by Ross Sharp


Last time I was in Sydney I popped into Galaxy bookshop for a quick look-see. I don’t read much in the way of science fiction or fantasy or fiction in general these days but occasionally the mood takes me and something will grab my attention. But this time I noticed that Galaxy had devoted about fifteen, twenty feet wide of wall space to a genre they were calling “Paranormal Romance” …

… I had an old man moment, a moment of  “Jesus Christ, what’s the world coming to?” and hurriedly scurried past all this purply prosed pimply darkness to get to the hard stuff.

The darkly handsome, broody vampire as romantic interest has been getting a right proper flogging of recent and you can hardly look at a newspaper or a website without seeing some chisel cheeked boofhead with big hair baring his nicely manicured choppers and perfectly flossed gums back at you.

 And as much as I love “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and was tickled pink by the first season of “True Blood”, sometimes we need to remind ourselves of something very, very basic when it comes to the subject of vampires …

Vampires are the undead who feed on human blood to survive and burst into flames in sunlight.

It’s a fact.

I redz it on the internets!

If you were to take an unscientific straw-poll around the office and ask a random bunch of women, “Would your definition of a hot date be humping an animated corpse who feeds on human blood and sleeps in a coffin and who can’t hop down the shops for a carton of milk on a Saturday afternoon when you’ve run out and feel like whipping up a cake or something because he’ll blow up?”, I doubt you’d get much in the way of enthusiasm response-wise.

So when del Toro announced that he and Chuck Hogan were writing a vampire trilogy eschewing the eyeliner and hair gel for some good old-fashioned blood-sucking, jugular-spurtin’ mayhem, my fistful of dollars was as good as spent.

What happens when you get “turned” in del Toro and Hogan’s world is this …

You’re infected by a parasite which renders your body host and begins to alter its biology. The parasite needs only blood to survive, so the rest of your organs shut down and shrivel up. A growth begins to develop under your tongue, a growth that houses a stinger that can shoot out quite a distance to latch onto the necks of potential victims and drain them of blood. No teeth. Also, as vampires only breed by infection, there’s no need for genitalia anymore, so these drop off or crust over.

Therefore, gettin’ your end in ceases to be an option if you ain’t got an end to be puttin’ somewheres.

And when you’re draining a victim of its blood, because your body can’t cope with and doesn’t need anything other than pure blood to survive, you shit all the other stuff at the same time you’re feeding.

Now I’ve never been out to dinner with someone who ate and shat at the same time, but I doubt it’d be the kind of behaviour to put me in an amorous frame of mind, I don’t care how good your cheekbones are … “Mum, meet the new girlfriend. For God’s sake don’t feed her anything or you’ll be wiping off the curtains for a month”.

So there’s no romantic goings on with any of the nasty sucking fuckers in this book, I can tell you that straight up. These are the defiantly unfuckable dead and you ain’t nothing but a Slushee in a flesh suit as far as they’re concerned.

Essentially though, what you have with “The Strain” is just a better class of airport novel. It’s very entertaining, moves along at a right clip, keeps you turning the pages, and ticks all the usual boxes in the character “type” department … The wise old man carrying the weighty knowledge of the ancients, the two driven and dedicated professionals (friends with benefits) trying to save the world (well, New York, at least for now), a merry band of three hard up against it. There’s an aged and shadowy figure of industrial intrigue present pulling dark and devious strings … you get the picture, a “cast of characters”.

Fair enough.

Two things, though …

From what I’ve been able to glean, Chuck Hogan, a writer I’m otherwise unfamiliar with, is responsible for all the CSI-styled, HAZMAT tech-speak gobbledygook which, for the first 50, 60 pages or so of “The Strain” had me thinking I was stuck in Tom Clancyworld, you know the thing, “such and such an aircraft has such and such a capacity for blah and blah and if you wang the red doodle on the left panel just-so during a monkey-fight, genies with calculators will appear and build you a spaceship”.

I can barely hook a basic stereo system together without an instruction manual, so this type of stuff means fuck all to me and is pretty much a waste of my time and I’m probably not alone in this. I realise that del Toro and Hogan are attempting an anti-“Twilight” exercise with this trilogy and as such, perhaps they’ve been tempted to think that this Boys’ Big Book of Vampires should flaunt some hardware, some technical blah to satisfy the ham radio geek that purportedly lurks in the heart and soul of all men.

I have no such geek within and I hope they knock it off next time. I prefer my vampires less the shades of David Caruso thanks very much, no pun intended.

The other thing – on the one hand, the infection is given as purely a biological thing, a parasite, yet on the other hand, the authors reference various bits of supernatural mumbo jumbo that are supposed to affect the behaviour of the things, such as their inability to travel over water without human assistance. Far as I’m concerned, it’s got to be either one thing or the other thing, either biological or occult, it just doesn’t make sense to have it being some of this thing with some of that other thing thrown in “just because”.

But these are minor quibbles. This isn’t a Dan Brown book. The writers can actually write scenes and dialogue that aren’t entirely risible, and del Toro’s fierce visual imagination is given full reign here to suitably impressive effect. And I’m grateful that someone has decided to put the freaks up front again and have them behaving very, very badly instead of swanning around some fucking academy or whatever getting sappy with goo-goo eyes.

Of course, the real payoff with this series won’t be with the third and final installment. It will be the film (or films) that follow. And with del Toro at the helm (why would he not direct the film of his own book?), if it’s anything like the promo clips that have been put together for the novel …

Bring Huggies.