Nearly every story within this book is powerful and compelling in its own right. I’ll address each individual story, but overall this is one of my favorite anthologies. It’s dark, it’s gritty, and it doesn’t hold back on addressing some of the darker aspects of humanity. This book is not for those with a weak stomach, because there are descriptions and situations in it that could very well have you throwing up in your mouth a little. Think Stephen King’s THE BACHMAN BOOKS–particularly the story Rage. In other words, it’s well written, but dangerously inappropriate material.
I love it. It embodies everything I’d ever want in a collection of horror stories. Sometimes it isn’t just the vampires who are monsters, and the people who take part in the carnage can make them look positively kind in comparison. It makes your hair stand on end, it makes you cringe, it gives you chills—and several of the stories really make you think beyond the horror of the moment. Realize that this is a collection of horror stories, so there are some atrocities described in a few of them that may make more squeamish readers uncomfortable.
Now, a breakdown of each story with my thoughts and individual ratings:
THE MIRACLE MILE by Robert R. McCammon
The story of a man driven to desperation by the changes in his world. Easily the most fucked up of the lot. It’s gorgeously written and will drive you down into despair and madness right along with Kyle and his family as they search for one last miracle in his childhood playground.
DANCING NITELY by Nancy A. Collins
This is possibly the most tongue in cheek (I’m using that description very loosely) of the lot. Night clubs have become a whole new breed of WTF. Human “pets” in cage matches fight each other to the death using weapons meant to wound so the vampires below can catch the falling blood in their mouths. There’s a whole sub-culture that has sprung up around these fights. Our hero, Mavrides, goes on the hunt at a match for a date. After reading this one, you’ll never think of vampires, sex, and one night stands the same way again.
STOKER’S MISTRESS by Clint Collins
This story seemed to be much ado about nothing, as it was mostly centered around the politicking of vampires who are already in charge of everything. There’s something about deciding who will be the Big Bad for the next 300 years. Insert metaphors about how Bram Stoker’s work was all just one great big metaphor for the oncoming onslaught by vampires, more metaphors about how the dumb humans didn’t listen so now look what has become of them, all the while inserting (genteel) evil cackles and daintily keeping one’s pinky in the air as we sup from the throat of a supplicant, and, ohhhh, look how eeeeeeviiiiil we are since we’ll be killing them instead of turning them, etc, etc. It was all a little too pompous and political for my tastes. It wasn’t poorly written, but this one didn’t do it for me.
DOES THE BLOOD LINE RUN ON TIME? by Sidney Williams and Robert Petitt
As the title implies, this one is about how “cattle” are shunted around the country via train. Members of the human resistance take exception to the treatment of their fellow man and fight back. This one had some awesome battle scenes with moments that remind me of Ash kicking ass in Army of Darkness, but the ending may shock and/or slightly disappoint you.
RED EVE by Al Sarrantonio
This one is the most surreal of the bunch. Vampires observing the history of their kind, the fall of humanity, the rise of vampires as master. It has a more poetic feel to it than the rest, and I love the imagery used. I find it to be the most decadently evocative story of the anthology.
WE ARE DEAD TOGETHER by Charles de Lint
I adore this story to pieces. Mostly because I love stories about the Romani (gypsies), and I find that this one really captured all the things I loved about gypsies as they appear in the World of Darkness (hey, I’m a gamer nerd, what can I say?). This was a beautifully rendered piece that shows that even a traitor to the human race can learn the folly of their ways and recant.
CALM SEA AND PROSPEROUS VOYAGE by Chet Williamson
This story is one of the most heartbreaking, even discounting the first in the book. A couple have fled to a cabin deep in the woods to hide from all of the changes that have been made to their world, only going to the city on day trips for supplies when absolutely necessary. For the most part they live off the land. Fearing discovery by the rogue feral vampires (ones too starved and changed by government experiments to be controlled), they have built quite a cozy retreat for themselves, far away from any remaining humans or vampires who might kill or enslave them. But then the unthinkable happens, and one of the pair becomes desperately ill. While this one has some of the more graphic descriptions in it, none of it feels gratuitous. Expect to tear up (and gag a bit) during this one.
