Archive for Poppy Z Brite

Can Sex with a Vampire Get You Pregnant? (Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Series — Breaking Dawn)

Posted in Rotten with tags , , , on August 16, 2008 by davehurwitz

Kristen Stewart as Bella Swan and Robert Pattinson as the vampire Edward Cullen in the December 12th film version of Twilight.

Shortly after midnight on August 2nd, 1.3 million readers, mostly young women, began reading Breaking Dawn, the fourth and final installment of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, a saga of romance and general sweatiness between the mortal Bella and the dreamily eternal Edward. Somewhere in the hours before dawn, a million women paused in shock and confusion. “Bella’s pregnant?” they asked in astonishment. “I thought sex with a vampire was… um… safe.”

Setting aside the obvious physical dangers of getting naked with vampires, sex with the dead seems like it shouldn’t require a condom. After all, if vampires are animated corpses, how can they have live seed? Bella’s pregnancy doesn’t feel logical. That said, is there any precedent for a human women finding herself in a family way after dallying with her dark prince? Believe it or not, there is.

The most infamous pregnancy in vampire literature (or perhaps I should say the most infamous up until now) occurred in Poppy Z. Brite’s 1992 novel Lost Souls. Side character Ann Bransby-Smith, tired of protagonist Steve Finn’s drinking, dumps him in favor of one of her college professors. Steve rapes Ann in drunken retaliation, a scene made all the more disturbing by Ann’s ambivalent reaction. She gets her own revenge through a one-night stand with Zillah, a green-eyed vampire with an axe to grind against Steve. Ann becomes pregnant. In desperation, she poisons her invalid father and flees to New Orleans. The remainder of the novel details the efforts of Steve and his childhood friend Ghost to find and save Ann. An attempt to induce a miscarriage finally kills her.

Critics and readers raked Brite over the coals, accusing her of hatred for her own sex. Few of them seemed to notice that Ann’s pregnancy is actually the second one in the book. The prologue tells the story of Jessy, who carries another of Zillah’s children. She dies giving birth, but her son survives. The child of a human mother and a vampire father is called a dhampir, a word and a concept that go all the way back to Slavic folklore. A dhampir has all the powers of a vampire with none of the disadvantages. Dhampir are the ultimate outcasts, reviled as monsters by humans and shunned as aberrations by vampires. Both traditionally and in literature, dhampir are vampire hunters.

Vampire Hunter D

Vampire Hunter D

While my favorite dhampir is the enigmatic Jen from Nancy Collins’ Sonja Blue novels, the most well known is surely Vampire Hunter D. Familiar to Americans as the central character in a pair of animated movies (thanks to poor translating, the word dhampir is consistently mispronounced in both films), the story of D began (and continues) in a series of novels by Hideyuki Kikuchi, ten of which are now available in English. D hunts vampires through the nightmare landscape of post-apocalyptic Earth. A heady mix of Lovecraft and Leone, D’s adventures bear more resemblance to early Clint Eastwood westerns than to traditional horror stories. Though convinced that his vampire kin deserve extermination, D often struggles against his own dark longings.

So, what can we take away from all this? One obvious conclusion would be that if you’re going to sleep with a vampire, you really should use birth control. Beyond that, what do the stories of Ann and Bella say about the women who read them? It’s a serious question, and I’m not at all sure I like the answer.

Lost Souls remains Brite’s most popular book, largely due to the ‘appeal’ of Steve Finn and the more compassionate Ghost. Despite their early outrage, fans still pester Brite (who has left horror and moved on to kitchen mysteries) for a sequel. I suspect alienated fans of Stephenie Meyer will do the same. Right now they feel hurt and betrayed, but like Bella herself they’ll stick around, despite the pain.

Dave Hurwitz

Poppy Z. Brite, Iain Banks, and the Lovecraft Flu (Can Reading Make You Sick?)

