Brief History of the Vampire Novel

'Salem's Lot - Illustrated Edition I had a gap in the schedule, and it seemed like a good time to start getting ready for October. Somewhere, I decided that I wanted to take a look at a broad swath of a genre, and because I was working on the pieces for October (Dracula), it seemed as good a time as any to see where Dracula fits into the larger picture. Turning to social media, I asked people what they thought were some of the more important vampire novels, coming up with an impressive list that had to be really pared down. There's not a lot of surprises on it, but I did find a couple of interesting points: many people believe that Dracula was *the* original Vampire novel, when in fact it's predated by a number of others that in turn influenced Dracula. Stoker's novel proves to be a tipping point, and there's quite a bit of variety after the publication of that book.

Head over to Kirkus Reviews to read A Brief History of the Vampire Novel.

This is something that's bothered me over the past couple of years: frequently, people complain about how the Twilight novels have shifted away from the traditional vampire story. The results, in a bit way, show that this isn't the case: there's not really any 'traditional' vampire novel, because each has taken on liberties of their own, driving right down to the folklore level. Camilla, Varney, Dracula, Lestat, Edward, and others all have their quirks and differences. I've yet to sit down and steel myself to read Twilight, but at some point, I'll get to it.

For this piece, I was quite a bit looser than usual with my research: The Internet Speculative Fiction Database and Wikipedia provided chunks of information on each book, but at points, I went to author's pages and book profile pages for the main details. Of the books that I consulted, The Annotated Dracula is a particularly good resource that I'll talk about when the Dracula piece is up. Another excellent source that I've since found is In Search of Dracula, by Raymond T. McNally & Radu Florescu, which has a good section on post-Dracula vampire works.

Exploring Lost Worlds: Arthur Conan Doyle

My latest post for Kirkus Reviews is now up online. Originally, I'd planned on finishing out the Science Romances with Olaf Stapledon, but when went to see if there was anyone else to look up, I found a notable author that I'd overlooked: Athur Conan Doyle. While he's most famous for his Sherlock Holmes stories, he was a prolithic author. His novel The Lost World captured my imagination as a young teenager, and I was surprised to learn that there was more to that series. Read Exploring Lost Worlds: Arthur Conan Doyle's Professor Challenger over on Kirkus Reviews.

For Sources, I had a couple of notable ones:

Billion Year Spree, by Brian Aldiss: One of my usual suspects for sources, surprisingly, Robert and Disch's history don't have any mention of Conan Doyle's character, which surprised me a little. While he doesn't seem to have had the impact of other authors, his stories DO demonstrate the impact of Jules Verne and Edgar Allan Poe.

Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters, edited by Jon Lellenberg, Daniel Stashower and Charles Foley: This is a stunning biography of Arthur Conan Doyle, one that intertwines an incredible number of letters with commentary from the authors, which provides an incredible insight into Conan Doyle's busy life, his relationships with other authors and family members, and how he set about writing his stories. Highly recommended for anyone interested in ACD's works.

Survey of Science Fiction, Frank Magill: this series has been a good standby for background reference on the books, and this one had a good critical overview of The Lost World and the Poison Belt. (I think - I'm typing this up from memory, and I'm pretty sure that I read entries about these books from here - I'll check when I'm home.)

Looking Far into the Future: Olaf Stapledon

My latest post for the Kirkus Reviews Blog is now online! This time, we look at English author Olaf Stapledon and his legacy.

This wasn't the post I'd intended on writing. Originally, this spot had been reserved for an examination of C.S. Lewis, and his Out of a Silent Planet trilogy. As this series has progressed, I've been finding a curious evolution of the science fiction genre, something that will continue on. From Mary Shelley to Edgar Allan Poe, to Jules Verne and to H.G. Wells, there's a facinating story of connections between one another. They found influences in themselves, carrying ideas forward in time, changed somewhat by each author's own sensibilities. Following Wells, we find Olaf Stapledon, who by his own words, was influenced by Well's stories, and in turn, inspired future authors, such as Sir Arthur C. Clarke. Lewis, I found, wrote in opposition of the two, and in a large way, was out of place in my plans.

Stapledon was an interesting author, and the scale of his works and the themes behind them set him apart from just about everyone in the field at the time and since. Read Looking far, far into the future: Olaf Stapledon over on the Kirkus Reviews Blog!

Here's the sources that I used:

An Olaf Stapledon Reader, By Olaf Stapledon, Robert Crossley: This book contains an interesting series of articles on Stapledon and his writing, but of most interest is two letters that Olaf wrote to famed science fiction author H.G. Wells, where he talks about how the former influenced him.

The Olaf Stapledon Online Archive: Located here, the site for Stapledon contains a fairly good biography on the author and some of his works, which provided a good starting point for the biographical elements of this piece.

Last and First Men / Last Men of London, Olaf Stapledon: This collected version is a book that I picked up on a whim a couple of years ago, and read through Last and First Men. An interesting story, it was of particular use when coming to understand the scale and scope of Stapledon's efforts - it's a very different, but highly recommended novel.

Arthur C. Clarke: The Authorized Biography, by Neil McAleer: This biography of Clarke helped to confirm that Clarke was influenced by Stapledon's works.

Survey of Science Fiction, vol 3 & 5, Frank Magill: This book as usual, is a particularly useful resource in looking up specific meanings and critical reviews of Stapledon's works.

