentleman of repute.
The "action" of the novel takes place mostly in front of a warm fire in the comfortable Victorian home of scientific and anthropological dilettante Sir Edward Copplestone. Sir Edward invites Wilde, Wells, Tesla and others he considers "the most intelligent and open-minded men in London" to hear and give their opinion on a discovery of utmost importance that he has made. He wines and dines his guests, and over after-dinner drinks spins a long and curious traveller's tale of concocting and ingesting a drug that allows him to project himself into the far future of humanity as a "timeshadow".
Sound enticingly familiar? The set-up purposely recalls H.G. Wells' THE TIME MACHINE and other early science fiction stories that dwell less on the adventures of individual heroes and more on the imagining of great overarching future histories that incorporate large doses of philosophical speculation. And the notion of "timeshadows" - wow, that gets my juices flowing!
But it all plays out far more like an authentic Victorian SF story than I anticipated or hoped.
And that is the reservation with which I recommend this book. The reader who enjoys the early scientific romances will undoubtedly enjoy this intelligently rendered contemporary variation on the theme. It might well have been written in 1895, so accurately does it recall the manner of those early SF novels.
I, sadly, found that verisimilitude disappointing, never much cottoning to the style in the first place. I almost put the book down 3/4 of the way through in despair of finding any bite to it, to use a term relevant to vampire fiction. The title is misleading. All of the hunger and ecstasy of this novel is of a philosophical kind. Which is fine... to a point. I am not a fan of the sexy vampires that populate erotic genre fiction these days. What drew me to this book was not its title but its promise of a 19th century setting with the added fillip of a vampire -- so VERY 19th century -- connection.
As a long-standing fan of science fiction and horror, I have to confess that I have always been bored by the scientific romance. When I want philosophy, I read philosophy. I don't mind reading H.G. Wells' essays at all. But I want my fiction meatier, and I want my characters full-blooded and not narrative devices. Stableford in his afterword seems to subscribe to the "characters as narrative devices" school of thought. I don't know if this is a conceit he puts forth in this novel alone, because I haven't read any of his other novels. But it doesn't jibe with my own view of fiction as an act of Creation, including the creation of characters that leap off the page and into our imaginations, authentic people who get deep into our bones as do their more fleshly counterparts. We have no moral responsibilities towards fictional characters, as we do towards the flesh and blood people who ... well, people our world. Because of this -- because we don't take the actions of fictional characters personally -- we can perhaps more easily distance ourselves from both their virtues and their vices, and learn less painfully than in real life what it means to be a human being.
But I have treated Stableford better than I treated Wells. I did finish and enjoy THE HUNGER AND ECSTASY OF VAMPIRES, while I never did make it to the end of THE TIME MACHINE.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
The Hunger and Ecstasy of Vampires: A Review
I can appreciate Brian Stableford's accomplishment in THE HUNGER AND ECSTASY OF VAMPIRES without really liking it or being able to recommend it without reservation. The author has given us a tale set in late 19th-century London, with a cast of recognizable characters (both fictional and non-) that unspools in the leisurely fashion of the "scientific romance" that the author explored in his non-fiction work THE SCIENCE ROMANCE IN BRITAIN: 1890-1950.