ADVOCATES by Suzy McKee Charnas and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
What if the vampires encountered something that, to all appearances, was one of their own—but could walk in the day and fed upon the blood of both humans and vampires? One such creature is captured and experiences the new justice system that has been put into place by the vampire overlords. They don’t understand that, to this thing, they are human—and he is the only true vampire, here long before any of those who now vie for the same food source. A fascinating concept, but the story felt weighted down by a lot of bickering on the part of the vampires and a lack of activity. Not bad, but it didn’t really hold my interest as much as the other stories.
SPECIAL by Richard Laymon
This one ranks up there on the Fucked-Up-O-Meter. Humans are being bred for food by certain vampire camps. The vampires enlist human men to be both foot soldiers to guard them during the day, and to hunt down fresh food and act as stud to captured women. One such soldier, Jim, finds a woman who strikes him as special. He does everything he can to make this valiant and defiant warrior-woman his. Don’t worry—the guy starts out as very despicable (warning: rape ahoy), but he definitely redeems himself in the end. If you look past the WTFery to the message beneath, this is a hell of a powerful story, and one of my favorites in the anthology.
HERRENRASSE by J.N. Williamson
Harry knows that Edward is a vampire, and that the vampire killed his wife and daughter. He seeks revenge against this abomination against God—but finds himself trapped in the vampire’s lair, and then kept as a pet to keep Edward company. Though Edward is a soulless creature, he finds himself becoming attached to Harry, caring for him, reading with and debating various subjects (religion, philosophy, politics, etc) with him. What might Edward do once he realizes how much he truly needs and depends on Harry? Another favorite of mine. Utterly beautiful execution.
DUTY by Ed Gorman
This is a sad and lonely story about a man who takes it upon himself to be the one to send infected townsfolk to their final rest. You see how utterly tragic it is for him when he has to put down one of his own, as well as how the other townsfolk view him. Poignant and beautifully written.
MIDNIGHT SUN by Brian Hodge
A secret cadre of humans are hiding in the Arctic wastes, holed up and passing beneath the notice of the vampires—until now. A paramilitary unit is sent to both test a new scientific breakthrough that lets them walk in the day, and to subjugate the last remaining human resistance. I thoroughly enjoyed this one, but just like the previous story (DUTY), it’s surprisingly an emotionally painful read.
A BLOODSUCKER by David N. Meyer, III
Take a walk in the shoes of an undead literary agent. Makes 15% look like a small price to pay now, doesn’t it?
PRODIGAL SUN by Thomas F. Monteleone
This is one of the most moving stories in the anthology, and another personal favorite. Vandemeer, a vampire scientist, accepted the price of becoming a guinea pig for a new serum that may allow vampires to walk in the sun. The process is painful, but you can imagine the benefits. While walking outside of the lab and experiencing the surf and sand close to sunrise for the first time since his change, he encounters a lone human. She teaches him a new lesson about humanity and compassion. And he realizes that his real work may not lie in the lab, but in doing something greater.
THERE ARE NO NIGHTCLUBS IN EAST PALO ALTO by Clifford V. Brooks
A first person narrative by a human hiding in an underground colony of vagrants composed of the few humans who remain free of–though they are occasionally hunted by–the vampire masters on the surface. You never learn his or her name, but you see the hopelessness, the way the world has changed, and the fear of losing their girlfriend, Gail. It all culminates in a shocking but fitting close.
JUICE by Lisa W. Cantrell
Juice. It’s like moonshine. The government only allots a certain amount of blood to the vampires now, and all the humans have to come to government-run facilities to donate regularly so that the vampires don’t kill off or turn all of their supply. Sometimes, though—sometimes one of the vamps wants more. It’s all about supplying the juice. (Warning: this is another one that, while quite good, will set off your WTFery meter.)
BEHIND ENEMY LINES by Dan Perez
A trio of vampires in the military out on patrol are caught by humans. The leader recognizes one of the humans as his lover from when he was alive, and that helps him remember who he was, and who he should be. Not quite as emotionally impactful as the other stories, but still a decent way to end the anthology.
This isn’t the only book I’ve read that addresses a post-apocalyptic world where vampires have taken over everything, with humanity forced into servitude under their undead masters. However, it is the best. I cannot recommend it more highly to fans of vampire horror stories where the vampires are reveling in their darker nature instead of moping over the beautiful sadness of death (a la Louis from Anne Rice’s INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE). If you liked Stephen King’s SALEM’S LOT or David McAfee’s 33 A.D., chances are you will enjoy this book.