The Space Vampires by Colin Wilson
Monkfish Book Publishing Company, 2009
Originally Published by Random House, 1976
Price I paid: $5.79
A scourge of sex and death from an alien spaceship
WHEN CAPTAIN CARLSEN ENTERED THE VAST DERELICT SPACESHIP, he was shaken by the discovery of its immobilized humanoid passengers.
Later, after three of the strange aliens had been transported to Earth, his foreboding was more than justified. The creatures were energy vampires whose seductive embraces were fatal, whose lust for vitality was boundless. As they took over the willing bodies of their victims and sexual murders spread terror throughout the land, Carlsen worked toward their destruction—even while he was erotically drawn to the most beautiful vampire of all!
This week’s book is brought to you by Karen, and I’m embarrassed that it took me so long to finally read it. See, she sent me an email back in July 2014 recommending this one to me and I’ve only just now gotten around to it, even though I actually bought a copy right after the recommendation.
I’m not sure what happened. I think I just forgot.
What’s particularly interesting is that I managed to find a copy of it for my Kindle. This is the first time I’ve read a Kindle book for the purposes of this blog, and it was an interesting experience. At the risk of sounding like I’m shilling for Amazon, the experience was a good one. The Kindle App on my Nexus 7 had all sorts of little things I could do to make the review process easier. It’s nice to be able to highlight passages and make notes right in the book without damaging my paperback. Plus there’s this new doodad called Word Runner that I tried out for a chapter or so. I recommend taking a look at that.
The downside to using an ebook copy—and this is something I only realized when I was about halfway through—is that I had to steal an image of the cover from the ISFDB and that there was no jacket text available for me to put down. Instead, I nabbed whatever was on the Amazon page, figuring that it is essentially the same thing.
On the flip side of the Kindle experience, it was apparent that the ebook version was the result of an unproofread OCR funfest. There were lots of typos and misprints, and they were all the sorts of things that made me go “Oh, the computer thought that two lowercase Ls were a U.” I feel like ebooks have gotten a lot better since 2009, but I do remember that being a problem back when this whole Kindle thing was pretty new. The book also had issues with missing quotation marks, something that my last three books also suffered from, but, in this case, I felt like it was again an issue with the fact that the text was scanned in and not checked against, either out of laziness or cheapness.
It just goes to show that OCR technology is not yet perfected. Authors and publishers, take this to heart. If you go from hard copy to ebook, I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to proofread your work again. I know, it sucks. Most people who catch my blog posts within the first hour or so of posting will be able to tell me that I have enough trouble proofreading the first time.
You know what else sucks? This book!
How do you like that segue?
So in my research on the author, I found that he was really big into pseudoscience. It shows in his writing. The thing he does that’s infuriating is that he sets this book (and others, from what I understand) in a future where his crazy pseudoscientific beliefs are not only fact, they’re taken for granted. This book is all about psychic vampirism. It has a lot to do with lambda energy and life force (incidentally, there was a movie based on this book called Lifeforce, which I’m told was garbage). There’s this whole bit where we learn about how predator/prey relationships in nature will result in a synchronization of life forces. A very similar synchronization results when people have sex. It is made clear that this is because the male/female relationship is very much a predator/prey one, with touches of sadism/masochism thrown in.
This one starts off promising enough. Some astronauts are out scouting the asteroid belt. The year is somewhere around 2100, but most of it seemed like it was set in the present day. The only things that set it apart were some references to space travel and the ability to scan people’s life energy levels.
The astronauts, led by main character Olof Carlsen, discover a spaceship. It is huge, something like 500 miles long. It’s very obviously a spaceship and everybody recognizes it as such from the beginning. What’s weird is that people start jumping to the conclusion that it’s from another galaxy. I didn’t understand that. Our own galaxy is pretty darn huge. There’s no reason to assume that it’s from another one. I had a Latin professor who once told us something along the lines of “If you hear hoofbeats, don’t look for zebras.” I think this is generally good advice and it applies here.
Exploring the spaceship reveals some corpses that turn out not to be corpses. It takes a while for them to realize they’re not corpses. In fact, it takes transporting three of them back to Earth and one of them killing a journalist before they realize that the corpses are, in fact, in some kind of suspended animation.
They jump to the idea that these are space vampires pretty quickly, but in this case it’s a little more understandable, considering that one of them, a woman, grabs said journalist and drains out all his life energy. At some point or another they get free and now the hunt is on.
Carlson meets up with a guy named Hans Fallada, an expert on vampirism. He wrote a book on it and he’s the one who tells Carlsen (and the audience) about all the synchronized biorhythms that happen when things kill other things and when people do the horizontal hand jive. A great deal of this book is exposition, and the bulk of it comes from Fallada until he introduces us to another guy, Ernst van Geijerstam, who is also an expert in vampirism. Geijerstam is an old, old man, but he’s used his knowledge of vampirism to extend his own life. See, vampirism in this book isn’t completely evil, it’s just a thing that living things do. He’s got a cadre of young ladies that are able to transfer their life energy to him and keep him young. They do it willingly, so it’s not horrifying but merely creepy.
