Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Science of Vampires – review

Author: Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D.

Release date: 2002

Contains spoilers

The Blurb:

• Are any vampire myths based on fact?
• Bloodsucking Villain to guilt-ridden loner—what has inspired the redemption of the vampire in fiction and film?
• What is vampire personality disorder?
• What causes a physical addiction to another person’s blood?
• Are there any boundaries in the polysexual world of vampires?
• How would a vampire hide in today’s world of advanced forensic science?
• What happens to the brain of a vampire’s victim?

Since Bram Stoker’s Dracula was published in 1897, the concept of the vampire has evolved from supernatural creature of the night to reluctant bloodsucker to the sympathetic creature of today’s popular culture. Featuring interviews with forensic experts, creative artists and real-life bloodsuckers, The Science of Vampires offers a fascinating investigation into the myths and realities of the vampire, exploring every aspect of the dark force that has played host to our fears of infection, depletions, alien influence, and disease. From vampirism’s roots in ancient legend, to its scientific evolution as a very real mental disorder, Ramsland proves just how immortal, enigmatic, and seductive the lure of blood can be.

The review: This was a difficult book to pin down, eclectic might be a good term but let me illustrate this with a definition. Ramsland defines vampirism, for the sake of the book and as a starting position, as “more of a feeling than a creature: the dread of losing control to something that invades us and slowly drains us while holding us enthralled.” This is all well and good (though there are the vampires who quickly drain and violently terrify) and, indeed, it is a roughly catch-all definition for a lot of the genre. However it is too wide, perhaps, to give a focus and this is where the book fails.

The book takes a potted trip through the media vampire, recognising the malleable nature of vampire media, but concentrating mainly on Dracula, I am Legend and (rather heavily) Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. It looks at folklore and killers with vampiric traits (some listed are only debatably vampire orientated killers, though admittedly Ramsland does draw doubt on some cases herself) and then wanders into the vampire lifestyle/spirituality scene.

Perhaps the title is the problem, I was certainly looking for more on ‘if vampires were real how could we scientifically explain them’, but I think overall it is the diffuse focus that causes the problem. The book is a catch-all rather than concentrating on folklore, media, murder, lifestyle or spirituality. I, as a reader, did not feel that all the questions in the blurb had been explored satisfactorily.

That all said, I enjoyed what was there and my own personal focus on vampires is diffuse enough that there was meat amongst the literary bones I was picking through. Mixing the metaphors, however, it was a long meandering trip and by the end I had aching feet. 5.5 out of 10.


Anthony Hogg said...

It's been some years since I've read the book. My impression at the time, was that it tried to use 'science' to 'justify' the existence of Anne Rice's vampires at the expense of others - no surprise as Ramsland's a major fan of Rice's...once you start combing through her bibliography.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Anthony

I didn't get that feeling myself (using science to explain the vampires that is) as I felt that she didn't really use science too much... I would have liked a whole lot more how would we explain x,y and z if they were real.

She is very Rice-centric, however, though I have only read this I have been told she is a bit Rice obsessed.

Very fractured but some interesting ideas in there.

Anthony Hogg said...

By using science to explain vampires, I mean in the sense of 'If vampires existed, here's how they could be' kinda thing.

Sorta similar to what Matheson did with I am legend.

You've been told 'she is a bit Rice obsessed'? Let's take a bibliographic stroll, shall we?

She's written and/or edited:

- Prism of the night: a biography of Anne Rice (1991)

- The vampire companion : the official guide to Anne Rice's The vampire chronicles (1993; 1995)

- The Anne Rice trivia book (1994)

- The Witches' companion: the official guide to Anne Rice's Lives of the Mayfair witches (1994)

- The Roquelaure reader: a companion to Anne Rice's erotica (1996)

- The Anne Rice Reader (1997)

That doesn't include her articles. Now, I don't mind her Rice fandom, but I recall my impression of 'Science' as being too Rice-centric, vampire-wise - as if they were the 'ideal' vampire type.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Fair call re her bibliography, clearly a fan of Rice...

I think what I meant re the science bit was I actually thought it was thin on the ground generally - I'd agree that what there was in there was Rice-centric