Twitter fic requests

Carey Snow @weelittlenut asked:

Victor Frankenstein and Nikola Tesla at university together, probably in a fraternity.

veefrank: dude r u still up that party was TIGHT

takemynameinvain: ugh no I am so not into your creepy anatomy porn shit but yes still up

veefrank: what u workin on bc i am liek THISCLOSE to conquering the hitherto inevitable fell hand of death also kegstands

veefrank: also that coleridge dude is here and he has some unbelievable shit you should come over

takemynameinvain: sorry too busy revolutionizing technology and inventing things that asshole marconi down the hall is totally gonna steal, get extra wasted for me

takemynameinvain: wait did you say something about conquering death or are you just fucked up

veefrank: WHO THE FUCK KNOWS g2g henry clerval is here sorry bro gotta try to hit that

takemynameinvain: tell him he’s too good for you, douchefuck

veefrank: lmao right back at you asshole also i ganked a bunch of your electrical experiment shit to use in this death conquering deal, hope that’s ok

takemynameinvain: WHAT DID YOU DO WITH MY ELECTROSTATIC GENERATORS AND THE MACHINE THAT GOES PING

veefrank: gotta wait & see ;D

GRAVE IMPORTANCE is here...but more importantly, I think, THE SERIES EARNED OUT

Before the book even dropped. In fact, it had earned out as of June 30.

I am amazed. Thank you to everyone who’s read or listened to the books so far, and I truly hope you enjoy GRAVE IMPORTANCE as much as the rest. I personally think it’s the best of them all, and I had so much fun writing it — and learned so much about what to do, as opposed to what not to do, which DREADFUL COMPANY taught me in extreme detail. I know my own workflow now, and the techniques that work for me (which may work for some other people, but certainly not all) and discovered that in effect the way I write is sort of the way screenwriters work. Which is unsurprising because when I write I am basically describing a movie that happens in my head — I know how I’d frame the shots, how I’d do the lighting, how I’d fade from scene to scene, and turning that into prose is what I do.

I’m glad you’ve come along with me so far, and I hope you follow me where I’m going next.

Here is the page with all three books and a bouquet of links to buy them with, in case you haven’t but are interested. And here is a dreaming octopus, by way of thanks.

Counting down to GRAVE IMPORTANCE -- and a giveaway!

I cannot wait for book three to be out there in the world. This one’s got all the good stuff in it, things I didn’t think I’d ever be able to write about, and there is Dr. Faust shouting and trauma surgery and the Lake Avernus Spa & Resort and the Devil wearing white silk suits without a shirt, not to mention antiquities theft, prehensile hair, and the wonders of flying first class —

— and now, for a limited time, you can enter to win the entire trilogy over on instagram :D :D :D (US only).

THE LUMINOUS DEAD: down in the underground, you'll find someone true

I came to Caitlin Starling’s THE LUMINOUS DEAD via any number of reviews and recaps promising me deep, vicious horror underground, and all of them were right. What I didn’t get prepared for was exactly how somatic the experience was, how clearly I felt an echo of the protagonist’s physical experience as she delves deeper and deeper into the unnamed cave that has eaten so many people already.

I’m into the horrors of the deep. Fans of Internet mythologia will be familiar with the tale of Ted the Caver, which up until the very end has the validating ring of possibility; fans of oh god this really happened underground horror will be able to tell the story of Floyd Collins’s bad death in a crevice underneath Kentucky. There’s instance after instance of humans being caught or lost in the deep passages under the earth, and storytellers have always capitalized on this profound horror. Look at Junji Ito’s The Enigma of Amigara Fault for the clearest and most chilling distillation of this particular fear.

