If you get H.G. Wells, Sherlock Holmes, Oscar Wilde, William James, Nikolai Tesla and Dracula all together in the same room for a night of philosophical speculation on the eve of the 19th century, it’s got to be good…or, at the very least, fascinating and unusual. Makes you want to read the book, right? The Hunger and Ecstasy of Vampires by Brian Stableford thus kicks off with an original, engrossing premise: that the aforementioned luminaries, fictional and otherwise, have gathered to listen to the narrative of a man who claims that he has time-traveled to a far future when vampires have subjugated humankind.
This idea could definitely sustain a novel or 3, but ……not as executed by Stableford. Instead of playing off each other, the men of genius merely listen to an endless, sluggish narrative about Copplestone’s hallucinatory time travel. Philosophical conversation ensues as Copplestone tries to determine whether his visions are true, and the listeners try to determine whether time travel is possible. It’s intensely tedious.
As a matter of fact, The Hunger and Ecstasy of Vampires reads like a Socratic dialog, but without any of the character development evinced in Plato’s famous works. Readers of the Socratic dialogs feel curiosity and some sympathy as the outspoken, annoying and not entirely likable Socrates tries to justify himself to listeners and to Athens. By contrast, however, I feel no similar engagement with the
cardboard shills "characters" in Hunger and Ecstasy…
I kept saying, "Any minute now, I’m gonna find some hunger and ecstasy… Any minute now… Well, I’ll settle for a stomach growl and some transitory delight… How about a snack and a smirk? Where is this ecstasy? Where is this hunger? I’VE BEEN CHEATED!"
I see from the Amazon product description that this book originally started off as a shorter work. It should have stayed a novella. A philosophical dialog can work as a shorter story, provided that it exploits the shorter form to condense all the talkiness and make the ending twist punchier. I’m willing to bet that the novella is, on an Amazon scale of quality, ***1/2 or even ****. In its attenuated, flaccid state, The Hunger and Ecstasy of Vampires only rates **.
P.S. The Hunger and Ecstasy of Vampires wins my award for Silliest, Most Ineffective Title Ever. Clearly there’s some metonymy at work, in which Stableford is using parts [=hunger and ecstasy] to refer to a whole [=vampirism]. However, you kind of kill the economical, metaphorical and literary effect of metonymy when you put both the parts and the whole in the same phrase. That’s like saying "The Crown and the Scepter of the Queen" or, more appropriately for our mythological leanings, "The Fury and Paralysis of the Gorgon." It’s like explaining a joke after you tell it. It’s like putting neon lights and marching ants around your themes. It’s insulting to the reader’s intelligence. It sounds like a teenager trying to think of a suitably portentous label for her first fantasy epic. It’s pretentious. It’s stupid. If you come across a book with such an overkilling title, it’s probably not very good.