Archive | February 2013

Age of the Vampire: The Sweet Spot

As most of my readers know, I’ve written a dark fantasy novel about a vampire entitled “Drasmyr.” Talk of vampires almost always engenders talk of immortality, because that’s usually considered one of the advantages of being a vampire: they don’t die of old age. In my novel, the vampire is one thousand years old. I’ve read/seen other works where the vampire in question is 6000 or 10,000 years old or what-have-you. Generally, the age seems to be limited to several thousand years. I’ve never seen anything about a 5 million year old vampire or anything like that. But why not? There is no physical reason why a vampire could not be that old, if vampires are gifted with immortality.

 

I suppose one reason is that human civilization—or the historical record of such—only goes back several thousand years. Vampires are usually associated with civilized man. They are a tale of terror for those who huddle together on the edges of the night, thinking they are safe in their home, surrounded by others similarly secure. As vampires can appear human, though, this security is an illusion; a vampire can infiltrate a city or village and strike with ruthless savagery.

Likewise, according to most traditions vampires come from humans; they are the result of a human being bitten by a vampire, dying, and transforming into a creature of the night. In order for this to happen, there need to be humans around who can be bit. It makes no sense to have a vampire that’s been around since the dinosaurs, because there were no humans around at that time.

 

Basically, I think 1000 to 10,000 years is the sweet spot for a vampire’s age (Dracula, of course, was only 400 years old—he’s outside the sweet spot, but he’s cool anyway).  This gives them a good sense of timelessness, basically dwarfing a human’s lifespan without being too ridiculous about it. There is still that sense of a connection between themselves and their prey, for once, a long, long time ago, they were human themselves.

 

Anything above 10,000 years, in my opinion, is just excessive and runs the risk of starting a bidding war on vampire ages. My vampire is 20,000 years old. My vampire is 50,000. Oh yeah, mine is 300,000,000. Hmmph… 5 Billion. Two Trillion… at which point we have vampires older than the universe. In the end, age is just a number for one of the undead; what really makes them cool is the powers they wield and their respective personalities.

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Book Review: A Memory of Light

The final installment in the Wheel of Time series entitled “A Memory of Light” has been completed by Brandon Sanderson, the stand-in author now that Robert Jordan is dead. Like the other thirteen books in the series, it is a colossus coming in at 908 pages. It is a good book, although flawed in several serious ways.

It would be impossible to summarize with any degree of lucidity an epic tale spanning some 10,000 pages of text, so I won’t even try. I’ll give you a few highlights, if that: It is a typical fantasy epic depicting the clash between good and evil, light and dark, in this case, the Light, and the Dark One. The central main character is Rand Al’Thor, the Dragon Reborn, a young man destined to face the Dark One in battle. With 10,000 pages, there is ample room to develop a whole slew of other characters including, but not limited to: Mat, Perrin, Egwene, Nynaeve, Elayne, Aviendha, Min, Faile, Lan, Gawyn, Galad, Moiraine, Cadsuane, and a number of others. Most of these characters are too complex and well-developed to be called minor characters, so I’ll just call them major characters.

Book Fourteen, “A Memory of Light,” completes the story with the final climactic battle between the forces of good and evil. There is some development to the final battle in the form of four lesser battles, all being waged simultaneously. There is also Rand’s showdown with the Dark One. The book is a good book, if you like battles. I’d say about 700 or more of its pages is devoted to one or more of the various battles fought. Personally, I found the one or two smaller side adventures—like the stuff going on at the Black Tower—to be more interesting. Still, the battles were good.

There were a number of mistakes in this book, however. I suspect the publisher just wanted to get the book out there as quickly as possible and didn’t give it time for proper editing. The first one I noticed is fairly minor and hardly worthy of mention: Mat’s hat disappeared and reappeared inexplicably—I wouldn’t have even noticed it, except Mat went through quite a bit of effort to say how he loved his hat and had lost it, only to have it reappear on his head several paragraphs later. A minor detail, but I noticed it. The next issue is somewhat more serious. The foxhead medallions, if I recall correctly, only protected the wearer from someone channeling saidar, not saidin. Back in book whatever, Mat was killed by Rahvin’s lightning while wearing the foxhead medallion. I remember the author specifically saying that the medallion didn’t protect against saidin. There was also another issue involving the number of Trollocs the army was facing in the Last Battle. At one point, the author said the numbers were reduced so that both sides were equal, then they were being swarmed again. Again, a small issue, but there seemed to be a number of small issues which crept into the book.