Starling doesn’t rest on this particular coasting tide of horror. What sets her caving protagonist aside is the fact that she — Gyre Price — is cocooned inside a self-contained suit which renders her capable of exploring the underground passages for an indefinite period, powered by batteries, recycling her own waste and relying on nutrition via external cartridges of nutrient paste injected into her gut via an indwelling catheter port. The only connection Gyre has to the world outside the dark maze of the cave is her handler Em, a woman with her own agenda and purpose whose reasons for sending Gyre down into the dark become more and more horrific as the narrative proceeds.

THE LUMINOUS DEAD is a story about desperation, about depersonalization and about what it means to trust a single voice in the dark, when that voice has the capability of shutting down your life support at their solitary whim. It’s about trying to learn to believe someone after they have violated that trust, and the vast, helpless mental shock of learning that they might possibly care for you after all. About the awful drowning terror of being alone in the dark, of perhaps not being alone in that dark when one ought to be; about trying to make sense of someone else’s sins and how they can be rectified, while all around you the living rock shakes and trembles with the passage of a much vaster and more terrifying fear.

The pacing of the novel is sometimes suspect, and the nature of the supernatural elements at the conclusion is not as clear as I would have liked; but the full force of this book is in the way it makes you feel the simple, vicious horror of Gyre’s situation and her desperate and self-destructive efforts to survive.

I bought the novel on ibooks and binged it in one reading because I simply could not stop reading; I intend to go back and read it again, slower, with more breathing space, but I can unequivocally recommend this to anyone who’s into sci-fi horror and not horrendously squicked by descriptions of claustrophobic subterranean fear. Looking forward to what Starling’s up to next.

On Google Street View, and maps, and why they matter

Some of my favorite books in all the world have, in their frontmatter, a map of the places described in the text. I hold out hope that maybe one day mine might do the same; it is a peculiar kind of intimacy, a visual understanding between author and reader — now you have this place in your head, as it is in mine, we share an awareness of place and landscape, of objects in space. Lloyd Alexander’s Westmark trilogy, Terry Pratchett’s Night Watch, Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards series, The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings — all of them preface the story with the setting.

Maps have a lot of psychological resonance: they represent a way for humans to describe their surroundings and, in doing so, to claim some kind of ownership and sovereignty. The arc of modern history can be seen in the successive changes in our maps of the world, through the movement of borders and the names that come and go. An alien civilization could piece together a very great deal about humanity by simply going through our maps.

I have said that I could not write the things I write without the enormous felicity of being able to see the places I am using to tell my story, without having to physically travel there. Google Maps allowed me to work out where my characters would be going and what routes they would take; Google Street View made it possible for me to see what they would be seeing on the way. With GSV I could see into the British Museum and the Palais Garnier in enormous depth and detail, all from the comfort of home. I didn’t even have to put on pants, let alone shell out huge sums for plane tickets and request access to parts of buildings that aren’t open to the public. When research is this easy and accessible, it seems irresponsible not to do it.

The number of hours I spent clicking my way through London and Paris and New York for the Greta series was not recorded, but it’s a lot, and perhaps a third of the information I racked up ever made it into the books themselves. There was one memorable sequence wherein I had to do a bunch of research to track down the actual location of a house I’d seen on an image search and find it on GSV, along with ancient gelatin-silver photographs of the interior from the Museum of the City of New York, which took most of an afternoon. Cross-referencing surface images of Paris with the old maps of the catacombs in order to find a plausible location for Corvin’s lair near enough to the Palais Garnier required some effort (and a lot of layering maps on top of one another via Photoshop). There is a whole chunk of text that never made it into Strange Practice explaining Stephen Halethorpe’s route through London’s sewers from Crouch End south toward the deep-level shelter, which was exhaustively researched via a) online “draining” forums for sewer exploration enthusiasts and b) a 1930s-era London Council map of the sewer system. I’m still proud of that one, even if it was very definitely Too Much Information.

After Strange Practice and Dreadful Company were finished, I went through and marked all the significant locations on two maps, one for each book, and because I want to give readers that shared sense of place and setting I have now uploaded these to my Administrative Ephemera page. I hope they give people as much pleasure as they gave me in the making. For Grave Importance — well, the map is rather larger and less precise, but I may do it anyway, because it is fun. And because it does, in fact, matter.

