Vampire erotica seems to lurk around every corner these days. The gay-male variety, especially when written by women, can be traced back to Anne Rice's groundbreaking 1978 bestseller, Interview with the Vampire, in which the vampires form larger-than-life but non-sexual relationships. (Rice's vampires, being "dead," apparently could not rise to the occasion despite having superhuman strength and sense perception.) Since then, the mating of gay-male erotica with vampire fiction has spawned an army of immortal lovers with various physical abilities which usually include mind-blowing sexual skills.
Night Moves is an interesting mix of stories in this hybrid genre. One of the challenges for authors who want to create sympathetic vampire heroes is how to explain their need for human blood (energy) without showing them as repulsive parasites. These four authors each approach this challenge in a different way, but their central characters are all so deep-down decent that none of them has to deal with the kind of self-hatred experienced by Anne Rice's Louis, a Catholic gentleman of the 1790s, after he becomes one of the "damned."
In "Theron's Boys" by Kiernan Kelly, Theron is a nightmare pimp who seduces attractive young men into letting him "turn" them, then he forces them into sexual service. The filthy-rich (emphasis on filthy) old cads who treat the "boys" as fast food are similar to Theron. He is clearly a traditional vampire, a soulless user of the life-force of others, since he can't produce his own. Christian, David, and the rest of "Theron's boys" must decide how to deal with enslavement which could literally last forever. Despite being vampires themselves, they are not like their "Sire" or his mortal buddies and are only willing to do harm as a last resort. When two of the "boys" discover their love for each other, they confirm the difference between mutual attraction and one-sided exploitation. These "boys" are no threat to anyone else.
Both "Inferno" by Matt Brooks and "Immortal Steps" by Kira Stone show the "turning" process as proceeding in stages. The state of being half-vampire (or "latent") looks more uncomfortable than puberty, especially since the half-turned have no guarantee that anyone will finish the job, and they can't do it themselves. In the meanwhile, they are recognizable to any reader who has felt inchoate and alone, stuck in the cracks between socially-defined categories. Becoming a full vampire is shown to be much more satisfying than remaining forever in limbo, even if that were an option. In both stories, the half-turned must move forward or die.
If Anne Rice's vampires represented an emerging community of gay men (in a time when "gay" seemed to be a clear identity), it is tempting to see the vampires-in-the-making in these stories as an emerging generation of transgendered individuals, each occupying a different place in a spectrum between genders -- or a generation of entrants to the BDSM scene (especially on-line and especially involving "blood sports") who can't evolve without an adequate mentor.
"Inferno" is named for a nightclub where young Blaise goes to find his tribe. Having paid his entrance fee, he is "in the long passage that led to a narrow staircase and community." He meets Robert, an older, experienced man who agrees to come home with him. Blaise admits to being a sexual novice, and Robert initiates him sexually. In the process, Robert discovers that Blaise is "stopped," still human but with a vampiric taste for blood. Robert asks why, and Blaise answers: "'He said I wasn't ready. Not really. Not enough of a predator.'" Robert is aghast at the callousness of Blaise's earlier bar pickup. Apparently not all vampire "daddies" in the infernal community have a sense of responsibility for their "boys."
"Immortal Steps" is a novella in several chapters in which the true nature of vampires and their community is revealed after suspense has been raised. Tain, the half-turned vampire whose skill at Celtic dancing seems to be a sign that he is more than human, is known as a heterosexual player, and he beds women when he has something practical to gain from them. When he learns that the "Dedicated Fan" who has stalked him with messages and gifts wants to see him in person, Tain is alarmed, especially when he learns that this person is male. Throughout much of the story, Tain fights the inevitable by telling himself that he is not "gay," and then by telling himself that his attraction to Kyle, a.k.a."Dedicated Fan," is based on Kyle’s resemblance to someone who had a formative influence on Tain, not a sign that he is queer in any sense.
Kyle strives to convince Tain that lust between men is not shameful, that love is not a myth, and that monogamy is more fulfilling than an endless round of emotionally meaningless encounters. Along the way, Kyle must also convince Tain that he has been a kind of guardian angel to him for years, and that he can be trusted. Kyle takes Tain from Edinburgh, Scotland, to John O'Groats, which Tain describes as "the end of the world." The dramatic Scottish landscape makes an appropriate setting for cliffhanging conflict and for dramatic revelations about vampirism, its connection to sexual arousal, and the organization which exists to protect vulnerable vampires from being killed off like members of any other stigmatized minority.
This story seems to have the least connection to eastern European folktales about vampires as the "undead" who feed off the living. In "Immortal Steps," becoming a vampire is a process of development which involves awakening one's biological potential. It not only suggests "coming out" as a gay man, but finding one's ancestral "roots" and one's present-day community as well as coping with an unusual medical condition.
"Chiaroscuro" by Erastes is a florid tale set in Florence, Italy, during the Renaissance. The bejewelled writing style perfectly suits the period and the plot, in which the narrator Michel, a young painter, must please his crooked patron and his demanding, aristocratic customers to enable his family to survive. The entire story unfolds as a series of visual scenes, and the chapter titles (“Subject,” “Sketch,” “Composition,” “Alla Prima,” “Perspective,” “Impasto,” Pentimento”) remind the reader that the whole novella is a metaphor for visual art.
Michel is introduced to a mysterious elderly Signora who wants him to paint the portrait of her gorgeous young male companion, who seems strangely reluctant to tell his name. Alone with the awestruck painter, the young man tells him: “I am light, Michel. That is why you know me. And love me.”
Michel decides that his subject must be posed in the nude on drapery and painted with wings, as Lucifer, the rebel angel who fell from heaven. Before the painting can be finished, of course, the subject inspires the portrait-painter in time-honored fashion:
“I hardly remember undressing; my clothes were nothing but dry leaves pushed aside, and the touch of his skin against mine was like being born, a shock so sweet and savage that I gasped like a baby taking its first breath. Everything was a series of firsts. The fist kiss, the first heat of skin on skin, the first hand sliding down my flanks and digging into my flesh, the first fingers--not mine--curled and tight around my cock."
Michel already has a suspicion that his Angel of Light and the Signora with whom he has a close but ambiguous relationship are not human. When Michel discovers beyond a doubt what they are, this is no news to him or to the reader.
However, there is still the problem of the crooked patron, who threatens Michel after finding him in flagrante. You need to read the story to find out what happens. It is a conclusion fit for an opera.
The only complaints I can make about these four “vampire” stories are that (1) they all take some liberties with the vampire tradition, which seems to be the only way to turn it from a decaying corpse into something that can live indefinitely, if not forever, and (2) they all resolve moral dilemmas with amazing dispatch, considering that vampires were once figures of dread. None of these stories has the gut-wrenching emotional and philosophical depth of Interview with the Vampire. That doesn’t seem to be their purpose. If you like male/male erotica with a little mystery and a little frisson, Night Moves is a delightful sampler.