The History of Science Fiction, by Adam Roberts: Roberts devotes an entire glowing section to Stapledon's legacy, shedding some light on the author and his influences.

Jules Verne and the Moon

My latest column for Kirkus Reviews is now online! In it, I talk about Jules Verne and his fantastic novel From the Earth to the Moon. I recently talked about Jules Verne in his influences that stemmed from Edgar Allan Poe, and I was particularly eager to return to Verne as a major influence in the genre.

As July is the month where the anniversary of the first Moon landing rests, it seemed like a good time, although Verne's novels are closer to what happened with Apollo 8, when we first reached the moon, rather than landed on it.

You can read the entire post here on the Kirkus Reviews Blog.

Here's the sources that I used for the column this time around:

Billion Year Spree, by Brian Aldiss: Once again, this book provides some good background on Verne throughout, and some of the things that helped to influence him and this particular novel, especially Poe.

The History of Science Fiction, by Adam Roberts: Roberts takes to task the idea that Verne 'predicted' how the space program would be put together, and lambasts critics who nitpick Verne's story based on some of the things that he didn't get right - such as using a giant cannon to get into space as opposed to that of a rocket. It's a good perspective to understand, that Science Fiction doesn't predict the future, but if the author is paying good attention to science, it's not likely to change all that much, as is what happens in this situation.

Survey of Science Fiction Literature, Vol 3, by Frank Magill: Magill's collection provides a great analysis of From the Earth to the Moon in its themes and influences.

To a Distant Day: The Rocket Pioneers, by Chris Gainor: This is a great history (and part of a great series on human space exploration, the Outward Odyssey series), on the development of Rocket Science. This book points to a number of rocket pioneers who read Verne's stories and looked at how they could do that in real life. Verne's an excellent example of where fiction becomes real.

Jules Verne, inventor of science fiction by Peter Costello: This biography of Verne was a particularly good one, outlining much of Verne's life and some of his influences when it came to science fiction and storytelling. He's a facinating individual, and the book provides a good overview.

From the Earth to the Moon and Round the Moon, Jules Verne: Of course, there's the source material, in this instance, a nicely bound collected edition that my wive brought with her when she moved up to Vermont. This edition has several other books, and I look forward to someday reading it to whatever children we end up having.

H.G. Wells and the War of the Worlds

Over on the Kirkus Reviews blog, I've turned my attention to one of my absolute favorite science fiction novels, The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells. One of the absolute greatest works of science fiction, it's a story that I've continually learned more about ever since I first read it so many years ago. You can read H.G. Wells and the Decline of Empires over on Kirkus' website.

There's a couple of unconventional sources that I used for this book, in addition to the usual sources that I've gone to continually for this column:

Experiment in autobiography; discoveries and conclusions of a very ordinary brain (since 1866) by H.G. Wells: For specific author information, one can do no wrong by going to the original source: in this instance, H.G. Wells' words. This biography is a little frustrating at points, because he doesn't talk much about his actual writing, but it does give a unique insight into his daily life around the time that he wrote this novel.

Not Separated at Birth: Dracula and The War of the Worlds (Panel Discussion): This wasn't a reference work, but a panel that included Charlie Stross, Gregory Feeley, David G. Hartwell, Faye Ringel and Darrell Schweitzer at Boskone 38 this past spring. I took a number of notes during the talk, which was a facinating comparison between both Dracula and War of the Worlds, and examining them as colonization novels, which was part of a much larger genre at that time.

Prophets of Science Fiction, H.G. Wells: Last year, the Science Channel and Ridley Scott partnered for a series titled The Prophets of Science Fiction, which examined a handful of notable authors in the genre, including H.G. Wells. Taking their works, the program alternatively looked at biography and some of the modern technological innovations that are fairly loosely associated with the works. It's not mindblowing, but the episode on Wells provides a nice snapshot of his life, while glossing over some of the other things, such as his social politics.

The usual sources of Billion/Trillion Year Spree, by Brian Aldiss, The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of, by Thomas M. Disch, The History of Science Fiction, by Adam Roberts and the Survey of Science Fiction all had their own praises and examinations of Wells' novel and provide a great background into that era of science fiction.

The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells: of course, the best source of them all is the original novel by Wells. It's a brilliant, stunning work that is fresh every time I go back to it. If you've never read it, you're missing out on a classic.

A Meeting in Geneva: The Birth of 'Frankenstein'


My first column on Science Fiction / Fantasy history is now up on Kirkus Reviews! For this first post, I couldn't think of a better place to start than Mary Shelley's creation of Frankenstein in 1816 during a summer trip to Geneva, Switzerland. Frankenstein isn't the first root of the genre, but it is a solid one that has since been built on. You can read the article here on Kirkus Reviews.

A couple of books that I used for the research for this article were:

  • The letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and edited by Betty T Bennett. A three volumn collection of Shelley's letters, which provided a great insight into her life around the time of her writing the book.
  • Survey of Science Fiction Literature, by Frank Northen Magill. This is an academic survey that I recently picked up that has essays from thousands of SF/F novels up to around the 1970s. Great series of reviews of books, which also provides an incredible amount of background on the author and a critical look at the literature.
  • Frankenstein (Norton Critical Editions) by Mary Shelley and J. Paul Hunter. This edition provides the original text of the novel, plus extras: commentary, a couple of letters, and several reviews of the novel from when the book was first published.