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Entry updated 3 October 2022. Tagged: Theme.


This class of Supernatural Creature has effectively spawned its own subgenre, chiefly under the Fantasy rather than the sf umbrella; they may be concisely defined as "cannibalistic reanimated corpses". Vampires, Werewolves and other mythic Shapeshifters are endemic in the overlapping genres of Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance [for Brian Stableford's definition of Vampires, and for Shapeshifter and Werewolves, see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. Vampires normally bear some resemblance (though at times the connection may be tenuous) to their traditional descriptions in what is now described as folklore, originating in Slavonic parts of Eastern Europe. Vampires were not initially, in other words, a literary creation; a rough sense of their nature preceded early written works in which they appear, the first of these seeming to be a doggerel poem, "Der Vampyr" (publication not identified but written 1748) by Heinrich August Ossenfelder (1725-1801). Early vampire fantasies of note in English include a tale embedded in Thalaba the Destroyer (1801 2vols) by Robert Southey (1774-1843) [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]; another verse treatment, "The Vampyre" (in The Minstrel of the North: Or, Cumbrian Legends coll 1810) by John Stagg (1770-1823); a brief sequence in Lord Byron's The Giaour, a Fragment of a Turkish Tale (1813 chap); John Polidori's The Vampyre: A Tale (April 1819 New Monthly Magazine; 1819 chap) as by the Right Honourable Lord Byron; and – most importantly – Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker. The latter, though based in fantasy, introduces the sf premise that vampires have fixed strengths and weaknesses which, quasi-scientifically understood, allow rational humans to counter the supernatural threat.

Early vampire sf tales of some note are Gustave Le Rouge's Mars sequence beginning with Le Prisonnier de la Planête Mars (1908; rev vt Le Naufrag, de l'espace 1912) and featuring winged Alien bloodsuckers on Mars; and J-H Rosny aîné's Le jeune vampire (1920).

Sf authors have devised many rationalizations of vampirism, ranging from pattern-book Pandemics to the blood-sustained Aliens of A E van Vogt's "Asylum" (May 1942 Astounding) to Theodore Sturgeon's wholly unfantastic Some of Your Blood (1961), whose tortured and not very dangerous "vampire" – in fact a psychotic – has a fixation on the drinking of menstrual blood which, it gradually emerges, can be traced back to childhood trauma. (Guy Endore's The Werewolf of Paris [1933] deals rather similarly with its Werewolf.) A classic of the middle ground is Richard Matheson's I Am Legend (1954), which posits vampirism as caused by a contagious disease (to which the protagonist happens to be immune) and painstakingly though at times absurdly explains every aspect of the vampire myth on this basis: bullets do not harm vampires, for example, because the bacteria secrete a powerful "glue" that quickly seals up the holes.

A far more plausible rationalization along such lines is The Empire of Fear (1988) by Brian Stableford, which like I Am Legend bases the vampire syndrome on a disease (here alien and sexually transmissible) which confers effective immortality; the traditional craving for blood is satisfied by trace quantities only; the whole is a Alternate History tour-de-force in which the secret of vampirism, guarded by trappings of horror, is eventually laid bare by the scientific method. Several other sf works place vampires in the natural order of Ecology and Evolution. They are predators in The Vampire Tapestry (coll of linked stories 1980) by Suzy McKee Charnas, featuring a lone survivor; in Larry Niven's Ringworld Engineers (July 1979-January 1980 Galileo; 1980) and The Ringworld Throne (1996), whose human-descended vampires lure and seduce with irresistible pheromones; and in Peter Watts's Blindsight (2006), which ingeniously explains the traditional aversion to crosses (in fact any pattern of rectilinear intersections) as an epilepsy-inducing Basilisk defect in their nervous systems. Susan C Petrey's Varkela are ethical vampires dispensing healing in exchange for small, agreed payments of blood. In Brian Aldiss's Dracula Unbound (1991), vampires themselves are portrayed as a vile disease, echoing the syphilis that caused the death of Bram Stoker (who appears as a character, taking over the role of his fictional vampire-hunter Van Helsing). Brian Stableford's Young Blood (1992) features a kind of hallucinated possession by an ambiguous vampire who or which seems to be the side-effect of a retrovirus. Another disease known as Nogales Organic Blood Illness is the cause of vampirism in A People's History of the Vampire Uprising (2018) by Raymond A Villareal.

