Friday, 6 May 2011

Brian Lumley's Vampire World


One of my favourite writers of horror fiction is an author called Brian Lumley. His stories are deeply imaginative and he evidently enjoys the frisson of describing the gruesome detail! He is very clearly inspired by H.P Lovecraft, and it's his earlier works and short stories which most clearly demonstrate his Lovecraftian influences.

Although I enjoy the 'Titus Crow' series of novels, and the 'Psychomech' trilogy, the books that Lumley is probably most 'celebrated' for, if that is the right word, are his five Necroscope novels (the original series, as opposed to various prequels and sequels that he has published since), and his Vampire World trilogy, which was a series that chronologically followed those five books.

I'm going to talk about 'The Vampire World' trilogy in this post mainly, but as they follow in terms of content the 'Necroscope' series, I'll briefly describe what those five books were about (SPOILERS ALERT). The hero of the books, and the title character 'The Necroscope' was Harry Keogh. The first book starts with his childhood and his realisation that he possesses special powers. The main talent of the Necroscope is to talk to the dead, in a language known as 'Deadspeak' which all the dead can understand, whatever their nationality and wherever they're from. The Necroscope also possesses telepathic powers and the ability to teleport himself to any location by using a dimensional portal known as 'The Mobius Continuum'.

Harry is recruited into Britain's E-Branch- a kind of spy agency like MI5 or MI6, but staffed by people with ESP abilities such as telepaths and locators, however Harry's 'Necroscope' abilities are unique. Harry enters a paranormal world of spy espionage and counter-espionage, and is a kind of James Bond, but with psychic powers. As the series develops, it becomes clear that Harry's primary enemies are not the Soviet E-Branch (Lumley wrote the original five Necroscope books in a 1980s Cold War setting) but are vampires, or 'The Wamphyri'.

The 'Wamphyri' is an undead creature much like Bram Stoker's Dracula or the vampire of popular myth, but the vampiric contagion is spread by the means of a parasitic leech. A person can become infected and become 'Wamphyri' by breathing in a spore from a 'vampire swamp', or receiving an 'egg' from just such a leech. The leech fuses itself to the spine of a human being and connects to their nervous system, creating a dual 'host' creature which is the Wamphyri being. While the leech requires the host to drink blood and enjoy other 'activities' to satisfy its lust, it returns the favour by causing the human host stay youthful, and possess superhuman strength in return for the sating of those appetites. The Wamphyri are cunning, deceitful, capable of metamorphism and also possess telepathic abilities. It is a terrifying creature indeed. A host in possession of a leech is a 'Lord' or 'Lady' and they create lesser vampires through their bite, which carries the leech's poison. These once-human victims become psychically enslaved to their Wamphyri master, and become their lesser thralls, mere 'vampires'. Wamphyri can create more Wamphyri by draining their human victims, and making them undead rather than merely bite-infected, which in time will produce the spawning of a new leech inside the undead thrall's body, or by passing on an egg, or by normal physical procreation, which will create a Wamphyri baby. Hence the saying 'The Blood is the Life'. Although the leech makes the host powerful and crafty, the thoughts and conversation of Wamphyri Lords and Ladies frequently dwell on the subject of human free will, as secretly they realise their actions are dictated by the lusts of the parasite within. However privately and subconsciously they realise this, they will argue in public that their passions are their solely their own or blame their most evil deeds solely on their leech, and this is the one Great Lie of the Wamphyri.

Anyhow I have digressed somewhat with my description of this frightening monster (Brian Lumley's creation and horrific twist on the vampire myth). Lumley's vampires can be killed by a stake through the heart (staking the leech that fuses itself to the hosts spine or cuts the blood circulation in minor vampires), sunlight, and they also find garlic and silver poisonous. They also cannot cure themselves of leprosy. However, the myth that vampires cannot bear the sight of the crucifix does not apply to Lumley's vampires, as I will explain.

The source for the vampire legend in our Earth, or Lumley's version of it, is a world which is a universe away- the vampire world. This is explained in Necroscope 3: The Source. The vampire world is a world that has been knocked off its axis by a comet. The days are as long as an Earth week, and so are the nights. The world is physically divided by a great barrier range. On the southern side, are the travelling tribes of Gypsies (Szgany), who occupy the territory known as 'Sunside'. And on the northern side, beyond the barrier mountains, is 'Starside'- home to the Wamphyri and their vampire thralls. To the distant north are the Icelands, where errant Wamphyri lords are banished, and to the distant south are the furnace deserts- unpopulated, but beneath the earth is where a race called the Thyre live. In the mountain sides, there are also animals and a race known as the 'trogs' (troglodytes) that make their home, mostly ignored by vampires unless they are desperate to feed their blood thirst. To the east and west, there are the vampire swamps, which can create new vampires if the curious and foolish wander too close and breathe in a spore. There are no other denizens on this world, although Lumley briefly mentions a race of necromancers, living far, far to the east across an ocean which no character ever reaches. We never meet these people, despite the intriguing but brief mention.

The comet which changed and designed the physical features of this world also opened up a portal on Starside between it and our Earth. This is the Gate, a shimmering ball of white light nestling in flat, cratered plains- where vampires that had offended their masters and rogue Wamphyri were banished through- and arrived in our world from.

It is in the third novel that Harry Keogh locates the source of vampires in our world, when military experiments by the Soviets open up a second inter-dimensional portal 'Gate' in the Urals which links to the exit upon Starside in the alien vampire world. Eventually Harry and other members of E-Branch are forced to go there. By the fifth book, Harry himself has become 'vampirized', and is a Wamphyri Lord, yet one with supposedly 'good' intentions, to protect the Szgany. The Necroscope series ends with a great battle between Harry, his son The Dweller (who is a half-Wamphyri, half-metamorphosed werewolf), the Lady Karen (one of Lumley's seductive, alluring Vampire Ladies who falls in love with Harry and hence takes the side of he and The Dweller) and their evil enemies who seek to enslave the Szgany and break through into our world: the 'father of Vampires'- Shaitan the Unborn, and his greatgrandsire, the Lord Shaithis. The book ends with their deaths, when the Soviets fire a nuclear missile through the Gate in the Urals, killing the protagonists in Starside on the other side.

