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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

"Stalking the Vampire" by Mike Resnick

Order “Stalking the VampireHERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Mike Resnick has won an impressive five Hugo Awards, been nominated for twenty-six more, and is the all-time award winner—living or dead—for short fiction. He has sold fifty-four novels, more than two hundred short stories, and has also edited fifty anthologies. His work ranges from satirical fare, such as his Lucifer Jones adventures, to weighty examinations of morality and culture, as evidenced by his brilliant tales of Kirinyaga. The series, with sixty-six major and minor awards and nominations to date, is the most honored series of stories in the history of science fiction. Mike’s upcoming releases include “Starship: Rebel” (Pyr Books-December 2008) and “Kilimanjaro: A Fable of Utopia” (Subterranean Press-December 2008).

PLOT SUMMARY: It’s Halloween, and John Justin Mallory’s partner, Winnifred Carruthers, has been so busy preparing for the biggest holiday of the year—in the other Manhattan anyway—that she seems short of energy and pale. Mallory is worried that she’s been working too hard. Then he notices the two puncture marks on her neck…

On this night when ghosts, goblins and other creatures of the night are out celebrating, detective Mallory must stalk the vampire who has threatened his assistant, Winnifred Carruthers, and killed her nephew. With the aid of Felina the catgirl, a vampire who doesn’t act like a vampire, and a dragon that writes hard-boiled private eye stories, Mallory’s hunt takes him all over the place, including Creepy Conrad's Cut-Rate All-Night Mortuary, the Annual Zombies' Ball, the Hills of Home Cemetery, and Battery Park. Along the way he meets a few old friends and enemies, and a host of strange new inhabitants in this otherworldly Manhattan. But as dawn approaches, time is running out on Mallory to find and stop a millennia-old vampire before he can kill again…

CLASSIFICATION: Employing the same formula found in “Stalking the Unicorn” and the John Justin Mallory short stories, “Stalking the Vampire” cleverly and humorously mixes together elements of a hard-boiled detective mystery with contemporary fantasy, campy satire, and dialogue-driven irony. For fans of
Simon R. Green’s Nightside series, Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files and Mike Resnick :)

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 268 pages divided over thirty chapters which are denoted by time—Chapter 1: 6:30 PM—6:55 PM. Brilliant extras include a speech on “Stalking the Vampire” by Col. Winnifred Carruthers before the Blood Sports Enthusiasts of the Lower South Manhattan; a monograph by Professor Seldon Hari, Chief Curator of the Museum of Unnatural History, on “Debunking the Vampire”; and an excerpt from Scaly Jim Chandler’sStalking the Vampire” :) Narration is in the third person, objective, but mainly follows in the footsteps of private eye, John Justin Mallory. “Stalking the Vampire” takes place after “Stalking the Unicorn” and the subsequent John Justin Mallory short stories, and is self-contained. August 2008 marks the US Hardcover publication date for “Stalking the Vampire”, while the book will be released in Canada, September 16, 2008. The cover artwork is provided by
Dan Dos Santos.

ANALYSIS: Since “Stalking the Vampire” is a sequel to Mike Resnick’s 1987 classic, “Stalking the Unicorn”, I decided to read the two books back-to-back, which had mixed results…

On the one hand, I had a complete blast reading “Stalking the Unicorn”. It was smart, highly inventive, and outrageously funny—led by hilariously wry dialogue—and fun. It was also immensely rewarding, especially getting to see how John Justin Mallory ended up in the other Manhattan, how he became partners with Winnifred Carruthers, his first meeting with the cat-girl Felina and Grundy—“the most powerful demon in New York”—and the clever manner in which he solves the case. In short, “Stalking the Unicorn” is a true classic, the kind that will stand the test of time and be just as much fun to read now or twenty years in the future, as it was when the book was first published in 1987.

Unfortunately, “Stalking the Unicorn” set the bar so high it was almost inevitable that “Stalking the Vampire” would fall short. So even though Mike Resnick hadn’t done anything to change the formula—besides updating the time period with cell phones and DVDs—the humor in “Stalking the Vampire” was a little less funny, the dialogue not as crisp, and the author’s imagination didn’t seem as creative. Plus, a couple of the book’s jokes like Felina’s insatiable appetite and the tenacious merchant goblins felt a little stale, while the plot itself was lacking in wit and payoff, particularly an unsatisfying resolution to the vampire dilemma.