Posted in Rotten with tags , , on August 2, 2008 by davehurwitz

For their 100th podcast, the editors of Pseudopod have set aside their usual practice of employing living writers and have chosen one who is very much deceased. Last week they presented an excellent reading of “The Music of Erich Zann” written by the pervert from Providence himself, Howard Philips Lovecraft. To me, this was especially welcome news, as audio files are the only way I can enjoy the work of this seminal writer. You see, whenever I attempt to read the work of H. P. Lovecraft, read it from a book, that is, I get terribly ill.

Now let’s be clear. This is not the sensation that occurs when I see, smell, or in this case read something that induces a temporary nausea. I have read exactly two books that made me ill in this way, and neither of them was written by Lovecraft. One was The Wasp Factory, the first novel by popular Scottish author Iain Banks. A deliberate exercise in sensationalism and controversy, The Wasp Factor details the homicidal adventures of Frank and his older brother Eric, a former medical student who sets fire to, and occasionally eats, stray dogs. Gross as that may be, it was the origin of Eric’s insanity that sent me running to the toilet. Suffice it to say that the scene involves a poorly attended infant with an incomplete skull. Read it at your own risk.

The second book to make me vomit was Exquisite Corpse, by Poppy Z. Brite. There is a lot here the stomach could object to. Indeed, the book was rejected by a number of publishers before finding a home. There are many characters and subplots, but the main story revolves around what happens when serial killer Andrew Compton and cannibal Jay Byrne meet and join forces. Brite avoids the obvious homicidal rampage, choosing instead to let this dangerous relationship culminate in the death of the more submissive Byrne. But it is the fate of Tran Vinh, their perfect victim, that made my stomach heave. I will confine myself to saying that he is alive when Compton and Byrne begin to play with him. Exquisite Corpse is perhaps the most elegantly constructed horror novel I’ve ever seen, but I will never read it again.

Lovecraft does not make me ill in this way. There is nothing specific in his subject matter, no particular passage or turn of phrase, that trips my gag reflex. It’s just that every time I start a Lovecraft story, I get sick. It began with the novella “At the Mountains of Madness.” I remember very little of the prose, as I never got very deep into the story. I recall a description of penguins that managed to make those terminally cute birds seem grotesque and menacing. And I remember the cold. The frigid winds of the Antarctic setting seemed to chill my skin and settle into my bones as I read. Before long, I began to shiver despite the summer heat. In short, I soon came down with a bad case of the flu. I narrowly avoided a trip to the hospital, staying hydrated with frequent sips of flat ginger ale, but I ate nothing solid for a week.

A couple years later, I decided to try Mountains of Madness once more. After all, I’m always reading something, so I’ve gotten sick in the middle of plenty of other books. Again, I got a few pages in only to feel that familiar chill sink into my body, like a frozen sun radiating cold from the center of my chest. It was food poisoning this time. I spent a sleepless night on the bathroom floor, spasms twisting my gut. It took a month of acidophilus supplements to rebuild my digestion, and I have been unable to eat dairy products ever since.

Like one of Lovecraft’s protagonists, I attempted to apply reason to my superstitions the third time around. Determined to avoid Mountains of Madness, I selected “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” instead, largely because I’d recently read about the efforts of author Caitlín R. Kiernan to discover the real life inspiration for this fictional locale. To make an obvious story short, I caught the flu again, and swore off Lovecraft forevermore.

I can thank Tim Kane for convincing me to try Lovecraft on audio book. He loaned me a CD of “Herbert West—Reanimator” read by none other than Jeffrey Combs, star of the Re-Animator movies. Combs’ presence is not just a marketing gimmick, either. Anyone who hears him deliver the oddly emphasized phrase “Miskatonic University at Arkham” will never pronounce it normally again. I must confess to a moment of fear when I first popped the disk into my player. It felt as though I was deliberately eating raw beef, or maybe licking the scum beneath the trap in my sink. There were bound to be consequences. Then the story began, and I stopped worrying about my stomach and began to fear for my mind.

Dave Hurwitz