Friday, March 12, 2010

Review - Evolve Anthology edited by Nancy Kilpatrick

The anthology Evolve:Vampire Stories of the New Undead was released by Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing on March 1. This all-Canadian collection has 23 original stories (and a poem) including a Women of the Otherworld story by Kelley Armstrong and a new Vicki Nelson/Blood Ties story by Tanya Huff.  You can find out more about the evolution (pun intended) of this anthology in my interview with editor Nancy Kilpatrick.

Evolve uses the tagline “Vampire stories of the New Undead” and Nancy also refers to them as the New Vampire in the Introduction. I asked her to elaborate on the theme of “Evolve”. Nancy replied -
I wanted the writers to explore the vampire we see today and take that undead being into the near future.  My idea was that the vampire has evolved since the first published stories and over the two plus centuries of literature (plus the mythology prior to that); the vampire has changed considerably.  What we see today in the Twilight books and films, the Sookie Stackhouse books and True Blood tv series, in The Vampire Diaries on television and the books they are based on, etc. etc., this is not only not the vampire Bram Stoker wrote about, but this is not even the vampire Anne Rice penned.

Something brings about a change in the vampire pretty well every generation and I wanted to see if we could figure out where bloodsuckers would go tomorrow.   What type of vampire will Generation Y see?

Not all of the contributors to Evolve had written vampire stories or novels before.  I did some work to get people up to speed on the history of the undead, and clued them into what is happening now.  I think the writers did an amazing job of stepping up to the plate on this one.
Below are my brief impressions and thoughts on the stories from Evolve. Altogether this anthology has a strong diversity of stories and world-building that define the malleable nature of what it means to be vampire. There is something here for everyone from the humorous to the horrific. The writing is almost uniformly excellent, stylish and thought provoking. Nancy Kilpatrick is to be commended for assembling a truly original compilation of vampire fiction for the 21st century.

Let the Night In by Sandra Kasturi
This four stanza poem vampire seduction is inspired by another poem by P.K. Page. I'm not much of a judge of poetry but I found the simple phrasing evocative and enticing.

Learning Curve by Kelley Armstrong
Zoe is a vampire with the Toronto territory and an occasional character in Kelley's Women of the Otherworld series (Zen and the Art of Vampirism from Fantasy Medley). Zoe is a modern vampire with a very upbeat view of the world. In Learning Curve she teaches a wannabe slayer a few lessons in surviving the hunt. Light and upbeat with a twisted sense of humour.

Chrysalis by Ronald Hore
What happens when an angry hormonal teenager from a dysfunctional family (her dad's a vampire) and an outsider at school suddenly starts to come into her powers? Look out world, her she comes and nothing is getting in her way. This is no "Carrie" afraid of what she has become.

Mother of Miscreants by Jennifer Greylyn
The mother of vampires (Lilith) writes a tell-all book to correct the many myths about vampires and goes on book tour as a ploy to attract her 'children' to her events so that she can reconnect with them. The power of belief in certain vampire abilities has manifested in the generations of vampires themselves who accept them as truth and behave and react accordingly.  Most arrive angry at 'Mother' until she reveals the surprising truth.  An interesting take on the 'new vampire' or in this case very old vampire.

Resonance by Mary E. Choo
Resonance is a story of the values of old guard vampires and the Guild that manages and enforces the rules that govern their hidden society built upon security, power and greed. Peg is newly turned and chafes as she learns of the expectations that face her and the negative impact it will have on her human relationships. She believes vampiric abilities can benefit humanity and orchestrates a mini-revolution. Resonsance tosses out a lot of different ideas and presents some interesting charatcers. It didn't quite come together for me feeling more like an outline for a larger story resulting in rapid changes of events without the supporting buildup.

The New Forty by Rebecca Bradley
The New Forty explores the life of a vampire that wasn't turned when she was young and beautiful, but in her twilight years. An interesting reflection on the timelessnees of the superficial cult of beauty and how values change as the very longevity of the human race changes with time. The formerly physically 'elderly' vampire grows into the new opportunities modern times present that make sixty the new forty. As she says in one of my favourite lines in the collection - "Immortality like youth is wasted on the young."