On the bright side, the novel sports some really great ongoing inside jokes including Mallory always betting on the horse Flyaway who has now lost 64 times in a row; the references to oversexed secretaries named Thelma or Velma; odd named streets like Lust, Sloth, Death, Despair, Destruction, or Agony; and the relationship that Mallory has with his enemy, Grundy. Even the jokes regarding Felina’s hunger & inconsistent temperate and the goblins trying to sell Mallory such items as underage goblin girls, encyclopedias, children’s aspirin, iced lemonade, or snakes can be amusing at times. Besides that, the characters are still quirky—Bats McGuire, Scaly Jim Chandler, Aristotle Draconis, Captain Blight, Albert Feinstein—some of the ideas in the book are really comical like drive-by funerals, references to previous Mallory stories are fun, and getting to visit the other Manhattan’s recognizable attractions like the Vampire State Building, Madison Round Garden, Battery Park, Greenwhich Village—and the way they differ from our Manhattan—is always a hoot :)

Last, but certainly not least, the satirical elements are as sharp as ever with “Stalking the Vampire” poking fun at vampires—Vlad and the Impalers, sonar lessons from Vladimir Plotkin, vampire racism, etc—the billion-dollar romance novel industry, hard-boiled detective fiction, popular culture, and even the book itself:

“My name isn’t Wings O’Bannon, and I never shoot anything that’s more than six feet away,” answered Mallory.
“No problem, I can fix that,” said Nathan. “After all, I am a fiction writer.”
“And you’re really going to write up this case?” asked McGuire.
“More or less”
“Will I be in it?” continued the vampire.
“You’re here, aren’t you?” replied Nathan.
“Could you make me four inches taller and more attractive to women?
“Sure,” Said the dragon. “They call it poetic license.”
“They call it unrealistic exaggeration,” said Mallory.
“Same thing,” said Nathan with a shrug.
“And what do you plan to call this epic?” asked Mallory.
“Stalking the Vampire,” answered Nathan. “Great title, don’t you agree? Surefire bestseller.
“I think it’s been done.”
“Not in this Manhattan,” replied the dragon.

Regarding pop culture, the following is one of my favorite passages in the novel:

“Devolution?” said Mallory. “What is that?”

“Why, the antithesis of evolution, of course,” replied Professor Hari. “Take our children, for example. Seventy-five years ago they listened to the sophisticated jazz stylings of Benny Goodman, and when they spoke of a band they meant Tommy or Jimmy Dorsey’s. Fifty years ago their notion of music was Little Richard and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Another devolution and they worshipped at the altar of Kiss. And today all trace of music is gone, replaced by something called rap.” He shook his head. “From Beethoven to this in less than two centuries. If that isn’t devolution, I don’t know what is.”

“You’re just choosing one area: music,” said Nathan. “Isn’t that a little too limiting for you to draw such a conclusion?”

“Take any popular entertainment,” answered Professor Hari. “Our taste in humor has devolved from Cary Grant and the Marx Brothers to Adam Sandler and Borat. Our heroes have devolved from John Wayne to Sean Penn. As our actresses’ brains have gotten smaller, their bosoms have gotten bigger. Devolution.”

CONCLUSION: Out of all of the John Justin Mallory stories that I’ve had a chance to read, including “Shell Game” from The Solaris Book of New Fantasy (Reviewed HERE), and the five other short stories—Posttime in Pink, The Blue-Nosed Reindeer, Card Shark, The Chinese Sandman, The Amorous Broom—that Mike was kind enough to send me, “Stalk the Unicorn” is easily my favorite. It’s also, in my opinion, the best of the John Justin Mallory stories, and compared to that book, “Stalking the Vampire” comes up wanting in a few key areas such as dialogue, wit and humor. Even so, “Stalking the Vampire” is still a hell of a lot better than most of the stuff that’s passing for urban fantasy these days, and if I had to choose between the two, nine times out of ten, I’m sticking with Mallory. So here’s hoping that Mike Resnick has many more John Justin Mallory stories to tell…


RobB said...

You are too goddamned fast Robert! I just received these two books yesterday. I'll be getting to them eventually.

Princess Allie said...

I like seeing older urban fantasy/dark fantasy books are getting re-printed.

Robert said...

LOL! Well I've had the ARCs for a couple of weeks now. Plus, the books are really fast reads :)

Princess Allie, yeah we need more books like these reprinted :D

Anonymous said...

you know, the art is absolutely looks like a graphic novel cover more then a novel.

Mike's writing is either all-the-way awesome or really unappealing depending on the story material for me. I know that is confusing, but imagine that it is worse that i have to describe it like that and people think im nuts.


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