Suzy McKee Charnas’ 1980 The Vampire Tapestry is a stand-alone hard-SF vampire novel, consisting of five short episodes in the life of her protagonist.
Dr. Edward Weyland is a respected academic who specializes in dream research. Aloof and good-looking, he is catnip to most of the women and some of the men on Cayslin College campus. This is less luck than adaptation, for Weyland is a vampire. Colleagues and students are prospective food.
His research provides him with all the sustenance he could want. Alas, this comfortable life is about to hit a snag in the form of a South African widow.
Katje is as aloof as Weyland. Were she too frank about her childhood in South Africa, her liberal employers would look at her askance. Happening on a curious scene near Weyland’s facility — a fallen study subject, Weyland’s odd behavior towards the young man — she is aware there must be an innocent explanation for what she saw. But what if there isn’t? What if Weyland is a vampire?
The campus is plagued by a rapist who has recently started murdering his victims. Katje suspects that Weyland is the attacker, disguising his bloodthirst as mundane rape and murder. She fears that he will suspect that she suspects, hence arms herself. Which she can do because this is an American campus.
Weyland is not in fact the campus rapist (although he does at least once mimic the criminal for cover, more or less as Katje suspects). She confronts him. Rather than attack her, he flees.
He’s wounded: two small calibre bullet-holes. The wounds won’t kill him — probably — but he needs time to heal. If he doesn’t take the time, he could slip into a hibernation that might last decades.
In this weakened state, he is vulnerable to an ambitious Satanist. He could spend the rest of his days the prisoner of a power-hungry cultist.
Today’s review was sparked by something rather apropos: I dreamed about reviewing it. Clearly my subconscious was sending me a message. Interestingly, on rereading the novel for the first time in forty years, I discovered that it has somehow become a period piece, depicting an interesting moment in American history few now living will remember. How did that happen?
Weyland is confident enough in his pose as an American academic that he explains exactly what he is, in the guise of speculating about how vampires would work in real life. He is solitary, long-lived, able to sleep for decades between active periods (giving prey populations time to recover), much stronger than human, and equipped with a needle-like organ for removing blood. However, because he is a purely mundane creature, he has none of the supernatural powers or weaknesses of the conventional vampire.
However, for reasons he does not fully understand until the end of the book, hibernation destroys most of his memories. Indeed, there is much about his condition that is obscure. How is he related to common-garden-variety humans? How are vampires created? Is he the last of his kind?1. Weyland does not care.
While the book changes perspective from story to story, we get enough of a Weyland-eye-view to know that we cannot romanticize him as a St.-Germaine-esque tragic victim of uncontrollable urges. He is a ruthless, pragmatic predator who, while he refrains from killing so as to avoid police investigations, is completely willing to murder if that is the most expedient course of action open to him. If he were a human, he would probably be deemed a psychopath. But of course, he isn’t human at all.
The five-part novel is a skillfully written, fascinating study of a remorseless predator surrounded by prey who can be just as merciless as he is. The novel is short on sympathetic characters (although there are some) but that wasn’t the point. In fact, I am impressed by Charnas’ decision not to soften Weyland’s edges. This makes for sometimes grim reading, but it gives the book a depth lacking in tales of sympathetic vampires.
The Vampire Tapestry is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Barnes & Noble), and here (Chapters-Indigo). The Vampire Tapestry does not appear to be available from Book Depository.
1: We also don’t know how he managed to infiltrate academia.