On meeting your heroes

So last week as my wife and I were waiting in the shuttle bus to the VIP reception for the Gaithersburg Book Festival, I overheard a conversation between two women in the seat behind us — discussing living in New Mexico, the beauty of the Southwest, one of my favorite places — and how extraordinary it felt to realize that I was eavesdropping on Anne Hillerman, Tony Hillerman’s daughter.

Tony Hillerman’s mystery novels have been part of my life since I was very small indeed — I remember reading Listening Woman much too early to really appreciate it, but being struck by the gorgeousness of the description nonetheless. My family took a lot of vacations out to Utah and Arizona when I was growing up, and Hillerman’s novels served as a kind of passport to the stark, vivid, changing beauty of the landscape, which is a character in his work just as much as Joe Leaphorn or Jim Chee. Being out there on my honeymoon years later, and knowing where I was driving because i’d read about those very roads in Hillerman’s books, felt a little bit like coming home.

I’d known that Hillerman’s daughter had continued the series after his death, but hadn’t got around to reading her work, but here she was in this shuttle bus right behind me. I fangirled all over her, of course — but later on, at the reception, I got a chance to talk to her about the series and how much it has meant to me all my life, and how glad I am that she’s continuing it — especially because she’s focusing on one of my favorite characters, Bernie Manuelito — and about the writing process itself. Being able to talk one-on-one with someone you look up to that much, being an author talking to another author instead of just a fan — that’s one of the most amazing things that’s ever happened to me through this entire bizarre journey of publication.

It seems possible to me that one day I might be that author sitting in the shuttle bus discussing my ordinary life and being overheard by some perishing neophyte who’s read my books and wants to talk to me, and that is kind of incredible. Books bring people together. They always have done, and they always will.

“Please Remain Calm”: Chernobyl, Episode 2

The first episode of HBO’s Chernobyl was focused on foreshadowing. With the second episode, the scope of the disaster is beginning to become clear.

The single clearest departure from real history is the insertion of a fictional character, Dr. Ulana Khomyuk (Emily Watson), who appears at an opportune moment to warn everyone about the fact that melting nuclear fuel plus water equals thermal explosion and unimaginable destruction -- on top of the unimaginable destruction that’s already happened. I get why they decided to inject a female character with expertise and agency into the narrative -- otherwise it’s a colossal nuclear sausage-fest, apart from grieving will-be widows and the occasional doctor -- but I have trouble believing that Valery Legasov would have made such an enormous and elementary error as to assume that all the water the firemen have been throwing at the reactor and all the remaining water from the plant’s broken pipework would not have collected in the bubbler pools underneath the core. Adding Khomyuk as the voice of reason undercuts Legasov’s authority in a way which, to me, doesn’t do the story any favors.

But really this episode is about Boris Shcherbina, Gorbachev’s Minister of Energy (Stellan Skarsgard), and the arc he undergoes from lol-no-everything’s-totally-fine to oh-shit-no-it’s-not to one thousand percent determined to do whatever is necessary to deal with an unprecedented and unspeakable situation. Shcherbina and Legasov are a deliberately odd couple, and the way Chernobyl shifts the initiative and authority from Legasov as the technical expert and Shcherbina as the obtuse politician ordering people to die because he does not understand the situation to the place where they end up at the close of the episode is beautifully done.

As in the first episode, the cinematography is deliberate and deft. Throughout, muted and dark colors give a sense of not only ago, of the past as another country, but of the bleak and awful danger of the entire situation. The costumes and hair design are bang-on accurate. There’s a scene in which hospital staff realize that the clothes patients are wearing are hideously contaminated and have to be disposed of immediately -- heaps and heaps of clothing hastily discarded in the hospital basement -- which is indistinguishable from photographs of those same heaps in the real Pripyat hospital taken decades later. The caravan of buses heading toward the town to evacuate the entire population is splendidly sinister, as is the choice to avoid translating or subtitling the orders to evacuate read over a loudspeaker. Where Chernobyl goes foreign, it goes effectively foreign, which renders the accessibility of the rest of it even more approachable.

