In fictional worlds it appears that vampires are becoming endemic.
Etymologically we could trace this back to the folklore fuelling Lord Byron’s Giaour (1813), which, purportedly, was one of the many elements influencing Polidori’s Vampyre (1819). Polidori’s Vampyre was a catalyst for myriad vampire projects, including stories by the likes of Nikolai Gogol and Edgar Allen Poe, as well as Bram Stoker and his archetypical vampire story: Dracula (1897). We could follow the vampire’s rise in success through the twentieth century until, by the beginning of the twenty-first century, literary vampirism had become ubiquitous across the majority of representational media.
The Vampire Diaries and True Blood are just two of the vampire-related TV shows that now take over from where Angel and Buffy used to reside on our TV screens. No doubt you, dear reader, would be able to suggest others. Similarly, the Box Offices are groaning under the weight of the successful Twilight films. Franchises like the Underworld movies continue to produce entertaining narratives. And, I believe, The Count still patrols Sesame Street.
Or, if we remain with the written word, we could contemplate Anne Rice’s consistently well-received output with The Vampire Chronicles, (Interview with the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, etc.), Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse stories (which have been popularised as the aforementioned True Blood series on TV), or Laurell K Hamilton and her stories of Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter (Guilty Pleasures, The Laughing Corpse, etc.). Or we could go back to the phenomenal success of Stephanie Meyer’s previously referenced Twilight saga.
As the title of this month’s reviewed book suggests, Blood Sacraments (Gay Vampire Erotica) is an anthology of erotic gay vampire stories. And the existence of so much vampire literature raises the question: why are we so obsessed with vampires?
It’s argued that vampire stories are appealing because they suggest a willing surrender to dark but pleasurable forces. Vampires are renowned for advocating and endorsing illicit pleasures (late nights, excess, indulgence, voracious promiscuity, life without responsibility, etc.). These activities are elements we, as civilised members of society, are supposed to eschew in favour of their responsible alternatives (early nights, moderation, temperance, judicious and selective sexual relationships, etc.). However, if a character indulges in illicit pleasures because they are under the thrall of a vampire’s spell, it means they have a legitimate excuse for their errant behaviour: “I didn’t want to have all those pleasures. It was the peer pressure of being a vampire that made me do it.”
But if this vapid excuse is the subtext beneath why we read vampire stories, what does it say about us as a society? Ignore the implications of avoidance. If the original trope of the vampire novel has always been a sanction allowing the reader to succumb to forbidden pleasures, does the ubiquitous nature of current vampire literature suggest that this condition has become near-universal? Does this mean that we’re all prey to the same desire to enjoy forced pleasures?
It’s a worrying question. But, I suspect, the answer is comparatively simple. I believe we read vampire stories because they offer a familiar landscape of entertaining escapism.
It used to be that the first half of a vampire story would be a lengthy exposition: a treatise where the author attempted to convince the reader that the concept of vampires was a tenable possibility. The propagation of this suspension of disbelief has diminished over time so that such enormous exposition is no longer needed.
In most cases readers accept the vampire fantasy more easily than the author. Authors fret over the credibility of the world they are building and the balance of belief against bullshit. But, as a reader, all we need are a couple of subtle clues (‘Did you see the Count flinch when I showed him my crucifix collection?’ or ‘Did you see the Count lick his lips when I cut myself shaving?’) and we know we’re in vampire territory. For those of us who are fans of the genre it is a delightful situation. We’ve accepted the existence of vampires as soon as we read the word in the title and pick the book from the shelf. We are in a position where we can enjoy the pleasure of the maximum amount of vampire story with the minimum need for setting the reader up to accept that, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
This means, in an excellent anthology such as Blood Sacraments, edited by Todd Gregory, the reader can enjoy the indulgence of a lot more vampire narrative and a lot less expository text. Todd Gregory exploits this development to maximum effect.
With this being an anthology I don’t want to ruin the reader pleasure of any story. It’s fair to say that Gregory has selected wisely and the anthology represents a broad range of contemporary talent, all of whom are capable of producing thrilling vampire stories balanced with a sufficiently gay erotic content as to make them appropriate for the title.
Xan West provides a powerful and passionate account of vampirism and BDSM in "Willing." In "The Morning After," Lawrence Schimel provides his usual blend of wit and seductive prose as he skilfully introduces an ingredient of humor. And in "Kells," the inimitable Jay Lygon twists the familiar story of unrequited infatuation into something darkly amusing and adorable, all at the same time.
If the vampire myth is really our society’s subversive urge to be forced to enjoy illicit pleasures, then Blood Sacraments is one illicit pleasure that is well worth enjoying. A good anthology, populated by some excellent writers. In short: it’s bloody brilliant.
In his introduction to Rough Trade, editor Todd Gregory mentions that most people aren’t exactly sure what the term means. The easiest definition of rough trade is sex for hire, but it also evokes danger, violence, and the seedier side of the tracks. The contributors to this anthology have different takes on the theme, which keeps it interesting.
“The Fratboy and the Faggot” by Aaron Travis is one of two stories Gregory says he asked for. A sophomore has been watching his graduate student neighbor through the blinds. When he’s caught, the neighbor invites him over for a discussion about frathouse hazing. The tale of sexual sadism doesn’t scare him away, so the former fratboy invites a couple brothers over to act it out. Rough? Oh yes. Deliciously so.
“Daddy’s Boys” by Nic P. Ramsies, “Close to Home” by Adam McCabe, and “Under the Table” by Dale Chase are different twists on how guys got into the sex for hire game. Chase’s construction worker moonlighting as a sex worker identifies as straight, while the young guys in “Daddy’s Boys” and “Close to Home” aren’t as complicated.
In “Hiring David” by Jonathan Asche, a couple hires a hooker to help celebrate their anniversary. David ends up being more of a therapist for the couple than a hooker, but in the real world, most sex workers probably do. If your fantasies run to hookers who like their clients too much to charge, try “Giovanni” by Logan Zachary and “Wrestler for Hire” by Greg Herren. “Josh in Frisco” by Greg Wharton wins the proverbial heart of gold award.
If you prefer something a bit grittier and realistic, “Tricked” by Jonathan Asche has one of the best anger fucks I’ve read. If that doesn’t sound hot to you, well… read it.
Can guilt be as redemptive as love? In “Blueboy” by Kelly McQuain, Michael is slowly succumbing to AIDS. A new boy on the streets propositions him, but he admits he has no money. All he has to offer are donuts and orange juice. The kid, who he calls Blueboy, takes him up on the offer. From then on, every time Blueboy is kicked out of his brother’s house, he turns to Michael for shelter. When Michael turns the boy away, Blueboy commits suicide. Michael tries to die, but Blueboy’s spirit is either haunting him or trying to save him and won’t let him go.
Although the theme is rough trade, the stories in this anthology are varied enough that you’re bound to find something that works for you. Some keep the mood light and everyone has fun. Other tales are darker. A few cover kinks from wrestling to Master/slave dynamics. Anchored by outstanding stories contributed by talented writers, this anthology gets a strong recommendation.