Harry Keogh has returned from the parallel world of the Wamphyri with his Necroscope powers hypnotically removed by his vampire son, Harry Jr. He can no longer speak to the dead or go teleporting through time and space via the Mobius continuum.
If this wasn’t bad enough his new boss is trying to murder him, he is being stalked by a Soviet assassin, and the dead are rising from their graves to leave him messages on his lawn, arranged in pieces of dry stone walling.
Meanwhile, in Romania, a group of American students have hired a guide to take them to a ruined castle, rumoured to have been the home of an ancient vampire. The consequence of this will come as no surprise.
It doesn’t take Harry long to realise that the disappearance of two E-branch agents in Greece is the work of resurrected vampire Janos Ferenczy, a nasty piece of work even by vampire standards.
Harry must regain his powers in order to battle Janos, but how?
Put so baldly it seems like a terrible plot when in actuality, like the rest of the Necroscope books, it’s a glorious slice of late British pulp fiction; highly entertaining, compelling, and very readable.
Lumley’s kept the human and vampire sex scenes to a bare minimum here, for which I am thankful. Like Guy N Smith, Lumley no doubt considered gratuitous rumpy pumpy to be an additional salacious treat for his readers. Maybe it was at the time, but these days they read as a little awkward and dated.
It’s always a problem to properly categorise this series since the vampires themselves have an interesting and scientifically rational premise for their existence, as does the Mobius Continuum. It’s difficult to balance that with the premise of ‘souls’ hanging about in limbo, however. This was not so much of a problem in previous volumes but Lumley muddies the waters here by introducing further supernatural elements. Janos, it seems, has learned to raise the dead – not via some innate genetic talent – but through magic spells and incantations. This pushes the internal balance between the rational and the supernatural a little too far and seems like a device introduced to assist with what is a rushed denouement.
Nevertheless, Lumley is under-recognised for his very original take on the vampire life-cycle and his contribution to the sub-genre.
‘He Alone Defied the Cosmic Vampires!
When the outlawed scientist Jim Hunt leaped from the prison plane, he had no suspicion that he was not the only one falling silently through the midnight sky. But other, stranger exiles were landing at that very moment in the same backwoods region… exiles from the unknown depths of outer space, exiles seeking human food.
When Jim started to make his way back home, he discovered the full horror of that night’s events. For the people he met had become mere flesh-and-blood puppets, mindless creatures doing the bidding of the unseen invaders. And though every man’s hand was against him, both free and enslaved, Jim knew that he alone was humanity’s only hope for survival.
Murray Leinster’s BRAIN-STEALERS is an unusually gripping science-fiction novel of thought transference, invaders from space, and vampirism on a world-wide scale!’
Blurb from the 1954 Ace Double D-79 edition.
This is an expansion of the novella ‘The Man in the Iron Cap’ from Starling Stories (November 1947) and fits right into that subgenre of specifically US novels of the time which feature ‘aliens among us’ which may possibly represent a reflection of the US’ reaction to the cold war and the nationwide paranoia over communism at the time. (see The Puppet Masters and The Body Snatchers)
Leinster has created a future Earth where the Powers That Be – a worldspanning organisation known as Security – have become so obsessed with Human Safety that all dangerous research has been banned.
Jim Hunt was experimenting with thought fields, and was subsequently arrested and charged due to the dangerous nature of his experiments. Jim escapes from a plane, convincing the authorities he is dead.
Meanwhile, a ship of telepathic bloodsucking aliens have landed and have been mentally enslaving the population of an increasingly large area of rural America. Hunt discovers this and narrowly avoids becoming enslaved. He devises a cap made of iron wire that blocks the alien thought signals, then has to escape from the area, somehow warn the rest of the world and design a device that could save mankind.
There are some interesting parallels with Heinlein’s ‘Puppet Masters’, but one cannot say whether either writer was aware of the other’s work at the time, and without reading Leinster’s 1947 novella, I can’t say how much was changed for the 1954 novel, published after Heinlein’s 1951 Galaxy serialisation and novelisation.
The aliens, for one thing, breed though fission, dividing into two and moving on to new hosts. They are not concerned about the health and well-being of their hosts and, as in this novel, were brought to Earth by another enslaved race.
They are however very different novels, Heinlein’s being in any case by far the superior.