Still, overall, it was a good book and it ended well. The series is complete and I don’t have to wait for any more to come out ever again. However, the unfortunate reality is that the series is fourteen books and probably over 10,000 pages long. I really enjoyed the series, but I will never read it again. It is too much of a colossus to imagine wading through that much text ever again. Perhaps in my youth, I might have considered it; but I have my own writing to work on.

Overall, I’ll give the book four stars out of five.

This review originally appeared on Goodreads on 2/17/13.

Can a Vampire Starve for Lack of Blood?

This will truly go down as one of the critical questions answered in the early twenty-first century: Can a vampire starve for lack of blood. The obvious answer is: It depends on the particulars of the vampire myth in question.

 

Let’s look at “Dracula,” for a moment, a book I’ve recently read. When Jonathan Harker first encounters Count Dracula in his castle he is an old man, although a very sprightly, spry, and strong old man. It is only after he travels to England feasting on the blood of the crew of the Demeter that he regains a youthful appearance. From this it seems to be apparent that he can go without blood, or at least, far less blood than he would like for extended periods of time and the ill effect he suffers is aging. In the book, he’s roughly four hundred years old. What, then, is the logical consequence of him going without blood indefinitely? I think it is reasonable to surmise that he would continue to age until he ultimately passed away, dying a vampire death of old age. So, as far as Dracula is concerned, this may be an alternative way to slay him: keep him confined and unfed for eternity; eventually he will die.

 

Although this is true of Dracula, I don’t think it is true of the vampire queen, Akasha, in Anne Rice’s novel “Queen of the Damned.” It’s been a while since I read the book, but I remember the vampire queen awakens from a slumber of several thousand years. If she can go that long without feeding and suffer no ill effects, it seems likely she can go on forever.

 

I have not read “Twilight” (although I saw the last movie) so I don’t feel comfortable commenting on it. It seems reasonable that they would die a Dracula-type death as well as they do seem to rely on the blood for nutrition purposes.

 

But isn’t that what all vampires do? They rely on blood for nutrition? I’m not sure. When they are undead, do they really need nutrition as we understand it? Or is the act of consuming human blood better understood as an act of horror meant to inspire fear and trembling? That goes with the myths in which the vampires are evil creatures of darkness. In such a case, blood consumption might not be necessary for survival as nutrition might not be its ultimate motivation.

 

Okay, lastly, I’d like to consider Lucian val Drasmyr, from my novel, “Drasmyr.” In the book, he is confined to a library for five hundred years during which he is a vampire thirsting for blood, but forcibly restrained from consuming it. He does not age, nor suffer ill effects despite the fact that he is not feeding. So, it would seem that he wouldn’t die without consuming blood either. But, I’ll let you in on a little secret, this very topic actually comes up in the next book, “The Children of Lubrochius.” More is to be said on this, but I won’t give away what is planned for the book. So, I will have to leave you there, wondering and full of curiosity.

A Discursion into Grammar: And Then

This might be a boring topic to write on, but today I’m going to write about the meaning of the word “and.” And then, in defense of Bill Clinton, I’m going to write about the meaning of the word “is” (just kidding). You may think this to be a relatively simple topic, but as it turns out I’ve been using the wrong definition in the first draft of my latest novel (I’m not sure how Drasmyr went, but it doesn’t matter: that’s already published, errors and all). Wrong definition you say? How many definitions for “and” are there? The answer: I’m not sure, but a bloody lot. My dictionary definitions are separated by numbers and bullet points. In my dictionary, “and” lists three numbers, ten bullet points, and one set of blocked text. So, like I said, a bloody lot. But it’s all technical. Most people don’t think that hard about the meaning of “and.”

 

Anyway, on to the issue as it relates to me and my writing. The whole thing started with my sister (she’s my primary editor) … well, actually, it began with my word processor. I use a lot of “thens” in my writing, and it had a tendency to underline (in green) a good portion of them. I, of course, unwilling to surrender artistic license, ignored most of those underlines as I often do. My sister, however, did not. This led to a discussion as to whether I should use “and” or “then” for some sentences. Should it be “He walked into the room, then fell down?” Or should it be “He walked into the room, and fell down?” Or better yet, “He walked into the room, and then fell down?” According to my computer, the first construction is grammatically imprecise, and the last two are correct. According to my sister, the first one is wrong, the second one is right, and the last one is redundant. I, of course, was fond of the first one. Or maybe the third. But I was sure the second one just felt wrong. Why, you might ask?

 

Because I was a philosophy major. No, make that a double major in philosophy and math, who later went on to study computer science. I have had logic up the wazu. I was always curious about the nature of “and” when I read in a philosophy book (or math book, or computer book) a reference to a “logical and.” I always wondered, “Is there another kind of and?” Well, apparently there is. Going by the dictionary (as I said above), there’s a lot of them. And the above sentence constructions are examples of different understandings of “and.”

