I recently read three vampire novels back, to back,to back. They were Salem’s Lot by Stephen King, which was written in 1975, They Thirst, written by Robert McCammon in 1981, and The Light at the End by John Skipp, written in 1986.. I’m not sure what spurred this particular vampire reading frenzy, except maybe I was thinking about Guillermo Del Toro’s The Strain, which was written in 2009, and wondering how that show went so wrong.
I read somewhere, that They Thirst was McCammon’s direct response to Salem’s Lot, and I wondered if the Strain was a response to these novels, or if Del Toro was inspired by Dawn of the Dead instead. (I don’t know if The Light at the End was inspired by anything other than living in the 1980s.) I think The Strain went wrong because it didn’t follow the formula, for writing a proper Vampire Apocalypse, correctly.
I blame Stephen King for the modern day Vampocalypse novel, (and John Russo for the plague of zombie novels glutting the market the past ten years), as that seems to be the template everyone is using. I don’t blame McCammon for anything because he’s a peach. He’s an excellent writer, but for some reason, he still flies below most people’s radar, which is a shame, because he keeps trying. He’s written about some kind of Apocalypse at least several times in his career, and has gotten little love for it. They Thirst was about vampires, Swan Song was his answer to The Stand (and superior to it, in my opinion), and The Border was about alien invasion. Oh yeah, Stinger was his first alien invasion novel, which involved an intrepid group of survivors trying to stop ….well you get the drift! John Skipp, too, is too far below most people’s radars to inspire anyone but other horror writers. I mean if you’re just a casual reader of horror novels you’ve probably not read either McCammon or Skipp.
I was struck by how the end of the world always happens the same way, and why it usually starts in America. I mean, vampires have been in Europe for quite some time, but there’s something about the US that spurs ambition. I do prefer the end of the world with a supernatural element, as they seem more like the adventure novels of my youth, and are less predictable than some other apocalypses, like those kind where you are required to run off and live in the woods, for some reason. I’ve been avoiding zombie apocalypse novels because, after a while, they all start to blend together, and there’s a distasteful element of sexism and racism that runs through a lot of those books, consisting, as they do, of the white male fantasy of surviving the end of the world with nothing but a gun, a conveniently helpful PoC, and a conventionally pretty blonde. After Swan Song, I avoided nuclear holocaust stories, too. That was the last Nuclear Apocalypse that was any good.
If you’re going to write a Vampire Apocalypse novel you’re going to need a horde of, preferably vampires, although anything that sucks blood will suffice.The vampires must have a Master. That is non-negotiable. You will also need an intrepid group of survivors ,or hunters, who are ordinary, untrained adults, from all walks of life, at least one child, and some basic weaponry. In some special cases you can rely on the weather.
Salem’s Lot is about hordes of vampires taking over a small town, so it’s not really apocalyptic, in the global sense, but it’s still effective nevertheless. An intrepid group of citizens, consisting of a writer, a medical doctor, a woman, a kid, and a schoolteacher, get wind of the Master Vampire’s plans, and many of them lose their lives to prevent his plans from coming to fruition. (Yes, that is the basic plot of the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Wait a minute… that’s the plot of all the seasons really.) I blame Stephen King for inventing the Scooby Gang, that destroys the Big Bad, before it can end the world.
They Thirst is about hordes of vampires taking over Los Angeles. It’s not as good as Salem’s Lot, although it’s a direct response to it. Still, it’s McCammon’s first really big horror novel. This one also contains a gang of intrepid vampire slayers, consisting of a cop, some bikers, a reporter, a kid, and an actress, because wtf, its LA. She is required, by law, to be added.These folk, with the help of some weather, manage to destroy the Master Vampire’s plans. It’s tone isn’t much like Salem’s Lot, which is quieter and a bit more contemplative, suitable to its small town location. They Thirst is huge, bombastic, and epic. It has over the top, freakish characters, and is much more fast paced. Its LA so that’s appropriate. Most of these characters die.
The Light at the End takes place in NY, and involves an intrepid group of monster hunters, consisting of a group of bike messengers, a goth chick, (who also happens to be a teenager), fighting a vampire in their city. The Master vampire, who starts the whole mess, spends most of his time offscreen, in Europe. The Light at the End also shakes things up, by having a very young vampire, who is really incompetent at being a vampire. A lot of people die but only a couple of the monster hunters do. That’s how bad he is at his job. It’s been decades since I first read this book and I still haven’t completely recovered from it. Like Salem’s Lot, this is one of those books you have to re-read every few years, to reassure yourself that it does, in fact, exist. Incidentally, John Skipp wrote another apocalyptic book titled The Bridge. It’s notable for none of its characters being intrepid anythings. They’re just random people caught up in a situation where the world is trying to kill them. Most of them die.
I have not recently read the Strain though, so I was mostly reminded of the ineffective TV show. I took some time to contemplate exactly why I hated the show, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s definitely the characters, and the acting, because it is following the formula. I feel like I could’ve overlooked all the other issues, if I hadn’t read and liked the books, and liked the characters in the books. I actively hated the ones in the show, and wanted the vampires to eat them. I did not feel that way about any of Salem’s Lot’s characters. Anyway, a group of intrepid vampire hunters try to foil the Master Vampire’s plans to take over New York City, and some of them lose their lives.
You would think I would get tired of intrepid people destroying something they think is bad, but this idea is pretty much a trope in most books, TV shows, and movies, and even a few cartoons. I know I initially blamed Stephen King for this but, you know what?, I really have to blame Lord of the Rings. No really, I just described the plot of LOTR , and I love Lord of The Rings, so I guess me, and a bunch of people, really don’t get tired of this particular plot.
At any rate, if you’re going to write a Vampire Apocalypse story, and this is true whether its for TV, movies, or books, this is how you MUST do it. Doing anything else will upset the laws of the universe, and may bring about the end of the world, in which case, an intrepid group of people will have to gather together to stop you.
So, that’s my particular advice for writing the Supernatural Apocalypse, which is basically, rip off The Lord of the Rings, by having an intrepid bunch of people (usually men) try to kill something, to prevent it from taking over the world. You should probably kill a few of the men.
I don’t know why women can’t form a group of intrepids to kill something. Maybe its because we’re less bloodthirsty than men, and will try to outsmart whatever it is through diplomacy, thereby bringing about the end of the world we’re supposed to be preventing. In which case, we would have to be destroyed by an intrepid group of men, I guess.
No. Homer’s The Odyssey doesn’t count because that wasn’t about an intrepid bunch of men saving the world, but a bunch of intrepid men trying to get back home, after saving the world.
Okay, I’ve used up my quota for use of the word INTREPID, this week, so I’ll have to continue this discussion of the Supernatural Apocalypse in my next post focusing on The Monster Apocalypse, where I will talk about Kaiju, Pacific Rim, Stephen King’s The Mist and F. Paul Wilson’s Nightworld. Some intrepid people will be mentioned.