Longtime science fiction fans remember the Ace Doubles books that included two stories in one mass-market paperback binding. Decades later, Tor had a series of Tor Doubles that included two award-winning novellas in the same format. More recently, Gollancz published something similar under the Millennium imprint and called the books Binary and, like the Ace Doubles, each title is flipped 180 degrees, so you get what appear to be two books slapped together with no back cover.
Binary 2 includes two stories: “The Vaccinator” by Michael Marshall Smith and “Andy Warhol’s Dracula” by Kim Newman.
Reviews after the jump…
“The Vaccinator” by Michael Marshall Smith
The intent of “The Vaccinator” appears to the creation of something similar to Men in Black. Or maybe I’m predisposed to think so because of a quote stating as much? At any rate, what you have is the appearance of aliens on Earth that go largely unnoticed except by a select few.
Eddie Kruger, the protagonist of “The Vaccinator” is not a man in black; he’s just a humble, laid back resident of Key West with special knowledge and skills. He uses that knowledge to help George Becker, a vacationing real estate agent who has weird things happening to him: silent phone calls, things disappearing, cars losing power, etc. What’s happening is that aliens are marking him for a disappearance. Eddie makes his money charging his clients and paying off the aliens (minus his cut) to simply do nothing. Eddie is a “vaccinator”, preventing harm from coming to an unsuspecting public.
This is a decent premise as far as it goes. The idea of aliens co-existing on Earth without the majority of the population knowing about it seems rife for humor. Helping matters is Smith’s engaging prose, which is perfectly consumable and reads like mainstream fiction.
But the interesting sf premise eventually devolves into an overly-complex mystery that takes away from the lightheartedness of the whole affair. There are a few humorous moments, to be sure, but those moments are sidetracked by Eddie’s uncanny ability to figure out the convoluted truth based on knowledge he should not have. And the aliens don’t seem to be more than bumbling idiots themselves when they could have been portrayed to greater effect if more in the vein of the mischievous greenies in Frederic Brown’s Martians Go Home. Moments like these seemed to take away from the tongue-in-cheek effect that seemed to be the goal, leaving room for improvement in an otherwise good story.
“Andy Warhol’s Dracula” by Kim Newman
“Andy Warhol’s Dracula” is what you’d get if you took handfuls of vampire lore and 70’s pop culture references then smashed them together into an appetizing mishmash of cool.
The star of the story is Johnny Pop, a descendent of the one and only Dracula, who is trying to rebuild an empire on the shores of America. The story follows Johnny’s rise from near-nobody (feeding on the dregs of punks like Sid and Nancy, yes…that Sid and Nancy) to social icon. Johnny uses his own blood to gain power, selling $200 hits to young hopefuls who want the ultimate high that only “drac” can provide. Sure, it turns them into Dhampirs, forever striving for the one bite that will finally cross them over through death into vampire-hood – but this is the new drug. Everybody’s doing it. Soon, Johnny is rubbing elbows with Andy Warhol, himself a vampire. (His pasty white appearance can mean nothing else, Johnny surmises).
Like his Diogenes Club stories, Newman gives “Andy Warhol’s Dracula” an appealing, alternate-retro setting, peopling it with 70’s icon both real and fictional. For example, it is mentioned that Johnny has appropriated the famed disco suit of Tony Manero (John Travolta’s character in Saturday Night Fever) just before tossing him over the Brooklyn Bridge. There’s also a scene in which “that girl from Star Wars” does a hit of drac, turning her into a Dhampir. Other folks and places garner mentions as well: Steve Rubell and Studio 54, Lou Reed, David Bowie, Nico and the Velvet Underground, George Burns… To round out the setting, Newman does a decent bit of world building as well. Here, vampirism is a known condition but the law has yet to catch up with the issues that they bring forth.
Newman’s novella is broken into two narratives: the main one recounting Johnny’s story, the other providing Warhol’s alternate biography. Johnny’s story provides the bulk of entertainment here. The Warhol biography, while interesting at first, fills its need early on and ultimately seems to become a cheap vehicle for 70’s pop culture references, which spew forth faster than a vampire can draw blood from a not-quite-unwilling victim. At least when the pop references are made in Johnny’s story, they are used to advance the plot or provide atmosphere. In the Warhol bio, it’s just name-dropping.
Still, “Andy Warhol’s Dracula” is a hoot to read, providing an appealing flavor in a one-sitting read.