There is another world, but it is in this one.

Paul Eluard. Œuvres complètes, vol. 1, Gallimard, 1968.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Alucarding with Saberhagen



I am loathe to dismiss so much industry by any writer. Some must enjoy, notwithstanding the negative and venomous reviews of these books on Goodreads.

The Dracula Tape by Fred Saberhagen (1975).

Saberhagen's great idea was to have Dracula tell his own story. But because Saberhagen was an writer whose great ideas typically collapsed into ashes, the utter banality of The Dracula Tapes is a heartbreaker.

This is not the Faustian or Nietzschean Dracula. Rather, it is a misunderstood and victimized Dracula. Stoker's fearful vampire hunters completely misunderstood him. He loved Mina, you see, and she loved him.

Saberhagen takes us step by step through Stoker's novel, at each turn rationalizing the villain as sufferer and lover, rather than avatar of pestilence.

Predating Rice's interview with Lestat, The Dracula Tapes gives us the vampire as lame Byronic mope, endlessly self-justifying.


*

The Holmes-Dracula File by Fred Saberhagen (1978).

A step sideways from The Dracula Tape.

When in doubt, bring in Sherlock and two or more ape-long arms of coincidence.

Saberhagen makes the aesthetic mistake here of alternating chapters presented in first-person by two different characters: Drac and Watson. The effect is soporific.

Saberhagen wants to conquer the great un-written Giant Rat of Sumatra. Does he succeed? No, but his plot is a solid beginning. The climax, considering the stakes for the British Empire suggested in the first half of the book, is deflating. We need at least a climax to equal "The Sign of Four," but this dramatic opportunity is thrown-away offstage.

*

An Old Friend of the Family (1979).

This is more like it: kidnapping and murder, an assault on the Sutherland clan of Chicago, who happen to be under the multi-generational protection of Dracula.

Add internecine vampire civil war and we have the elements of a fine supernatural thriller. The first half of the novel is deftly plotted and executed in an effortless style, suggesting Saberhagen missed his calling as a crime novelist.

This little interview between a Chicago PD lieutenant and "Dr. Corday" is more than a little hair-raising:

"....If he had the gun like you say, why was he running? And who chased him?"

A glint of something other than coolness came into the old man's eyes. Amusement, it looked like. "I would surmise that he ran to get to running water. A forlorn hope, of course. It would not have saved him. But still he was a more knowledgeable young man than some. About some things, at least."

"Running water, save him? What does that mean?" Joe knew he was losing his own coolness, his own control. The knowledge didn't help....

*

Saberhagen is a modest writer in these three novels. Style and plotting are at best perfunctory. Intermixing revisionist Dracula with contemporary genre characters like Holmes and Watson or with present-day U.S. urban crime suggests the potential for such unions, but does not scratch the surfaces later exploited by Kim Newman.




Jay
27 October 2018









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