It’s Geijerstam, or rather his ladyfriends, who recognize Carlsen’s own innate vampirism, which in terms of the story doesn’t mean much and only serves to let him have sex a lot, even though he’s married already. Nobody seems to see this as a problem.
Meanwhile, there are space vampires running around the Earth. It seems that one of their powers is the ability to possess people. A lot of the novel involves chasing down people they suspect to be vampires, especially the one that killed that journalist at the beginning of the book. We learn that the space vampires generally prefer to take the bodies of murderers and other violent individuals because of kindred spirits or something like that.
They track her down to a mental institution and there’s a lot of jumping around and guessing who the vampire is in at the moment. They manage to corner her in the body of the guy who runs the place and drug him/her. Interrogation reveals that one of the other two vampires is in fact currently inhabiting the body of the Prime Minister.
I guess this was supposed to be scary, but the tone never felt like it ramped up at any point. Our heroes just go confront the Prime Minister, which they are allowed to do because Carlsen’s role in the book is to be the guy who’s famous enough that whenever anybody needs anything, he can get it for them. His other role is to be a vampire for no apparent plot reason, although his powers seem to give him limited mind-reading abilities, but only of women and only when they’re sexually attracted to him, which is often.
There are a lot of times when Carlsen just meets a woman and then the next thing we know they’re having sex and he’s learning all these things about how women’s minds work. Lots of it is either common sense or hilariously sexist. Remember the 2000 movie What Women Want, with Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt and a very young Judy Greer? This was worse.
None of that feels like it matters at any point, and then finally the deus ex machina shows up.
I skipped a bit. There was a point where, for multiple pages, one of the vampires (in the body of the guy who runs the mental institution) just tells us what’s going on. Lays out their whole story for us.
They’re from a planet around Rigel called Karthis. Note that Rigel is ~800 light years from Earth, not “galaxies away.” Their native form is something like a squid. Unlike the people of Earth, the people of Karthis, called the Nioth-Korghai, specialized in exploring the galaxy via psychic powers. They were benevolent and managed to guide many races to civilization from afar. It’s very sweet.
A group of Nioth-Korghai transcended or something and began to explore the universe themselves. An accident involving a black hole caused them to be trapped for thousands of years until they broke free. The black hole nonetheless drained them of their life energy, so they found they had to seek out living beings and take theirs in order to survive.
So that’s how we got space vampires.
Carlsen finds what he thinks are holes in the story and refuses to quite believe them. As the book comes to a close, he and Fallada confront the Prime Minister. There’s not so much a conflict or climax as there’s the deus ex machina I mentioned. See, one of the Nioth-Korghai, a non-vampire one, shows up and tells us the whole story. Hooray for more exposition. Just pages and pages of it.
The whole story is that the vampires are bad guys and they keep destroying whole planets in their hunger. In our own system, the space vampires killed off the beings of both Mars and “Yllednis,” which we now know as the asteroid belt.
There’s this back-and-forth about whether the vampires are actually evil or not. After all, they were only eating to survive, just like every other animal does. It goes on. The vampires defend themselves, some of the humans react positively, others negatively, and the non-vampire alien just sits and listens. Finally, it’s decided that the vampires will return to Karthis and await judgment.
In a thrilling climax—
I’m sorry, I don’t think I can even call it that ironically.
The end of this book goes thus:
The vampires go “If you’re going to take us back to Karthis, you’ll have to give us enough life energy to do that.”
And the non-vampire goes “Okay.”
And when the vampires get enough energy, they stop being vampires and go, “Oh, man, we did bad” and then kill themselves.
And then the humans look at each other and go “Let us never speak of this again.”
And that’s the book.
So the thing about this novel that really sticks with me is that it seemed like the author had some big ideas to expound about psychic vampirism and stuff, but then when the going got rough he didn’t have a very good story to stick it to. There was a lot of running around chasing vampires and talking about vampires and doing experiments that might prove that there are vampires and weird sexy bits that had to do with vampires, but in the end, nothing was actually done about any actual vampires, psychic or otherwise. Instead we got some crazy ideas about how life energies feed off one another and some people are masochists and some are sadists and the vampires are probably all sadists looking for masochists and isn’t that just grand.
Oh, and at one point there was a “wise woman” who used a magic crystal on a string to measure Carlsen’s life force. This happened despite the fact that hospitals and labs have high-tech means of doing that very thing.
Whenever people weren’t standing around expositioning us on what vampires were, someone was sitting around reading a book about vampires.
I was sick of vampires even before I read this book. Now I’m double sick of them.
Despite all this, the book was easy to read. According to the Kindle app it took me about three hours. I don’t have a page count to compare that to, but that’s pretty quick for me. It’s astonishing how a book, even an awful one, can sometimes draw me in and get me riding along. I wish that was something I could explain. I wonder if it’s because this book was a vampire. A vampire book about vampires. It makes sense.