Fred Saberhagen's Dracula sequence, beginning with The Dracula Tape (1975), rehabilitates Bram Stoker's creation as a virtuous vampire – this was later to become a Cliché – who only rarely takes human blood and whose nature is semi-rationalized in sf terms. The Saberhagen series also features Sherlock Holmes, for example in The Holmes-Dracula File (1978); another such crossover story is Loren D Estleman's Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula; or, The Adventures of the Sanguinary Count (1978). Robert Lory's Dracula sequence, beginning with Dracula Returns! (1973), also rehabilitates the character as, ultimately, a Superhero. He remains a powerful force of evil who weds and vampirizes the unwilling Queen Victoria in Kim Newman's Anno Dracula (1992), whose Alternate World of vampire-warped history is continued in loose sequels.

More metaphorical treatments, featuring soul-suckers rather than literal bloodsuckers, are also common. The psychic vampire of Florence Marryat's The Blood of the Vampire (1897) drains away life inadvertently by her touch. C L Moore's "Shambleau" (November 1933 Weird Tales) centres on a Medusa-like alien femme fatale with all the vampire's traditional erotic charge. The invisible Vitons of Eric Frank Russell's Sinister Barrier (March 1939 Unknown; 1943; rev 1948) feed on human emotions and foment War to maximize our fear and agony. C M Kornbluth's psychic vampire in "The Mindworm" (December 1950 Worlds Beyond), is a telepathic Mutant created by atomic radiation; the quasi-vampires of Randall Garrett's "The Breakfast Party" (November 1953 Mystic as "League of the Living Dead"; vt in Takeoff Too!, coll 1987) are a sentient psi disease that inhabits and animates dead bodies; further psychic vampires feast on living victims' life-force in Colin Wilson's The Space Vampires (1976; vt Lifeforce 1985) – which also homages A E van Vogt's "Asylum" (May 1942 Astounding) – and in David Mitchell's Slade House (2015), or on their memories and experiences in Carrion Comfort (September-October 1983 Omni; much exp 1989) by Dan Simmons. Dementors, introduced into the Harry Potter fantasy saga by J K Rowling (1965-    ) in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999), are Supernatural Creatures capable of reducing a human to a soulless vegetable. The highly unpleasant, mind-eating "slake-moths" of China Miéville's Perdido Street Station (2000) may be mutants or aliens. Energy-eating vampires also feature in The Vampires of Avonmouth (2021) by Tim Kindberg.

Witty Feminist subtexts appear in Jody Scott's vampire Satire I, Vampire (1984) and in Lucy Sussex's "God and Her Black Sense of Humour" (in My Lady Tongue & Other Tales, coll 1990), whose vampires prove to drink not blood but semen.

Other sf, or at least more or less science-fictionalized, vampire tales include: the initial Alien origin story for the Comics character Vampirella (which see); Vampire Junction (1984) and Valentine (1992) by S P Somtow; Barbara Hambly's Those Who Hunt the Night (1988; vt Immortal Blood 1988); Kim Newman's Bad Dreams (1990), with Shapeshifting vampires; John Steakley's Vampire$ (1990; vt Vampires 2008); and The Hunger and Ecstasy of Vampires (January-February 1995 Interzone; exp 1996) by Brian Stableford, recasting the myth in terms of Scientific Romance. Another important vampire title is Nancy Collins's (1959-    ) Sunglasses After Dark (1989; text restored 2000). Terry Pratchett's Carpe Jugulum (1998), though couched as comic fantasy, considers the logistics of vampire proliferation and containment; several other volumes of the Discworld sequence establish that vampires are to be tolerated only if they abstain from human blood and confine themselves to that of animals, and The Truth (2000) develops the point with appropriate vampire temperance hymns. Christopher Farnsworth's contemporary President's Vampire sequence, beginning with Blood Oath (2010), features a vampire protagonist, here defined as an "apex predator", who has been in the service of the American government since 1867. Charles Stross has a typically skewed take on the theme in his Laundry novel The Rhesus Chart (2014), in which although the received wisdom is that vampires do not exist, a working group of young City of London bankers achieves the transformation by visualizing arcane Mathematics.