It’s very readable however, as Leinster’s work generally is, and has its moments of real drama and suspense, but ultimately is nothing out of the ordinary.
It’s a very odd thing to come to terms with, but there’s something very cosy about Lumley’s work. Maybe it’s a nostalgia for simpler times when there were good people and bad people (on both sides of the Iron Curtain) and there was an Iron Curtain.
Maybe it’s because one knows it’s all going to be all right at the end of the novel – at least until the next one – or maybe it’s because Lumley’s world harks back to an era earlier than the Nineteen Eighties. There’s something very quaintly dated about E-Branch which is more Bletchley Park than a Secret Intelligence Department of the Nineteen Eighties.
E-Branch is of course the British Government’s ESPer division, a group of people with paranormal powers set up to counter the USSR’s own paranormal division.
Michael ‘Jazz’ Simmons is a non-ESP member of British Intelligence and in Perchorsk, Russia, investigating a ravine, the bottom of which has been coated with lead.
Simmons is captured and taken into the base below the lead shielding where he discovers the truth. A botched attempt by the USSR to employ Star Wars laser technology resulted in a malfunction which caused the pent up laser energy to create a ‘grey hole’, a gleaming sphere suspended within a cavern which permits a one-way trip for organic beings from our Earth to a parallel world, or from there to here.
The other world is the world of the Wamphyri, and some specimens have already traveled through to our world.
Now Khuv, the security chief in charge of Perchorsk, is going to send Jazz Simmons through.
Harry Keogh is back after five years in the wilderness searching for his wife and young son. They do not appear to be in the world of the living or the dead.
Darcy Clarke, now in charge of E-Branch, finds Jazz Simmons’ disappearance equally baffling as jazz was being monitored by an E-Branch sensitive, and connects it to the disappearances of Harry’s family.
The narrative then alternates between events here and in the world of the Wamphyri.
It’s a much stronger novel than Necroscope II – Wamphyri and allows Lumley to examine what Wamphyri life might be like if these lone predators had to live and share resources with each other.
If nothing else this series is a wonderful reinvention of pulp fiction, and one gets the impression (by some kind of literary osmosis) that Lumley loved writing this stuff just as much enjoyed reading it. It was never going to win any Hugo awards but to be honest, given the choice of reading one or two of their less justifiable nominations and these, I’d go for the Wamphyri every time.
One feels that Lumley regretted having killed off Harry Keogh in the first novel, ‘Necroscope‘, and felt duty bound to bring him back. Harry is not exactly dead but in an incorporeal state wandering around in the Moebius continuum while tethered psychically to his unborn son.
Much of the narrative is given over to the backstories of Faethor and Thibor Ferenczy, ancient vampires of Romania. Thibor, one will recall from ‘Necroscope I’ is the one from whom Boris Dragosani received his vampire egg.
This is not the only way however that vampires can create new vampires. Following a skiing accident, Georgina and Ilyan Bodescu end up on top of Thibor’s grave. Ilyan is dead, but Georgina is alive and pregnant. While she lies there unconscious the insidious pseudopods of Thibor’s vampire flesh enter her body and infect the unborn child.
And so, in England, Yulian Bodescus grows up and inevitably draws the attention of the UK E-branch who elect to contact their Russian counterparts to fight against a common foe, aided by the ghostly presence of Harry Keogh.
The good guys have to battle both vampires and the KGB, which makes this part-horror, part spy thriller with a little SF rationale thrown in for good measure. Lumley’s vampires are symbiotic beasties that live within the human body, giving the host strength and longevity in return for blood, although here Lumley slightly confuses the issue with Yulian’s christening, an Omen type scene, which seems to suggest a supernatural religious element, given that the baby so vehemently did not want to be baptised that storms erupted and the vicar died of shock. Logically, it should not matter to these vampires whether they are baptised or not.
Lumley orchestrates the entire shooting-match very well and pulls the threads together into a satisfactory denouement. The author, for all his faults – this novel in particular is a little overburdened with characters, many of whom are one-dimensional – has a solid fan base. Although the Necroscope books will never be thought of as great literature, Lumley has certainly brought some new blood and a novel concept to the vampire genre.
