Dreams of Decadence, #18, Fall 2003

Tuesday, 21 October 2003 18:00 Sherwood Smith
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"Daddy's Little Girl" by R. Michael Burns
"Alchemy" by Holly Phillips
"Dangerous Game" by Lisa Feld
"Vampires of Malibu High" by Chris Bunch
"The Rose" by Daniel M. Hoyt

ImageThe mandate here is "Vampire Poetry and Fiction" and that is what the reader gets. I have no particular interest in vampires per se--like any other story element it depends how they are used--but I was interested in giving this magazine a try, especially after I just finished reading Robin McKinley's superb vampire novel Sunshine.

I mention my context here because a couple of the stories might engender a radically different reaction in a reader who is really into vampires. Such as the first offering, R. Michael Burns' "Daddy's Little Girl." This story begins with Peter Abbot, a father, going into a dilapidated house intending to stake his daughter, Leila. As he proceeds slowly, he reflects on the grief and horror of his daughter's earlier actions against the rest of the family, which is why he must stake her. It was difficult to follow this segment, partly because the characters are introduced by name but without designation (who is the sister, who the mother, etc) and partly by the fact that there is a character Leigh, the first one mentioned, who is never mentioned again. The father favored Leila, who turned into a vampire; he finds her in the basement, and nerves himself to strike when she speaks.

This story, as I mentioned, would probably please inveterate blood-sucker fans more than it did me; the backstory seems pretty by-the-numbers but never really adds up to the ending, which seemed to come out of nowhere. Not so much a shock, for me, as a "Huh?"

I found Holly Phillips' "Alchemy" more engaging, not the least because the writing was quite strong and evocative. This story is a frame tale. The main story begins with Dawn, who is a jazz player, performing with her band until the wee hours. She meets a man who she takes home, and when he leaves in the morning she's more drained than she realizes. We know what he is, of course, and the author knows we know--she does not play coy, but introduces his point of view after hers, alternating tightly until the end: the two meet, becoming more intensely involved, not just physically but emotionally, with all the attendant risks. Add in Dawn's band being worried about her, and a jealous vampire showing up waving a knife, and things rapidly progress to a climax that is quite poignant. The frame brings the story to a bittersweet close; this was one of my two favorites of the issue.

Pause for micro-fiction from Lisa Feld in "Dangerous Game." Micro indeed. The story is probably fifty words long, if that, but it's a nifty zinger.

Following that is my other favorite, Chris Bunch's "Vampires of Malibu High." This one is told in first person. "The vites are: Samantha Mason. Fifteen. Green eyes . . .at least I think they're green, in a good light. Born in London, grew up in Paris and Bucharest."

The voice is breezy and very teen, spiced with believable slang based on French and Spanish; the story is about Samantha, whose parents are wealthy and travel a lot. Samantha has just arrived in L.A. and is going to Malibu High, and hoping to make new friends. She makes brief reference to some not-so-good times in the past, including a troubled relationship with a Rado.

She quickly figures out who the hot crowd is, a group of girls who are beyond Goth, acting positively vampirish. In between she has to deal with classes, teachers, and attitude: "Sometimes I just want to vomissement, and get out of school."

But things briefly look up when a cute guy appears in her life and wants to date her. The date goes bad, but on the other hand Lisa, the leader of the Goth girls, takes notice of Samantha. Unfortunately the bad date turns up dead, which surprises the school; later a teacher also dies. Samantha veers between wanting to be with the popular group and dealing with nightmares, school, and her own emotions. Lisa is kind of selfish and creepy, but when she invites Samantha to a special initiation--to become a vampire--Samantha's life seems to be taking a turn for the better . . .

Quel sooprees! A tight, delightful story, with a very wicked twist.

Last up was "The Rose," by Daniel M. Hoyt. This is the other story I mentioned that would probably appeal to the vampire fan more than it did me. Rose Romano is seventeen, and despite her sheltered life her mother has agreed to send her to Italy. But we don't know why she wanted to go, or what she sees--we are propelled straight into her first meeting with a gorgeous boy named Edward, who we are told is perfect. We get a lot of descriptions of his smoldering, dark, bubbling eyes, but not much sense of personality; Rose is attracted, we are told, at length, despite her promises to her mother. Rose and Edward date, and while Rose struggles with her wild sexual attraction to Edward (and his to her) we find out about her relationship with her mother and her mother's past; it seems there is some mystery about Edward, a mystery at least partly solved when Rose sees photos her mother sends. Mom, it seems, had a problem with wild sexual attraction as well . . .

I found it hard to get interested in any of the characters, as the prose seemed fairly standard, the ending telegraphed. Perhaps vampire fans would enjoy that telegraphed ending, reading not for surprise but with anticipation.

Overall an entertaining magazine, beautifully produced. The illustrations are first-rate, and of course vampire lovers are sure to enjoy the interview with Laurell K. Hamilton featured in the middle of the issue.