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Pulp Culture
Vampires are out, but
vampire slayers are in

October 7, 1999
By Franklin Harris

Remember when vampires were sexy? When they were morose, gorgeous, semi-androgynous creatures clothed in velvet, lace and Anne Rice's purple prose?

Well, those days are gone.

The 1980s gave us sympathetic vampires, bored by their immortality and cursed to lament their exile into eternal darkness. But now it has been years since Anne Rice has written anything readable, and Poppy Z. Brite, author of the modern vampire classic "Lost Souls," has moved on to other subjects, like serial killers.

And vampires, with a few exceptions, have returned to their less-than-glamorous roots.

In films like "John Carpenter's Vampires" (based on the novel "Vampire$" by John Steakley) and "Blade" (based on the comic book character created by Marv Wolfman), and in TV shows like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," the children of the night are anything but thoughtful, sympathetic characters.

OK, there is the exception of Buffy's brooding boyfriend, Angel, who just got his own TV series, but forget about him for now.

In Eastern European folklore, vampires are filthy, stinking, decaying beasts. They're undead and they sleep underground, so what else would you expect?

That vampires should be repelled by garlic made perfect sense to peasants during the Dark Ages. Bad odors repelled other bad-smelling things, they reasoned.

(Yes, medieval logic left a bit to be desired.)

So, if vampires are bad guys again, vampire slayers are in.

That is where this week's first literary pick comes in. Just in time for Halloween comes "Vampire Slayers: Stories of Those Who Dare to Take Back the Night" (Cumberland House, $12.95), edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough.

If Greenberg's name its familiar, it is probably because my unscientific survey reveals that he has edited half the science fiction and horror anthologies currently in print.

There are no literary superstars in this anthology, but there are some familiar names. They include F. Paul Wilson, author of "The Keep" and "The Tomb;" Charles de Lint, novelist and book reviewer for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction; and the late August Derleth, founder of Arkham House publishing.

Other contributors include Ed Gorman, Brian Hodge, Carl Jacobi, Richard Laymon and Tanya Huff. The stories, meanwhile, have all appeared elsewhere, a couple in the legendary pulp magazine, Weird Tales.

A second and far more substantial new horror anthology is "999: New Stories of Horror and Suspense" (Avon Books, $27.50), edited by Al Sarrantonio.

As the subtitle indicates, these stories are all previously unpublished, and they come from the word processors of some of the greatest living horror and dark fantasy authors: William Peter Blatty ("The Exorcist"), Neil Gaiman ("Neverwhere" and "Smoke and Mirrors") and Stephen King (far too many to name).

Kim Newman ("Anno Dracula"), Nancy A. Collins, Joyce Carol Oates and two "Vampire Slayers" contributors (Wilson and Gorman) join 20 other authors in rounding out the collection, which includes a short novel by Blatty.

With "999," Sarrantonio sets out to do for horror what Harlan Ellison did for science fiction with his anthology, "Dangerous Visions." He seeks to make horror into respectable literature.

Time will tell whether or not Sarrantonio succeeds as well as Ellison did, but, comparisons aside, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better horror anthology than "999." It isn't every day, after all, that the author of "The Exorcist" treats us to something new.

Of course, old things are nice, too. That is why "More Annotated H.P. Lovecraft" (Dell, $21.95) is such a joy, in the morbid sense of the word.

Edited and annotated by Peter Cannon and Lovecraft's definitive biographer, S.T. Joshi, "More Annotated H.P. Lovecraft" is an interesting mix of both classic and obscure tales from the horror master.

Lovecraft died penniless and unknown, but he is now second only to Poe in the pantheon of horror writers. This new anthology, a follow-up to Joshi's "Annotated H.P. Lovecraft," shows why, reprinting definitive editions of stories like "The Call of Cthulhu," "Herbert West -- Reanimator" and "The Thing on the Doorstep."

Joshi and Cannon's annotations demonstrate the depth and breadth of Lovecraft's imaginary worlds while clarifying his obscure references for the benefit of new readers.

So, if you're looking for a few chills on these long autumn nights, you have plenty to choose from.

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