One of my squares for this past year’s r/fantasy book bingo was Five Short Stories and since I was doing an all vampire themed card, I read some vampire shorts for it! I actually have a couple of vampire themed anthologies (because I’m me, so of course I do), but all of these are from The Mammoth Book of Vampire Stories by Women edited (ironically?) by Stephen Jones. I didn’t read the entire anthology but chose a few stories by some favorite authors as well as some authors I’ve been meaning to read for some time.
‘The Master of Rampling Gate’ by Anne Rice
I sometimes forget how much I used to love Rice’s writing, but this short was a great reminder. The prose is lush and the story entirely engaging. It’s very gothic in atmosphere, telling the story of a sister and brother who inherit a mysterious old family property upon their father’s death. They’re instructed to tear it down to the ground but upon arrival they both become enamored with the place. This story is also a bit wish-fulfillment I think but I can’t fault it for that as it turned out exactly as I would have wanted. It also features one of the hallmark’s of Rice’s writing–the story within a story flashback. A great little story if you’re looking for a bit of a gothic romance.
‘Just His Type’ by Storm Constantine
I’ve never read any of Storm Constantine’s work before but this seemed like as good a starting point as any. This is a dark and primitive erotic tale that looks into the origins of the vampire mythos. I’ll admit I’m more fascinated by the author’s research which led to this story than the story itself, although the writing here is very good. It’s certainly a very different take on vampires, positing them not as some other creature, but something that may have been a part of us all along. The prose here was great, helped to create a great atmosphere that felt heavy with anticipation and at times, fear.
‘Venus Rising on Water’ by Tanith Lee
What a strange one! Tanith Lee is a fantastic short fiction writer and this was no exception. Of course the prose is fantastic, I’d expect nothing less from her. She’s created here an atmosphere of uncertainty and everything feels just a little off-kilter. This story centers around a student researcher staying in the old ruins of a sprawling Venetian home to study the artifacts left behind. It’s clear that this does take place in a near-future setting as there is technology that isn’t currently available, although it’s a story that also dwells heavily on the past. The interactions of future and past here is intriguing and there’s a running theme of looking at history through a lens. There’s also a great feeling of isolation, as our main character is left alone in the house, but also the city itself is mostly abandoned. This was an entirely unique vampire story for me as the vampire is….something quite different here, stretched beyond most imaginings of the definition, but just as terrifying (and in some ways, more so). The ending felt a little abrupt after such great build up, but really that’s my only fault with it.
‘Night Laughter’ by Ellen Kushner
I’ve only read one book by Kushner before but her writing is superb and definitely deserving of all the accolades. This story is a pretty simple one and is more of a flash or vignette focusing on a brief moment in the nightlife of a modern day vampire. There’s something very New York feeling about this story that I just can’t put my finger on, but it’s definitely something I picked up on. Overall, there’s not a lot to this but the rhythm of the prose is fantastic and reminded me of music–maybe jazz–especially at the beginning. This is more of an impressionistic piece than I’m used to reading, but I enjoyed it. The words are evocative and effective in creating some great imagery for the reader.
‘So Runs the World Away’ by Caitlín R. Kiernan
This was another strange one, but in a great way. I loved the prose here–it’s a bit purple but never too far in that direction as it’s also down to earth and easy to relate to–really it’s a perfect balance that serves to create a unique atmosphere where everything feels off kilter for the reader and yet perfectly normal for this world the characters are ‘living’ in. The story revolves around Dead Girl, who seems to be part of a group of undead but is on the fringes of it–neither welcomed by the vampires residing in the house on Benefit Street, nor the ghouls who gather in its basement to preform ghastly dissections of corpses. You’re never really sure where Dead Girl fits into this world and neither is she. Her memories are gone but maybe glimpsed in strange dreams, or maybe they’re someone else’s dreams. Who or what she is seems to be part of the mystery. She’s part of a smaller group of undead but it doesn’t feel like she fits in there either. Ultimately, I think this is a story about someone taking back their own agency. But maybe others will get something else out of it. There’s certainly a lot to unpack with this one.
And that’s it! I’ll probably read more from this anthology at some point as it features a ton of great authors. I started reading a Tanya Huff story set in her Vicki Nelson universe but then accidentally spoiled myself as this takes place after where I’ve read up to in the series (whoops!) so I’ll have to go back and read that later, hah. Have you read any of these authors? Do you like short fiction? Leave a note in the comments, I’d love to chat!