Thursday, December 16, 2010
First Published: 1996
The Blurb: It is January 1895. An Eastern European Count arrives in London, fleeing from La Sûreté and vile rumours involving vampirism and the spoliation of young women.
While dining with his old acquaintance Oscar Wilde, the count is invited to hear a strange tale told by an anthropologist who has found a means of travelling through time. Uneasy at first because this time-traveller appears to be acquainted with Bram Stoker – who once entertained the rumour-monger responsible for his flight across Europe – the Count eventually agrees to accompany Wilde.
The Count, however, is far from the only unusual member of Wilde’s entourage: the other witnesses to the tale include a young man in the process of publishing his own account of a time traveller’s adventures, a respected scientist who is also a pillar of the Psychical Research Society and a grey-eyed man who likes to think of himself as a “consulting detective”. But it is the Count who hears news that revives his desolate spirit, and the Count whose life is profoundly changed by the experience.
He is, after all, the man best equipped to savour the hunger and ecstasy of vampires.
The Review: This was a great little find. I am more aware of Stableford through his work of making obscure Nineteenth Century vampire texts available to a modern, English reading world. He had, however, written three vampire novels himself and I have acquired all three. This was the first I have read.
This is, in a sense, a revisionist history and also a science fiction novel. It is not, I would say, steampunk – despite the Victorian setting. He creates a situation where many famous Victorian and literary figures coincide – this is the revisionism I spoke off, with our Count Lugard the central character. Mention of Vambury, De Maupassant, Stenbock and Stoker all play to the vampire genre enthusiast but they are taken out of their own history and injected into the world Stableford creates.
Injected is actually a good word, as the time travel 'device' in the book is no machine but a drug that unfetters the soul, as it were, and allows it to move into the future.
The future we see begins with a world where vampires, another species who refer to themselves as Overmen, have become the dominant species and humanity are cattle – bred to be docile and farmed for their blood. As Copplestone, the traveller, relays his adventures we discover that each one is further into time and the actual vampirism is a minor element of these stories.
The vampirism in our own time is a neatly handled subject – almost secondary and hinted towards with a couple of nice genre twists that I won’t spoil. This was a piece of good, solid sci-fi with a Victorian and (dare I say it) almost spiritualist underpinning. 7 out of 10.