Red Blues by Michael Skeet
I always like stories that feature musicians and the creative act of making music. Just how good would a vampire jazz musician be after a century or so? Red Blues shows the blurring of reality and perception. The vampire's skill is the result of a memory that retains an almost limitless knowledge of variations on songs that is perceived by the audience as a supernatural ability to improvise. Our player uses his skill to entrance and attract a young woman in the audience he wishes to seduce. The hunt lasts weeks and the conclusion is somewhat unexpected but nevertheless in charatcer for the story. One of my favourites in the collection.

The Drinker by Victoria Fisher
Another variation on the nature of vampirism is the emotional vampire. The Drinker relates the experience of an angry, resentful man and his chance encounter in a bar with a vampire that transfers her ability to suck and experience a piece of the soul and emotons of others, usually those more successful, beautiful or deserving. Surpirsingly he eventually rises above his selfishness and in an odd but appropriate act of redemption gives back some of what he has taken and passes the curse on to the newest candidate. A nice feel and sense of completeness to this story.

Sleepless in Calgary by Kevin Cockle
Sleepless in Calgary is a cautionary tale about David, a man who is slowly drowning in his own loneliness and separated from meaningful human contact. Totally absorbed in his job, out of touch with family, no time for friends, he meets a vampire only he can see. Ghost, vampire or psychoses. The vampire implies that we make ourselves into vampires until we crossover on our own. But is he telling the truth or is it only a ruse to have David commit a blood act that benefits the vampire? Delightfully macabre.

Come to Me by Heather Clitheroe
You can take the girl out of prairie but you can't take the prairie out of the girl in this melancholy tale. Determined to make her own mark and path in life Jane moves to Japan is succesful at her job, but life begins to sour, loneliness and depression creep into her life making her susceptible to a kitsune. Feelng it's emotional pull she seeks out the demon/vampire in a remote forest famous for its' disappearances and suicides. More about a state of mind than vampirism, this is nevertheless an engagingly told story.

An Ember Amongst the Fallen by Colleen Anderson
This is the most horrific of the stories in a very matter of fact way. In this alternate reality, vampires use hominids (humans) as cattle-like food sources. Considered barely inteligent and among the Fallen from a religious point of view. The social mores of this vampiric society are reflected through a dinner party hosted by the stories central character at which a variety of humans including children are served. The hosts intentions to pursue a love interest are crushed and in his disappointment he turns to a taboo source for comfort, one of the hominids. Like temptation from the garden, his fall is understandable and complete. A mesmerizing and squirm-worthy entry.

Mamma’s Boy by Sandra Wickham
This is a delicious and very short story about karma. Ruthie is about to give birth to her first child after a few years of marriage. Only she now learns her husband is a vampire, that in his transformed state he is monstrous and that her child will be too. And she will be the babies first meal. But a mother's love knows no bounds and turnabout is fair play. I found this disturbingly funny (am I warped?).

The Morning After by Claude Bolduc
Ever wondered what might happen to a vampire's victim that ends up in the morgue but doesn't transform timely enough? The Morning After answers that question as Jacqueline wanders the town blind after her resurrection having lost her eyes as a consequence of signing her donor card. Finding a 'meal' is tough but she manages, but without eyes what's a girl going to do when the sun comes up? Another delightfully warped view of the meaning and consequences of being a vampire.

All You Can Eat, All the Time by Claude Lalumière
Goth girl trying to live a little on the wild side and not really succeeding actually meets a vampire who saves her from being assaulted. Turns out to be her neighbour. Endeavoring to become his sidekick she learns too late that becoming a vampire means he doesn't transform but becomes her. Some nicely turned situations and dialogue but this one didn't quite work for me. Perhaps the valley girl dialogue and overuse of the phrase "So, like..."  may have been its downfall.

Alia’s Angel by Rhea Rose
A beautiful  and emotionally charged little story about a woman who contracted vampirism in a world where it is transmitted as a kind of super STD. She lives a fragmented life, surviving by the graces of Alia, a little girl who calls her Angel and feeds her blood collected from the addicts and others in the squatter factory she lives in. Angel knows she may eventually kill to assuage her hunger but has resisted so far. Another boy from a broken family hit by the disease convinces her to leave and take him with her and spare Alia. A somehat haunting story that I quite liked.