The Vampire World trilogy

Although I also enjoy those five 'Necroscope' books, I prefer the 'Vampire World' trilogy. The events in these books take place fourteen years after the climax of the fifth Necroscope book. The great revelation is that Harry Keogh, while having his wounds tended to by a sympathetic Gypsy/Szgany nurse, sired twin boys with her, who were born five years before the events in Necroscope 5. Now, years later, the boys are almost young men- Nathan and Nestor Kiklu. However, the trilogy traces how both young men take different paths, one 'light' and one a 'dark' reflection of their father, the alien Harry Keogh.

The Wamphyri return of course, courtesy of more back story regarding Shaitan the Unborn. Part of the first book in the Vampire World series, "Blood Brothers", describes how an unwilling protege of his, Turgo Zolte, escaped from Shaitan's clutches and fled east from the Starside vampire aeries (vast towers in the moonlit plains beyond the barrier mountains) to begin a new vampire lair: Turgosheim, an artificial gorge of towers and dizzying cliff heights, which is then occupied by Wamphyri Lords and Ladies- the spawn of Turgo Zolte and his children- through the ages. These Eastern Wamphyri are separated from the events in the west (described in the Necroscope books) by the Great Red Waste, a vast sore in the vampire world landscape which, according to legend, was created by the comet which changed the planet's orbit and also created the inter-dimensional Gate.

Here in Turgosheim, these new Wamphyri are waiting, and having sensed the cataclysmic events of 14 years before, are wondering if the 'Olden Wamphyri' still exist in the Western Starside/Sunside. Brian Lumley creates some of his best-drawn and most complex Wamphyri characters amongst this group: Maglore the Mage, a Lord who takes on an aged appearance due to his denial of his blood lust according to 'Zolteist' principles; Devetaki Skullguise, a scarlet-haired Vampire Lady who is literally 'two-faced', wearing a mask to hide the battle scars of her ascension; Canker Canison, part human, part dog, part fox, part werewolf, who worships the moon; Wran and Spiro Killglance, psychopathic twins who are the sons of the most feared Wamphyri Lord of all, Eygor Killglance, who could kill a man with just a look from his poisonous Evil Eye, and who his sons murdered as they feared him too much; Vasagi the Suck, a Lord who has used his metamorphism to hideously alter his face by removing the lower jaw and creating a siphon to more easily draw the blood from his victims; Zindevar Cronesap, a venomous man-hating lesbian; Gorvi the Guile, shifty and devious; Ursula Torspawn, who keeps various mementoes of her past lovers in jars; Vormulac Unsleep, a great and powerful Lord who mourns for the loss of an early human love, who he vampirized but who died of leprosy; and most memorably of all, the psychopathic and witch-like Wratha the Risen, who can appear beautiful and like a wanton Gypsy woman when she chooses, but who also shape-shifts into a terrifying hideous crone with fearsome scarlet eyes when angered.

Devataki Skullguise, Wamphyri "Lady"

It is Wratha the Risen who rebels against her fellow Lords and Ladies and strikes out West to raid upon Nathan and Nestor's Szgany with her band of rebel Lords. It is Nathan with his unusual blond hair (all the Szgany of the Vampire World have black, brown or red hair) who becomes the saviour and messiah of the Szgany as his father was, inheriting his Harry Keogh's Necroscope powers, while his dark brother Nestor inherits Vasagi's Wamphyri egg and becomes a Lord. He becomes a Necromancer in a twisted warping of Harry's powers, and the lover of the demonic but beautiful Lady Wratha the Risen.

Wratha the Risen and her 'Raiders'

The Vampire World trilogy is brilliant, and only becomes slightly disappointing in the third and final book. There is a sense of anti-climax. I would have liked to have seen a more violent, exciting confrontation between Nathan and Nestor, and it would have been interesting if Wratha the Risen had ever encountered Misha Zanesti- Nestor's unrequited love which sowed the seeds of discord with his brother. Wratha's rebels are just too unevenly matched against the hordes of Turgosheim, led by Devetaki Skullguise, who eventually betrays her kindred by conspiring to sacrifice her fellow Lords and Ladies (particularly those she sees as a threat or dislikes) and make herself a Vampire Empress.

Also, whether it was editorial or publishing policy I don't know, but Lumley reproduces lengthy sections of the previous two books in the final book as flashback scenes, which can become grating after a while, particularly when the reader is familiar with the previous two books. However, there is a sense of intrigue and character development in 'The Vampire World' which enables it to become a more fascinating series of books than the 'Necroscope', even if the ending is slightly ludicrous and Lumley clearly likes to depict and centre his plots around a messianic hero (Harry, Nathan in these series). Every Lumley horror series also has its nubile, sexual female characters as well, whether they are good or evil (Zekintha Foener, the Lady Karen, Lady Wratha, Misha Zanesti, Atwei, Gina Berea, Lady Carmen, Siggi Dam to name but a few)

Overall, the "Vampire World" trilogy is far better than the disappointing E-Branch trilogy which followed it (although that series has fantastic malevolent Wamphyri villains- Lords Malinari, Swart and Lady Vavara)! But I also recommend that people who are fans of horror/vampire fiction read other works by Lumley. Rather than the Necroscope spin-offs, I would recommend his earlier work- the Titus Crow series, the Psychomech trilogy and also 'House of Doors'.

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