‘Necroscope’ is an odd beast of a book. Firstly one would be bound to suggest that it is a tad ‘off-genre’ in that the marketing boffins would inevitably class it as ‘Horror’. Many of its elements however fall strictly under the SF umbrella. Lumley’s vampires, for instance, whose origins are explained more fully in later volumes, have an arguably plausible biological and scientific basis. The vampires are parasites which infect their human hosts and slowly rebuild them into virtually immortal beings.
The story centres around Harry Keogh who, from childhood, was aware that he had an odd talent. He could talk to the dead, and the dead, lonely in their graves, were only to happy to talk back.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Iron Curtain, Boris Dragosani – who works for a secret Soviet department of ESPers – has a similar talent. He is, however, a necromancer and is able to torture the dead and rob them of their secrets. Dragosani has another secret. He is in communion with Thibor Ferenczy, an ancient vampire who has been buried in Romania, bound with chains of silver for centuries and is bargaining with Boris for his freedom.
The novel is set against a Cold War background where the British and the Russians both have secret ESPer departments – staffed with telepaths, precognitionists and the like – who are battling for information.
The fates of Harry and Boris are intertwined leading to an inevitable confrontation.
The only problem I have with it is the end, which is rushed and a little unsatisfying, but on the whole this is… a good book.
The other main point I would like to make about this novel is that it raises the question of what constitutes ‘a good book’. Certainly one should include the timeless classics that raise questions about Humanity, Life, The Universe and Everything, but now and again one has to include those books that completely engross you, take you into their world, and make you miss your stop on the train.
This is such a one.
‘Two months since the stars fell.
Two months since sixty-five thousand alien objects clenched around Earth like a luminous fist, screaming to the heavens as the atmosphere burned them to ash. Two months since that moment of brief, bright surveillance by agents unknown.
two months of silence while a world holds its breath.
Now some half-derelict space probe hears a whisper from the edge of the solar system: a faint signal sweeping the cosmos like a lighthouse beam. Whatever’s out there isn’t talking to us. It’s talking to some distant star, perhaps. Or perhaps to something closer.’
Blurb from the 2006 Tor paperback edition
Siri Keston is a Synthesist. He is able to analyse events via his subconscious by observing the world around him. Siri can only do this however because he is something of a sociopath, or he is a sociopath because he can do these things. Siri reads body language and translates normal human conversation into its meta-language subtext, i.e. he can see the real meaning behind anything anyone says.
Siri has few close relationships. His mother is dead but lives as an uploaded personality in a digital ‘heaven’. His father has a rather secretive government past and is not often around which leaves his only friend whom he has known since childhood.
Toward the end of the 21st Century there is an event in which thousands of artefacts appear around the Earth and make records of the surface before burning up in the earth’s atmosphere. Later, something extra-terrestrial is discovered on the edge of the Solar System. Siri is chosen to join the team to investigate the object and determine its level of threat.
In Watts’ quite fascinating future, it is discovered that vampires were a subspecies of humanity during the Pleistocene Era, who preyed on humans, were able to estivate for years to preserve human stocks and who had a brain malfunction which gave them seizures when they saw right angles or regular shapes (i.e. crosses). Thus vampires died out when civilisation began to employ rigidly straight lines.
Vampires, it seems, also had a far different consciousness from Man. They are able to hold parallel concepts in their consciousness simultaneously.
Through the wonders of genetic engineering, vampires have been recreated and are able to live among humans through Euclidean injections which prevent them from seizuring in the presence of right angles.
Being sociopathic predators and with their odd mental capabilities they make brilliant strategists. The vampire Jukka Sarasti has been put in charge of the Theseus, the ship that is to go and investigate the alien ship.
The novel, as we discover the very alien nature of the visitors, gives us an almost forensic view of the human personality through Siri’s notes on his crew-mates and his retrospective review of his own life. It is fascinating, if occasionally uneasy reading since it forces one to question one’s motives in dealings with friends and intimate relationships.
‘Herald Childe has just seen a home movie in which his partner was brutally murdered, his life-fluids drained by a lady with razor-sharp dentures.
Childe is a private dick. He’s accustomed to sticking his nose into other people’s business, and it’s usually dirty. But he’s not prepared for the gut-churning horrors which await him as he wades through the L.A. smog following up a lead in the most disgusting case of his career.
He is plunged into a waking nightmare of sexual brutality and supernatural bestiality; he becomes entangled with a snake-woman; he is seduced by a filthy human sow; and he lays a ghost, only to realise that he’s the one getting laid – by a woman working off the frustrations of over a century in ectoplasmic exile.
