(Ace Books, $6.99, paperback, 400 pages, 1 October 2002; ISBN: 0441009867.)
The Vampire Sextette is an anthology of six new novellas. Each tackles vampires and eroticism in a distinct and idiosyncratic manner.
First up is the book's best story, "The Other Side ofMidnight" by Kim Newman. Set in the author's Anno Dracula continuity, it appropriates, with political savvy, disparate pop culture references. The results are both entertaining and provocative. Archetypes resembling Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Lieutenant Columbo collide with Newman's vampire heroine Geneviève Dieudonné as she unravels a plot to resurrect Dracula that somehow involves Orson Welles.
Nancy Collins's "Some Velvet Morning" offers a fascinating take on the Countess Elizabeth Bathory legend, but the appearance of the author's recurring heroine, the vampire-hunting vampire Sonja Blue, is intrusive and unnecessary.
Brian Stableford, in "Sheena", creates an intriguingly obsessive portrait of an imaginative and intense Goth who refuses to conform to stereotype. This gripping tale is brashly romantic, yet never sentimental.
S.P. Somtow's extravagantly prurient "Vanilla Blood" is an orgy of spectacular excess that had me laughing out loud.
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's "In the Face of Death", set in 1855 San Francisco, oozes more sentimentality than blood. It is adroitly told and the historical reconstruction is convincing, but the tone is too melodramatic and the emotions of the characters are too simplistic.
The book closes with the weakest contribution, Tanith Lee's "The Isle Is Full of Noises". On an isolated island, a writer is haunted by an unusual vampire. The prose is overly affected, the characters are artificial, and the narration is both cold and disjointed.
Three outstanding novellas (those by Newman, Stableford, and Somtow ), two interesting near-misses, and only one dud (the Lee story) add up to anthology well worth seeking out.
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© Claude Lalumière 23 November 2002, 12 April 2003