I finished reading Team Human for the first time, and am wrapping back to start the second reading before I post a full review.
Writing buddy and faithful buddy TruantPony pointed out that the protagonists of both Team Human and Erika and the Vampire are non-White best-friends-of-girl-in-love-with-vampire. I thought about that one for a bit. Mel Duan (the protagonist of Team Human) is Chinese-American, specifically third-generation American-born Chinese, the lucky folks who get mistaken for Exotic Foreigners although they speak not one word of Cantonese or Mandarin or any other Chinese language. Erika is African-American, a great-grandchild of the Great Migration. Each in her way is a native outsider.
Mel is snarky, sarcastic, nosy: a wonderful Sherlock-Holmes-in-spite-of-herself, the kind of plot driver who makes things happen not by poking at UXBs a la Loki or Coyote, but by asking questions, which lead to action that raises yet more questions.
She lives in the town of New Whitby, Maine, where vampires settled in Puritan days. In the world of Team Human, vampires co-exist with humans and even enjoy a certain glam cachet (there are vampire groupies and vamposeurs). The voters of the state have passed a proposal setting the same penalties for murder of a vampire and murder of a human, All public buildings are required to have smoked-glass, UV-blocking windows, so that vampire citizens can go about daylight business in safety.
And the vampires of New Whitby go about their business like ordinary folk, except that they dress in hazmat suits to do so. Chapter one, “Two Girls and a Hazmat Suit” gives that strangest of rarities, a vampire who’s enrolled in high school, for reasons unknown… and Mel’s friend Cathy is immediately entranced by this blond vision, whose name is Francis Duvarney.
Yes, the authors of Team Human go there, repeatedly. They’ve borrowed Stephenie Meyers’ setup from Twilight, but in the spirit of everything vampire being fair game, we also have references to Dracula (New Whitby) and its predecessors (du Varney, from the 19th century Varney the Vampire). Not to mention the sacred texts of Dark Romanticism generally: Cathy, methinks, owes her given name to the anti-heroine of Wuthering Heights.
In the academy, they call this intertextuality. I call it rip-roaring fun.
One of the issues I have with Twilight is that it cheats on the scary side; both book and film turn wrap this terrifying creature in pink cotton-candy. Team Human doesn’t make the same mistake: in choosing the lore of the vampire mythos, the authors make the transformation from human to vampire truly risky. There are three possible outcomes: You die, you get turned into a rapidly-degenerating zombie, or you make the passage successfully. Team Human’s vampires live in an emotional shadow-land, incapable of laughter and bereft of the sharp sensual delights of humans. For one conspicuous example, vampires lose their taste for chocolate.
Yes, there are zombies too, and some of their horror potential is tapped here as well, to underline the notion that there are things worse than death.
Cathy falls in love with Francis, Mel remains skeptical, and their friend Anna has recently lost her father, a vampire psychiatrist, who has apparently run off with one of his undead patients.
One of the things that’s really masterful about this book is the way that it balances comedy against horror, and pulls off an ending with real feeling. For those who know all the texts being riffed on, there are the additional pleasures of allusion, but the story works beautifully without them, which is to say that it’s a great story.
Which brings me to the question of the fangs.
Since I undertook the project of learning about Twilight, its fandom, and things vampire, my artistic colleagues have undertaken to curate all sorts of goodies for me. One of them was the film Daybreakers [script here, for those not desiring to view horror-show gory bits]. Premise: suppose that vampirism were a plague or majority-population phenomenon.
Somebody on the writing/design team had an itchy trigger finger for pyrotechnics, because the vampires in this film burst into flame when the sun strikes them.
They also burst into flame when staked.
Oh yes, and if they go without blood, they develop a deficiency disease that turns them into inhuman, ravening, zomboid critters. (Just as in Team Human, another face of the fate worse than death.)
And the vampire world, which is to say the world as we know it, is running out of humans to farm. POV character is a vampire hematologist…
Now I will say that I’m not a fan of exploding heads, projectile vomiting, or buckets-o-blood dismemberings, so luckily my Film Curator warned me when these bits were coming, so I would have a prayer of judging the film as a story rather than a connected series of horror-show set pieces. I should add that the visual design of the film is awesome and the suspense fantastic.
But the key and the centerpiece: we are shown the fangs.
And then we have to deal with the fanged ones as characters and even feel sympathy for their dilemma.
I watched this film prior to the final hour of Twilight, and realized that Twilight cheats here: we never see Robert Pattinson or any of the other unnaturally good-looking vampires (even the coldly menacing villain) actually Show The Fangs. And I should add that Pattinson’s performance as Edward is brilliant, and truly shows to advantage in the mash-up Buffy vs. Edward. I hunted up interviews with him. Google “Robert Pattinson hates Twilight” though really that’s not a fair summary of the interviews, which mostly discuss his interpretation of the character of Edward, using (among other sources), Meyer’s POV-Edward novella Midnight Sun. The predator who snaps into focus when juxtaposed with no-nonsense, self-possessed Buffy is fact the actor’s intention.
For the record, I’d totally hire him for my vampire film. Though I wonder if he will suffer a Vampire Curse similar to the one that beleaguered poor Bela Lugosi … and methinks he wonders the same. (Which suggests a whole set of awesome story ideas.)
The thing I miss is seeing him with fangs. If anybody reading this can link me to photomanips of Edward-with-fangs, I would be eternally grateful.
Because really, that’s the test of the vampire: you see inhuman teeth in a human face, and that triggers atavistic gut-level terror. If you can humanize someone who’s just shown you that, you’re an artist of high order.
The truth that flows like a subterranean river under the vampire trope is that we all have that piece inside, the spiritual singularity that sucks in energy and gives nothing back. We all are creatures of hunger, at bottom. In writing vampires, we project that piece onto a fictional creature, so that we may consider it from the outside. We never write monsters but we write our deepest selves, knowingly or not.
Another face—more than evident both in Stoker’s Dracula and in Daybreakers—is class and consumption. [Joke break: Q. Why are there so few working-class vampires? A. Because they’re all in management.] Daybreakers shows us a society careening toward endgame in an unsustainable cycle of consumption, and it ends in mid-air, gorgeously, with a question: even if there’s an out, would they take it?
I will add that the Hollywood-style casting (all-White, all-male for the foreground cast, with two token females, one a sacrifice and one a stereotypical eye-candy badass, and smaller African-American male parts who serve—spoiler here, not so much—as cannon fodder) adds an unintentional layer of political resonance: upper-middle class white- and male-dominated corporate culture is vampirism on the grand scale, with genocide both internal and external at its core. (One of the most sickening sequences shows the ‘rational disposal’ of the degenerated vampires… and from the very beginning, those zombie-bat-things are identified with the homeless and the ‘underclass’.)
Team Human is funny-into-bittersweet and Daybreakers is elegant B-movie horror, but they both observe the conservation laws of magic; they both succeed as vampire stories because they show us the fangs.