Capitalizing on the vampire’s near omnipresence in pop culture, from books, movies and television, editor Otto Penzler has created a fantastic tome for readers to sink their teeth, or fangs, into. Similar to his Big Book of Pulps, The Vampire Archives is must-have for fans of the genre as it gathers 82 short stories from a talented group of writers.
Authors Kim Newman, Neil Gaiman, and Penzler begin the book with a little history, some personal, about vampires in literature and movies. Although Bram Stoker’s Dracula is inarguably the most famous, Newman points out that John Polidori’s Lord Ruthven from The Vampyre (1819), a result of the same challenge Lord Byron issued that inspired Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley to create Frankenstein, “deserves to be remembered as the first vampire;” however, Penzler finds him “far too tedious to include in this collection.”
The book is broken down into themed sections. “Pre-Dracula” is the first and it starts with M.E. Braddon’s “Good Lady Ducayne” whose main human character coincidentally, or not, is a young girl named Bella, similar to the Twilight series. Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla” was an influence on Stoker and for the lesbian vampires subgenre. It has been adapted to film a number of times with varying degrees of explicitness.
“That’s Poetic” offers three poems: “The Bride of Corinth” by Goethe, “The Giaour” by Lord Byron, and “La Belle Dame Sans Merci: A Ballad” by John Keats. My advance copy has them in italics, which is a poor choice visually.
A number of well-known authors are featured in this collection. In Edgar Allan Poe’s “Ligeia” the narrator’s drugged-induced hallucinations bring into question whether he is really seeing his dead wife. H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Hound” is a fun tale about two grave robbers who quickly learn they chose the wrong amulet to take. The story is also credited as Lovecraft's first mention of the infamous Necronomicon. The title character in Stephen King’s revenge-fantasy “Popsy” serves a great comeuppance to a man who unknowingly kidnaps a young boy who is not what he appears. Other familiar names for genre fans are Charles Beaumont, Ambrose Bierce, Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, Tanith Lee, Richard Matheson, Anne Rice, and Roger Zelazny.
Of course, a book couldn’t consider itself complete without an entry from Bram Stoker. “Dracula's Guest” is a cut chapter from Dracula later published posthumously in a collection of short stories. Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is one of the few literary characters on par with the Count and his vampire run-in, “The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire,” appears here as well.
Penzler presents more than the bloodsuckers. “Psychic Vampires” features three stories by D.H. Lawrence, Doyle, and Penzler's friend Harlan Ellison whose “Lonely Women Are the Vessels of Time” presents a compelling look at the emptiness one-night stands can leave. There are similar creatures at the center of Fritz Leiber’s “The Girl With the Hungry Eyes” and Guy De Maupassant’s “The Horla,” yet Penzler has placed them in different sections.
As enjoyable as a great many of the stories are, The Vampire Archives has some stories that fall flat. Frederic Brown’s “Blood,” a very short sci fi tale about vampires with time machines who keep jumping into the future, reads more like a bad joke, but since there’s so much to offer in the thousand-plus pages, the occasional disappointment can be easily overlooked. The book concludes with an extensive bibliography of novels and short stories compiled by Daniel Seitler if your hunger for vampire tales is not satiated.