But what can he do? he can hardly tell the police that he’s discovered a crowd of sex-mad vampires and werewolves from another universe…’
Blurb from the 1975 Quartet paperback edition
Private Detective Herald Childe is called to Police Headquarters who have received a film in the post showing Matthew Colben (Childe’s partner) tied to a table being seduced, tortured and finally castrated by the bite of what appears to be a vampire.
This rather odd novel is no doubt Farmer’s contribution to the New Wave movement which – sometimes achieving its effect through shock and the use of taboo subject matter – intended to revive and reinvent Science Fiction. Like the Punk movement in music of the Nineteen Seventies, it injected some much-needed adrenaline into the genre and extended the boundaries of what readers wanted and accepted as Science Fiction.
Herald follows a trail to the home of a man reputed to be a vampire and discovers a peculiar community of vampires and were-creatures, visitors from a parallel dimension.
The novel is littered with graphic scenes of pseudo-bestial sexuality, which would be less of a problem if they were adding something to the plot. As it is, most of these scenes read like some vague and bizarre erotic dream.
There’s a plethora of weird names floating about. Hamlet Jeremiah is some kind of guru and provides an introduction to Woolston Heepish, a collector of arcane genre items. This in turn leads to the sinister house of Baron Igescu where the majority of the novel takes place.
The problem one has with the novel is that there is no real reason why the creatures Herald discovers should be so sexually obsessed. He is seduced by a snake-woman, a pig-woman and – for even less good reason – the resident ghost of Igescu’s mansion, Delores Del Osorgo. These bestial (and ectoplasmic) acts are described in interminable detail.
Other authors such as JG Ballard – who has written his own share of graphic sexual acts – and Brian Aldiss have at least set this theme within some sort of context.
Farmer does not even have the excuse of this being erotica masquerading as Science Fiction or even Horror, since the sex is neither erotic or particularly horrific, and it’s puzzling as to whom the target audience of this book might have been.
Had the sexual elements been less blatant and less numerous, and the emphasis been on the style of the detective novel that this is attempting to emulate then this might have been a better work. It’s a book which cannot decide what it wants to be. There is interesting characterisation, and – as in many private eye stories – Herald has a problematic relationship with his ex-wife and strained relationships with everyone else. The setting is a Los Angeles shrouded in smog and a cast of eccentric grotesques. It seems like a sadly wasted opportunity to produce some interesting work.
‘EARTH WAS IN DANGER,
its population threatened by the nomadic space-travellers, the Dreeghs.
For Earth’s inhabitants could provide the Dreeghs with blood, the essence of ‘life’ imperative for their survival. It was the beginning of a struggle, a conflict that was to be decided not by force of arms but by intelligence, by the supermind.
But how far can the mind go? Research Alpha had to find out. If the evolutionary process could be speeded up so that a million years’ development could take place within a few days, could Point Omega be reached, the point of supreme intelligence, where man is at one with totality?’
Blurb from the 1979 NEL paperback edition
This is one of van Vogt’s more successful fix-up novel, based on the stories ‘Asylum’, ‘Research Alpha’ and ‘The Proxy Intelligence’.
Unbeknown to terrestrials, Earth’s humans are part of a Galactic seeding project from before the dawn of time. Now, a party of vampire Dreeghs have discovered Earth, and they plan to replenish their life-force by drinking the blood of humanity.
However, Earth is under observation by a small number of alien humans who report to the Great Galactics.
This is van Vogt almost back to his old form with his surreal sciences, the rational men with enormous IQs and the secret space-ships and bases.
One of the alien agents makes contact with a reporter, a man whom the Dreeghs are pursuing for very different reasons, and in so doing triggers an evolutionary process within the reporter which increases his IQ into four figures.
A complex game of cat and mouse ensues until the Dreeghs are defeated in a manner, if not audacious, then downright baffling.
The problem with Supermind is that is a book of two halves, and once the Dreeghs are dealt with we have a situation in which a renegade scientist is experimenting on humans to produce the evolutionary effect.
It’s a far more satisfactory piece than much of late van Vogt and there are flashes of his earlier panache and technicolor widescreen bravado.
The writing is always compelling however. van Vogt has an inexplicable talent for describing the environments in which his protagonists do whatever they have to do, and making it just slightly off-kilter from reality.