Monday, May 12, 2014

Vampirism as a Disease

In the novel The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan, the cause of vampirism is a pathogen that once set loose begins a pandemic. Anyone bitten by someone suffering from the disease becomes infected and carriers of the disease themselves.

The Strain is one of the creepiest novels ever written. A highly engrossing read.

When I decided to write about a vampire I knew I had to set up some ground rules (something every author whose written about vampires has done). I liked some of the old standbys (the need for blood to survive, toxic affects of sunlight, immortality), but as the authors of The Strain did, I wanted to jettison the whole metaphysical aspect of it: Vampirism caused by black magic, evil spirits, etc. Which is fine for certain novels but didn't really work for mine. I wanted--well a mundane explanation. So I turned to science (albeit a fantastical version).

It has been done before, perhaps the best by Richard Matheson who wrote I Am Legend, offering a pathogen carried on the wind to explain the vampire plague, and scientific explanations for old legends. A vampire must be staked, for example, and the stake remain in the wound because withdrawing the stake will allow the tissue to knit back together before the vampire dies. A vampire can't look at his own reflection because the affect of the illness messes with his diseased mind so much that the reflection frightens him. The illness has also made vampires allergic to certain properties in garlic.

It remains one of my favorite vampire novels.

Unlike Legend or The Strain (which I read after writing my first novel) I didn't want an illness that wasn't naturally regulated. The hero in I Am Legend becomes legend because he is the last uninfected human on Earth. Anyone else not outright killed by vampires is infected and becomes a vampire. The same with The Strain.

I wanted to afford my vampires the option to not need to kill their host. As long as they're of healthy minds and bodies they can control themselves and take only what's needed. It goes back to what I've written about moral compasses. Those who have no compunction about hurting people will probably have no problem killing the host. Those with higher morals before conversion will do what they need to survive but try not to hurt the host.

But that can only be done if the infection can't be spread. In essence, when it came to vampires, I needed two possibilities: A human that could be infected and one that couldn't. There had to be something in the physiology of the future vampires that allowed the disease in and an immunity in the nonvampire that conquered the disease.

And so begat the vampire gene. Explained as a gene that might have survived on from prehistoric times, those with the gene are susceptible to the disease. If a vampire bites someone without the gene, the disease dies within their system.

This enabled me to do a controlled "passing on" of vampirism, otherwise, it would indeed turn into a raging pandemic and the world would be peopled with vampires (even Matheson, knowing he needed at least one normal human alive for the story, gave that human an immunity to the plague turning everyone else into vampires). Other authors have tackled this problem of creating more vampires using other devices coming up with elaborate ways to pass on the condition. A certain number of bites before the host is turned. In some, vampirism is considered a gift bestowed carefully upon someone (anyone not allowed this immortality is drained to death or killed in some other fashion). An answered prayer from an evil deity.

I didn't want to go that route to explain why everyone hasn't turned because I wanted to use the possibility as a dramatic device.

Narain has feeding issues, partly because of his attitude toward what he's become. When he had Sophie to feed on it was easier. But prior to her and after, feeding was difficult not only because he felt like a thief but because he was afraid of passing the disease on. Not everyone he fed on succumbed to it. But some would. Some whose lives would altered forever. As his was. And if he passed the condition on to someone dangerous? While it had its inconveniences it also left him a nearly indestructible being. Someone without conscious possessing that power--well the idea disturbed him greatly. 

So it helped me give Narain one more hurdle in the story that he'd have to navigate. It's a hurdle that it takes a couple of books for him to navigate as Sophie's passing makes him realize just how complacent he's become about what he is.

It has also helped me come up with other types of vampires with which to people my stories. While most people with the gene are affected in the same way, there are those who may convert to vampirism with a slightly different result (the most striking example being those who become feral and those sentient). And as in novel four, some might not convert completely, yet have a connection to vampires after being attacked none the less.

It's opened up a variety of possibilities for me which I hope will be revealed in a long and successful series of novels.

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