The following is a guest post by Curtis Hox. Curtis is an aspiring scribbler of science fantasy novels, as well as the occasional essay about science fiction and popular culture. He first encountered speculative fiction in an old-fashioned book store when he stumbled upon Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft. He is currently interested in investigating the impact of nanotech, genetic engineering and computer engineering in shaping the future.
For the lovers of science fiction and fantasy and all the wonderful blends, there may be no more pressing question, especially now that we’re awash in night-walking, undead persons with large canines – teen vampires, vampires with diaries, vamps who drink synthetic blood and vampire monsters that will rip your throat out like a grizzly. This may seem a silly thing to consider, but we’re inching forward (some smart folks say) toward a posthuman future that lands us squarely in the world of science fiction and fantasy. The standard tropes apply–cyborgs, monsters, hybrids, mutants, nonhumans, etc.–and vampires have become the most human of all (oh, vampy teenagers in love . . . imagine Travolta’s Danny Zuko in ‘Greece,’ only with a fetish for carotids).
The thing is, we should ask ourselves: What type of vampire am I drawn to?
Hot, Whiny-Ass Teenagers (the most human)
The genius of mixing young adult story telling with romance shouldn’t be lost on anyone. The issue with Edward Cullen in the ‘Twilight’ series is the same issue (and obvious success) with a host of other vampires in the genre. They’re just not scary anymore, but they’re immensely intriguing if you’re a twelve year old girl starting to feel attracted to boys.
The vampire trope has been co-opted to the point they’re now safe, sexy little things teenage girls dream about. Add neocortex-destroying shows like ‘The Vampire Diaries,’ and one of the original posthuman monsters has turned into a fey boy who should be on a Smith’s album cover. (There’s a thought: Morrissey with teeth.) Even when they try to be scary, we feel like saying, “Aren’t you sweet? Want a cookie?”
If you’re one of these fangirls (or boys), the upside is that you’re paving the way for the incremental acceptance of the posthuman. We’re decades away from any real transhuman progress that could be considered category changing, but science fiction and fantasy’s normalization of posthuman tropes, such as the likable vampire, will make future complex humans more acceptable. Hurrah, and thank you.
Sexy Dangerous (human, but something else too)
Moving along the continuum, away from human and toward the monstrous, gives us the seductive and dangerous vampires. Anne Rice paved the way for Edward with Lestat and Louis and her host of international, history striding blood suckers. But not long after Rice became the madame of vampires, Brian Lumley did his best to scare us. Take a gander at the skull with teeth on the cover of his novel ‘Necroscope’ (1986), and you’ll understand.
The reigning queen of this category is Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse Novels, HBO’s ‘True Blood.’ Here, we find a host of vamp intrigue beyond pretty boys and girls mucking it up, although the romance elements of the novels still emerge. Alexander Skarsgård’s Eric in the HBO serial dominates with Deborah Ann Woll’s Jessica following in a close second for the perfect mix of scary and sexy. Here are the sort of posthumans we might like to be–or fear. When the King of Mississippi pulls the spine from a broadcast news anchor it is one of the all time best moments on TV. But such excellence doesn’t mean ‘True Blood’ is immune to sissification. The show may not fail with arthritic vamps, but its werewolves are as convincing as actors in dog suits. I grew up thinking werewolves were crazy scary – ‘An American Werewolf in London’, ‘The Howling’, ‘Stephen King’s Silver Bullet.’ Watch the ‘Underworld’ trilogy for harrowing wolfmonsters. The Lycans would devour ‘True Blood’s’ pathetic excuses for howlers. (Also, ‘Underworld’s’ vampires nail the Gothic and provide the correct blend with Selene giving us sexy and Marcus giving us scary.)
Dangerous Evil (barely human, and very monstrous)
I prefer my vampires to reek of the Other with pure, supernatural uncanny that dissonance Blowhard Freud wrote about. Picture Gary Oldman in Coppola’s ‘Dracula’ where he floats across the floor, or scurries up the wall. And don’t forget the turning scene in which the young femme fatale awakens in all her undead, alabaster glory–and then gets stuck in the chest. Of course, these creatures are supposed to scare us. Remember, Keifer in ‘The Lost Boys?’ He’d kick Edward’s ass and then force him to polish his coffin. Or what about all the roadhouse vamps in ‘From Dusk Till Dawn?’ How deliciously confused were we by Selma Hayek’s transformation. But the big blue ribbon goes to ’30 Days of Night’ and those malformed undead who shred people to pieces. These creatures are hybrid-monsters and have broken the posthuman threshold. Such a posture makes them something different from us in a fundamental, non-human way. Yet they still retain enough of the human to make us feel the difference. And that scares the willies out of us.
Straight up Other (totally monstrous)
Finally, on the far end of the continuum are the full monstrous beings that retain nothing we recognize but feral intelligence. Here, the Giger alien is a type of vampire that, instead of drinking blood, inserts itself into a host to grow inside. More recently, the widely panned ‘Priest’ is a simple, dystopian monster movie (and not much of anything else). The vamps here are eyeless monsters with no hint of humanity. And we watch because we need catharsis (“there’s nothing out there like this, so let’s gaze at the ugly things and enjoy the spectacle”) and we just can’t look away.
Our possible posthuman future may look nothing like these imaginary beings. But by representing them, we become comfortable or repulsed. And this tells us what posture we may take if we ever do encounter the posthuman.