Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Read: Confederate Vampire Tales

I set myself the goal of reading and reviewing a book a week this year, for some crazy reason, and so far I've read five books (and am thus four books behind) and reviewed, a grand total of none. Thus the reading posts for the next couple of weeks will be double-barrellers while I struggle to clear the backlog.

For some curious reason, the last book that I read last year and the first book that I read this year were both vampire novels set in the American Civil War. Given that I'm neither particularly into vampire novels or war novels, this is a little bit strange, but it does give me a chance to kill two birds with one stone.

Read: Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter - Seth Grahame-Smith

First up, the quasi-biographical Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, finally the truth about the 16th US president as presented by the author of such classics as Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. How his grandfather and mother were killed by vampires, he became an adept axeman in order to better hunt and kill vampires, how Ann Rutledge was murdered by a vampire...basically, each and every notable event of Lincoln's life was actually inspired by vampires. Why did Lincoln hate slavery? Because it gave the vampires in the South an accessible food supply. There's a lot of vampires in this book. I'm a fan of historical mashup novels like this, and I'm not adverse to vampires, so you'd think that this one would be for me, wouldn't you?

As always when I read a book on an American topic like this one I'm saddened that I and many other Australians are more familiar with the biographies of men like Abraham Lincoln or Thomas Jefferson than the men who shaped my country, but in the moments when I can supress this regret I have to grudgingly admit that this book was a lot of fun, and an interesting way to find out a little more about a man who must have been very interesting, even if in reality his every waking thought wasn't about vampires.

The book itself is suposedly written by Henry, a reformed good-guy vampire of the type so often seen these days that makes those that take their vampire lore seriously shudder (most people that take their vampire lore seriously made me shudder), and it's a nice mix of his prose and entries from "The secret diaries of Abraham Lincoln", in which Honest Abe tells of his adventures in his own words. The device is used well, but the diary entries lose their charm after the first few chapters and quickly become wearing, if not as wearing as the photoshopped pictures sprinkled around the book as evidence of Abe's vampire huntin' ways (which amused me greatly the first few time, then just seemed a weak excuse for a cheap joke).

Page 123:
I cursed aloud most of the ride home. Never in my life had I been so
embarrassed or made such a drunken error. Never had I felt like such a fool. If there was one comforting prospect it was this: soon I would finally be free.

The start, Abe's childhood, his coming of age, and first vampire encounters; and the end, the climax of the war and Lincoln'sassassination by the maddened vampire John Wilkes Booth, are the standout sections. The long central section in which Abe hunts a bunch of vampires and kills them in exciting and extremely gorey ways didn't maintain my interest, but it may have been more accessable to the American audience that is no doubt more familiar with Abraham Lincoln than an Australian that's just picked up snippets here and there, mostly in other fiction.

In short, I wouldn't exactly recommend this book for most, but it gave me a few hours light entertainment on some rainy days at the end of last year, it's well paced and very readable, with the faint feeling of despoiling someone's grave and legacy that is a little bit disturbing to someone thinking of doing much the same thing (though with fewer vampires) to a bunch of dead Italians in the near future. I gave it two decapitated vampire corpses.

Read: Fevre Dream - George R. R. Martin

More satisfying was George R.R. Martin's Fevre Dream, which is devoured with all the eagerness of his blood-frenzied vampires. One of the nice things about one of your favourite authors becoming more popular is the availability of their back-catalogue, and I eagerly snapped this one up when I discovered it while looking for Christmas gifts for my family.

This one also features evil vampires supping on the blood of slaves in the South and building armies of like-minded vampires and thralls, and good vampires (or at least, good vampire) at war with them for the sake of mankind, and has a similar historical setting, but there the similarities end. The story doesn't flow quite as well as his later work, dragging a little in the beginning, and the characterisation is not as good as one comes to expect from Martin, but this is his formative stuff, and there's more than enough here to satisfy me.

What I've always liked about Martin is his ability to set the scene, his stories work well because he drops you in a location and you feel part of it. He can tell a big story, build up to the big reveal, without dropping it on you like an anvil. Well before the vampires appear in this story you're emotionally invested in Abner Marsh, steamboat captain, his dreams and his love of the river, for this could just as easily be a story about steamboats as about vampires. Then he's approached by Joshua, a mysterious stranger with a lot of money, and asked to build the finest boat ever built, covered everywhere with mirrors and running mostly at night...

Page 123:

Marsh did not cotton to Joshua's new friends, he decided in short order that they were as queer as Joshua's old friends, keeping the same night hours and all. Raymond Ortega stuck Marsh as a restless, untrustworthy sort. He was polite
enough in a haughty, indolent fashion, but Marsh got a chill off him.

Yeah, there's a good guy vampire and a bad guy vampire and they fight for control, but the scenes between them, the conflicts of their differing philosophies, are written like a vampire novel should be, pregnant with tension, mysterious, lustful, dark and brooding. Not the best vampire pathos stuff I've ever seen, with not quite enough depth to it, but it's pretty good. Martin was able to take his skill at building conflict in short stories and transfer it here to a full-length novel and it's success spurred him on to greater things.

Well worth reading in it's own right, but perhaps made even more interesting as it, alongside his anthology of short-fiction, shows the building blocks in G.R.R. Martin's career as he worked towards the Song of Ice and Fire series that has made him a household name in recent years. I gave it four hulks of once-magnificent riverboats. And of course, I have a copy I'd happily lend to you if you're keen.

Reading List Progress:
Number of Books read: 8
Australian dividend: 1.045
Science Fiction dividend: 2.5
Fantasy dividend: 3.5
Biography dividend: 1.5
Mystery dividend: 0.5

Probably Next Up: Morris West, Shoes of the Fisherman/The Devil's Advocate/The Salamander
Probably Not Next Up: William Gibson, Neuromancer

Remember, it's your last chance to score points for the last week's quiz. Results will be posted at noon ACDST tomorrow.


James said...

Hm! I'm sort of disenchanted with Martin at the moment, but you've piqued my interested in Fevre Dream. Might have to add it to my reading list. You mentioned it drags a bit - how does its pacing compare to that of the last couple SoIaF books?

UnwiseOwl said...

There are stagagmites that are faster paced than the last couple of Song of Ice and Fire books. I'd say it has a similar pacing to Storm of Swords, if I had to pick one.
This is thriller type stuff, so it's supposed to be slow to build tension, but it does start of very slow. That said, it didn't take me long to read it, so it was interesting enough even in the slow sections not to want to put down.

James said...

Okay neat, that's what I was hoping to hear.