When I’m Armouring My Belly by Gemma Files
A young man victim of an abusive mother, and psychotic vampire father locked in a cellar hits the road seeking out vampires to be their renfield with hopes of becoming a vampire. Passed from vampire 'pride' to pride he gradually realizes that the arrogant vampires will always use but never transform him. Following the evolve theme, our protagonist realizes he is a damphir (vampire father, human mother) and has strengths and abilities of his own which he turns against his unsuspecting superiors. Often disturbing in its violence implied and otherwise, When I'm Armouring My Belly has a dark and visceral edge to it.

A Murder of Vampires by Bev Vincent
Vic a detective with the Halifax PD investigates the murders of vampires by a serial killer in this allegorical tale. Shunned and treated as beneath notice by most of the populace and by the police, Vic is a little more open-minded with an attitude of a crime-is-a-crime. Sensing this difference in him, a beautiful female vampire approaches Vic and offers assistance and information to track the killer. From her he gains more knowledge about the ways of vampires than he is comfortable with but the limited partnership works.  Sometimes creepy, this is a solidly told crime story.

The Greatest Trick by Steve Vernon
In this alternate reality where vampires have 'come out', one vampire runs for elected office with an insidious plan. His campaign manager learns the incredible scope of the agenda much to his dismay and also comes to the realization that many of the protections against vampires are disinformation. There is some allusion to the fact that politicians in general are vampires and I doubt many would disagree. The Greatest Trick delivered another favourite quote from the collection when the politician comments on photos taken of a rival that led to his downfall. He says to his manager, "That's the advantage of being a vampire ," I said. "We're paparazzi proof." Perfect.

Soulfinger by Rio Youers
A journalist doing a story on a legendary blues singer gets more than he bargained for when he discovers the truth about the singer and his bargain with the devil. Conceptually a great story and engagingly presented. I have reservations about the flashback dialogue to the time of slavery where the dialect style used struck me as too much of a cliche and took me out of the story. Otherwise brilliantly told.

Bend to Beautiful by Bradley Somer
The story of a seduction gone wrong and angels as vampires. The main character seemed superfiicial and quite frankly got his just desserts. I didn't get this one at all. My least favourite story.

Evolving by Natasha Beaulieu
Evolving starts out as a tradional story about a wannabe vampires search for the existence and proof of vampires in order to be turned. An encounter with the father of a woman he took home as part of his vamp persona reveals that she later died and that he indeed may already be a vamp albeit a self-made one. This moment of self discovery assuages his quest but makes him realize the potential to evolve yet again. A thought provoking theme that I quite liked.

How Magnificent is the Universal Donor by Jerome Stueart
In this alternate reality tale that draws some of its' theme from the SARS epidemic of a few years back, the human population has been struck by the Beijing Blood Disease or BBD and the infected can only be sustained and treated by regular transfusions. Unknown to the general populace this process is being managed by a secret cadre of vampires posing as special doctors who filter the blood, but even they are being affected after treating so many people. Until Jacob, the main characters husband is swept up for a series of tests, and declared dead. Turns out he is alive and has been secreted away as a unique universal donor whose blood can revitalize the vampires. Catch is he must donate ALL his blood. Deeply altruistic, Jacon suspects his partner will agree. I loved the Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid style ending.

The Sun Also Shines On the Wicked by Kevin Nunn
Two gentlemen vampires share an evening and some bloodwine with conversation where one reveals to the other his experiments that may allow vampires to experience the sun once again. He enlists his friends aid to assist in the next experiment. Although set in modern times, the descriptions and discussion that take place have a decidely Victoria or steampunkish air to them. A somewhat melancholy story but told with style and empathy. Another of my favourites.

Quid Pro Quo by Tanya Huff
Saving the best for last? You bet. Vicki and Mike's peace is disturbed when Mike is kidnapped and Vicki theatened by a powerful man bent on being made vampire by Vicki. Vampiric Vicki is even more a force of nature than the old Vicki and her indominatable strength and resolve have never been clearer. This is a very welcome Vicki Nelson story and it was nice to visit these characters again.

You can read brief bios of each of the contributors on the Edge website here.


  1. Very nice! Looking forward to reading this collection.


  2. Thanks for the review....and I think you're just the perfect amount of warped. ;)

  3. Jess a very interesting collection with some really unique interpretations of what a vampire is from authors, with a few exceptions, that don't normally write urban fantasy. Many would be great jump-off points for full length novel world building.

    Sandra thanks for stopping by. A great collection and indeed many years of UF and PNR reading has left me appreciating the more wayward things in life :)


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