Further offbeat variations include Roger Zelazny's This Immortal (October-November 1965 F&SF as "... And Call Me Conrad"; exp 1966), featuring a kind of artificial vampire warrior – an outsized albino Mutant brought up to drink his victims' blood. The same author's "The Stainless Steel Leech" (April 1963 Amazing) as by Harrison Denmark centres on a vampiric Robot that drains power from the batteries of fellow-robots. Vampiric traits are often found in extraterrestrial Monsters, like the intelligent Coeurl in A E van Vogt's "Black Destroyer" (July 1939 Astounding) or the non-sapient "hooded dracula" in George R R Martin's "The Plague Star" (January-February 1985 Analog). A bloodsucking human/moth hybrid is the titular predator of The Blood Beast Terror (1968; vt The Vampire Beast Craves Blood US).

Notable vampire series have been written by Anne Rice, blending the vampire and mummy themes in her Vampire Chronicles; by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, with her Saint-Germain vampire series from 1978 on; by Laurell K Hamilton (1963-    ) with her Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series from 1993 on; by Jim Butcher (1971-    ) with his Dresden Files series from 2000 on – in which urban consultant wizard Harry Dresden is pitted against the entire gamut of supernatural menace, though vampires on the whole predominate; by Charlaine Harris (1951-    ) with her Sookie Stackhouse series (televised as True Blood) from 2001 on – this sequence also features numerous Shapeshifters; and by Stephenie Meyer (1973-    ) in her very popular and film-adapted Twilight sequence from 2005. All these books – whose overall standard is reasonably high – lie somewhere between sf explication and supernatural horror, none of them fitting purely in one genre or the other, though leaning considerably towards Fantasy. Often sf extrapolation is confined to the Sociology of nonhuman Wainscot Societies or the Politics whereby, as in Charlaine Harris's sequence, known vampire enclaves coexist with the human majority in US communities.

With so much work of this sort being produced – the cited texts are merely a fraction of the whole – it almost seemed as if a new genre was in the making, not so much pure horror as the semirationalized "horror romance", a kind of half-sister to the Scientific Romance. A great deal of work of this kind, with Werewolves and other Supernatural Creatures stirred into the mix, is now classed as Urban Fantasy and/or Paranormal Romance [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]; Steampunk romps may also incorporate vampires and their kin, as in the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger, opening with Soulless (2009).

For the very extensive field of Vampire Movies, see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy [under links below]. Examples with entries in the present encyclopedia are The Vampire Bat (1933), whose apparent vampire activity cloaks a Mad Scientist's murderous doings; The Vampire (1957; vt Mark of the Vampire), using the traditional B-movie device that any serum derived from animals (here vampire bats) will confer the least desirable characteristics of that creature; Blood of the Vampire (1958), with another non-vampire mad scientist requiring copious blood for experiments; L' Ultimo Uomo della Terra (1964; vt The Last Man on Earth) and The Omega Man (1971), both based on Richard Matheson's I Am Legend (1954); Scream and Scream Again (1969); Lifeforce (1985), based on Colin Wilson's The Space Vampires (1976; vt Lifeforce 1985); Near Dark (1987), featuring a semi-sf cure for vampirism via blood transfusion; Daybreakers (2010); and Priest (2011), with a Post-Holocaust Wild West setting.

Television series treatments of the theme include Dark Shadows (1966-1971), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003), Blade (1998), Ultraviolet (1998), True Blood (2008-2014) and What We Do in the Shadows (2019-current).

Relevant Anthologies are very numerous indeed; about twenty were edited or co-edited by Martin H Greenberg (whom see). [DRL/PN]

see also: Kolchak: The Night Stalker; Parasitism and Symbiosis.

further reading


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