 

Going by the dictionary, the definition relevant to the above constructions, is: “and” is a conjunction used to connect two clauses when the second happens first. There is an inherent notion of time in this “and.” The first clause happens before the second, so there is no confusion in the sequence of events. Using this definition, my sister is right (Don’t tell her that!). The correct formulation is “He walked into the room, and fell down.” The third formulation is slightly redundant, and, as it is generally agreed fewer words is better the “then” should be dropped.

 

After many years of training in logic, the “and” I instinctively use is the “logical and.” The “logical and” is atemporal. The closest definition in the dictionary is the one that says: “and” is a conjunction used to connect words of the same part of speech, clauses, or sentences that are to be taken jointly. Two is greater than one AND less than three. Temporality is meaningless here. Using this definition of “and,” if one were to write “He walked into the room, and fell down,” that would mean the same as writing, “He walked into the room as he fell down.” Hence, I felt an aversion to using “and” in that sentence. So, the writing in my second book is peppered with “thens” which present the same meaning, but in a grammatically incorrect way. It’s not a big issue—most people probably wouldn’t even pick up on it, and besides, that book isn’t published yet; I have plenty of time to fix it.

 

Anyway, those were my thoughts for today.

Book Review: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Last Battle

C.S. Lewis’ epic series, “The Chronicles of Narnia,” comes to a conclusion in book seven, “The Last Battle.” Yep, it’s “The Apocalypse” for kids. I can’t say much else, because that’s what it really is. Book seven is the eschatological conclusion of the series. There are a number of significant characters in the book: Shift, Puzzle, King Tirian, Jewel, Jill Pole, and Eustace Scrubb (Aslan, of course, is present in all seven books).

 

I believe I read once that the book is designed to mirror the book of Revelations, at least, to a certain extent. My own eschatological lore is a bit rusty, but here it goes: Shift is the False Prophet and Puzzle is the antichrist. Shift, a talking ape, decides his little slice of Narnia is not enough. He sets about a sequence of events to put him in control of the whole country. Puzzle is a donkey who, at Shift’s suggestion, goes about wearing a lion skin impersonating Aslan. I am hesitant to call him the antichrist because he’s really not so much a villain, as he is a clueless dupe. Shift is the real source of the problems; he sets things in motion that begin the downfall of Narnia. Still, it is Puzzle who wears the lion skin and so sets himself up as a false Aslan or false Christ. King Tirian is the last king of Narnia. He puts up a valiant fight against the forces of darkness that seem to overwhelm the forces of good in the last battle. Jewel is a Unicorn, and King Tirian’s sidekick. Jill Pole and Eustace Scrubb are the two “Friends of Narnia” who show up to help King Tirian and his friends in the Last Battle. The remaining “Friends of Narnia” also show up, excepting Susan, at the end of the novel.

 

This is a somewhat darker Narnia book than the others as it describes the end of that world. The forces of evil pretty much have the upper hand throughout the book up until the point Aslan intervenes and calls up the giant, Father Time, to bring things to their conclusion. The world is destroyed. All the inhabitants of Narnia approach Aslan, who sits in judgment of them, one at a time. I find it odd that Puzzle manages to get into the afterlife with the good people. As a character, he was a relatively innocent dupe, but he’s still the most obvious candidate for Lewis’ antichrist, and generally, Christians regard the antichrist as very, very bad. Why Lewis’ was not, I don’t know.

 

Anyway, I found this book a little more interesting than the preceding ones. Maybe I just like darker stories. Overall, it was an engaging little tale, although at one point, there might have been hints of racism. Specifically, some rebel dwarves began calling the dark-skinned Calormenes “Darkies.” However, that only happened after the dwarves pretty much rebelled against everybody (Aslan included) and kept saying “The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs.” So, it certainly is not conclusive. Aside from that, my only other complaint is that (spoiler alert) everybody dies at the end. Diggory, Polly, Peter, Edmund, Lucy, Eustace, and Jill … all dead. The story ends with a beatific description of the afterlife and what the “Friends of Narnia” and the other creatures of Narnia encounter in Aslan’s country. So, according to C.S. Lewis, it’s really a happily ever after ending. But is it? I’m not sure the very young would appreciate or understand that kind of ending.  But who am I to say?

 

Ultimately, I’ll give this story three and a half stars for an adult, and probably only three and a half for children as well, because of the dark nature.

 

This review was originally posted on Shelfari on 12/30/12

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