Friday, 18 November 2011

But Enough About Me... #1

I realized the other day that I have quite a backlog of non-fiction pieces about books, movies, famous friends, etc. The articles all appeared originally in magazines or anthologies which are now mostly out of print, and it occured to me that this blog might be a handy place to archive them. So every now and then, in between the usual and shameful I-fuckin'-rock postings, I'll put up one of these things in the vain hope that it'll make me look less of a self-centred asshole.

This first one, an appreciation of SOME OF YOUR BLOOD by the great Theodore Sturgeon, first appeared in 2005 in HORROR: ANOTHER 100 BEST BOOKS edited by Steve Jones and Kim Newman.


Theodore Sturgeon's Some of your Blood

The writer who died as Theodore Sturgeon in 1985 had been born as Edward Waldo in 1918. The "Sturgeon" came from his step-father, the "Theodore" was (I'm guessing) reverse-engineered from the diminutive it has in common with his real first name. He wrote prolifically from the late 1930s to the early 1960s and sporadically thereafter. The life is over now, but the work survives. And the work is wonderful.

Sturgeon was of that generation of fantasists whose work was routinely classified always as science fiction, whatever its actual nature. Certainly Sturgeon wrote science fiction (and the best of it was genre-expanding, influential, and quite marvellous stuff) but he also wrote westerns, mysteries, and fantasies -- some whimsical, some not-so-much, and some downright horrifying.

The science fiction field is keeping Sturgeon's memory alive and his work in print -- for which we should all be grateful -- but it means that some of his work, marginal to SF proper, is in danger of not being remembered or celebrated. Case in point; Some of your Blood, an almost unacknowledged masterpiece of unflinchingly dark vision and -- at least for the popular fiction of its day -- innovative execution.

This refreshingly short 1961 novel begins with medical and military curiosity regarding a minor piece of violence in the army, moves to a long story of a particularly deprived childhood in rural Kentucky, and ends as a reminder of how and where, and perhaps why, there are monsters among us.

Readers unfamiliar with the book who don't want part of its pleasures compromised should perhaps stop here and go read it, because there's a kind of punchline to the novel -- not quite an O. Henry or Frederic Brown all-in-the-last-line zinger, more a series of cumulative revelations in the last thirty pages -- which I will have to reveal at this point.

Though the nature of what's going on in Some of your Blood is unveiled slowly, it eventually becomes clear that it is in fact a vampire novel, albeit one blessedly free of the ossifying and irritating conventions of the genre. It overtly stacks the deck against there being any supernatural cause for its psychotic protagonist's condition, though his parents "come from the old country" and his father's phonetically rendered accent is a contextually-disguised joke: "Poy, dat schmells goot!" is the kind of line, we realize in retrospect, that could have come from the mouth of another, more well-known, bloodsucking emigre, had the latter not been of a more aristocratic lineage.

Another nod to Dracula is that Some of your Blood is, like its predecessor, an epistolary novel (or, more precisely, that particular riff on the form that includes various found documents, not all strictly letters) which allows the story to reveal its secrets obliquely, in patchwork glimpses of alternating analysis and revelation.

Some of the voices in the surrounding documents -- the vernacular of middle-class military men of their time -- may strike the modern reader as a little dated but the central voice of the book, a beautifully-observed prose that never steps outside the halting and uneducated voice of its 'writer' but nevertheless achieves a poignant folk-art poetry, is not only assured and masterful but is also a sustained demonstration of the bravura hide-in-plain-sight technique by which Sturgeon conceals the truth about his protagonist. Sentences which make perfect (if disturbing) contextual sense in what we believe to be the novel's reality take on deeper significance upon a second reading.

There are moments in the book which, nearly fifty years on, retain a stunning power. The protagonist’s innocent readings of the Rorschach tests given to him by a well-intentioned psychiatrist, for example, are both revelatory and deeply disturbing, exposing as they do the utterly alien drives within a character for whom we have previously felt at least pity and perhaps sympathy and affection.

Though Some of Your Blood is also, in its own bizarre way, a love story, it is by no means a “vampire romance” and it’s sobering and sad to compare this neglected gem to today’s best-selling bodice-rippers-with-blood, those fantasies (in the least generous sense of the word) in which the legions of Anne Rice imitators trot out their wearying tales.

Richard Matheson's I am Legend and Stephen King's Salem's Lot both receive deserved praise as novels which revivify vampire mythology by marrying it to well-observed contemporary (or, in Matheson's case, near-future) settings. It's easy to forget, of course, that that was also true of Stoker's Dracula upon its first appearance. Sturgeon's novel more than deserves a place in that particular pantheon. It recasts an ancient boogeyman as a terrifyingly and truthfully rendered contemporary monster. Over and above its real-world milieu, it possesses an emotional and behavioral truth that renders it a timeless classic of dark fantasy.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this article. I read Some of Your Blood decades ago and yes, it is a masterful horror story. I hope I still have a copy around here, to dig out and re-read.
    --- Peter Coleborn