Saturday, September 17, 2011
Adaptation: Brian Stableford
First published: 1908/1909
The Blurb: For the unhappy exile from Earth, everything increased the horror of this apparition: the dirty yellow color of the membranous wings; the face, similar in every respect to that of a man, which expressed cunning and ferocity; the protruding blood-red lips; and, most of all, the blinking eyes, scarlet-rimmed like those of an albino, set in a bloodless face with a short, upturned snout like that of a bulldog.
Sandwiched between Arnould Galopin's Doctor Omega (1906) and Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess of Mars (1912), Gustave Le Rouge's masterpiece, Le Prisonnier de la Planète Mars (1908) and its sequel, La Guerre des Vampires (1909), are a Martian Odyssey in which young engineer Robert Darvel is dispatched to Mars by the psychic powers of Hindu Brahmins. On the Red Planet, Darvel runs afoul of hostile, bat-winged, blood-sucking natives, a once-powerful civilization now ruled by the Great Brain. The entity eventually sends Darvel back to Earth, unfortunately with some of the vampires. The second volume deals with the war of the vampires back on Earth.
Le Rouge's Mars is elaborately described, with its fauna, flora and various races of inhabitants, à la C. S. Lewis' Out of the Silent Planet (1938). Planetary romance blends with "cosmic horror" as the characters switch from swashbuckling he-men to helpless bundles of gibbering terror.
The review: The Vampires of Mars was an early merging of vampire lore into science fiction and this modern press is made up by two books by le Rouge. In the first we follow the misadventures of Robert Darvel who creates a device, for a Brahmin, which can collect and amplify the will of his priests and fakirs. His reward is betrayal and he is sent (by the power of the Brahmins’ psychic energy) to Mars.
The Mars we find is no dead planet but a planet teeming with flora and fauna and many of the creatures he meets are vampiric in nature. In fact he meets three creatures described as vampires. The first being a human cephalopod, which was land based unlike the earth octopi and squid. Robert realises that “this creature must be avid for new prey; it doubtless intends to catch me in its sticky embrace and drink my blood through the thousands of suckers at the extremities of its tentacles”
The actual way it hunts involves mesmerising its prey and Robert is only saved when the cephalopod is attacked by the second vampire species – bat like humanoids called, by the Martian natives whom Robert meets, Erloor. It is these creatures who are described in the blurb. These nocturnal creatures are the primary enemy of the first book. In the second book we come across invisible creatures that Robert sees through the aid of a crystal mask. He describes one of these as “an enormous, hideous head set between two off-white wings; no body except playing the role of hands, a clump of palps or suckers, which were writhing at its base like a group of serpents.”
It is these vampires that arrive on Earth when he manages to get home. The book, itself, is pretty much as described in the blurb in that it vacillates between high adventure and horror and is all the more fascinating because of it. In his afterword, Stableford points out some of the incongruities in the plotting but as the story is told from perspective (both of Darvel and some of his friends on earth) we know that the narrative can be flawed – indeed Darvel is less hero and more a rogue (reading between the lines of his narrative we can see that he is a virtual tyrant to the Martians he ‘liberates’ from the Erloor, until he becomes bored of playing God-King).
Of course, alien vampires are not to everyone’s taste, indeed many might argue their place in the genre but, if you are of a mind to except alien vampires and want some great pulp science fiction spiced with cosmic (at times Lovecraftian) horror, then this is for you. 7.5 out of 10.