Information is also deftly controlled. Early on there’s a scene in which Shcherbina, sent with Legasov to go and deal with the situation, orders him to explain how a nuclear reactor works. Because Legasov has to describe it in a way which makes sense quickly and easily to someone with no scientific background, he is also explaining it to the audience without overtly infodumping. This is tricky to manage, and the show does it very well, covering the crucial concept of moderation that underlies why this particular type of reactor is such a bloody awful idea. By contrast, the condensed BBC version of the Chernobyl story from 2006 never goes into much detail about how the thing works. The pacing here is cleverly managed, keeping a level of suspense maintained throughout; some events are telescoped into one another, such as the crash of a helicopter during an observation flight. In reality, the crash happened during the mission to drop sand and boron over the burning reactor, and it happened not because the pilot flew through the lethal smoke and lost control of his aircraft; the rotor simply hit a construction crane’s cable and disintegrated, but the show’s version is better TV.

Other than the introduction of Khomyuk -- who works out what must have gone wrong and where based on the isotopes contaminating the air, and proceeds to go and get herself involved because she can’t get anyone local to take her seriously -- the other profound difference between the BBC version and HBO’s Chernobyl lies in the scene where Legasov asks for volunteers to open the valves under the reactor and drain the water from the bubbler pools. This is one of the most moving scenes in the entire story, and the BBC uses it as a key emotional moment for Legasov. Adrian Edmondson nails it hard: in one of the interview segments, tears in his eyes, he talks straight to the viewer: we’d seen so many walking dead, and sent so many to their deaths, but never with such certainty...I don’t believe there’s even a handful of nations in this world that could still produce such unquestioned sacrifice. We see him looking through the window of an armored personnel carrier, witnessing a group of soldiers all stepping forward at once to volunteer, knowing what it means, and over it all is Kharitonov and the Red Army Choir singing The Cliff. Contrast that with the HBO version, in which Legasov tries and fails to convince a group of plant workers that 400 rubles is a sufficient bonus to be worth this particular peril. It is entirely believable that none of them want to be voluntold to go and die; it is also entirely believable that Legasov has no way of persuading them, and it is enormously satisfying when Boris Shcherbina is the one to tell them why they should do it: because it must be done. Skarsgard is brilliant here. In the course of the episode he has gone from obstructionist to leader, and the speech he gives has some of the same valence as Legasov’s in the earlier BBC version. (Amusingly, we then have practically the same exact shot of Legasov looking out the window of the vehicle looking at the volunteers being prepared.)

Here, the scene in which they enter the flooded corridors of Unit 4 is extended, and it is very probably one of the nastiest and most effective bits of horror I’ve seen on film in a long time. We can’t hear them clearly through the dive masks and hoods; their words are blurred, dim, vague. The only other sound, over the splashing as they wade into the unspeakably contaminated water, is the Geiger counter’s rising tone, the clicks at first distinguishable and then blurring together into a higher and higher buzzing that becomes a scream -- and then, one by one, their flashlights fail.

I have seen a video from inside an industrial irradiator. As the camera approaches the accelerator’s scan horn, the faint glow of ionized air is visible; specks of interference, static-snow, begin to appear on the screen, rapidly intensifying. The crash and hiss of static grows until we pass directly underneath the beam, when everything blanks out in a terrible violet-white light accompanied by a hum which I have not heard anywhere else until this scene in Chernobyl: the sound of the counter screaming in the dark.

HBO's Chernobyl: deftly horrifying

The opening scenes of HBO’s Chernobyl are as bleak and dully miserable as its protagonist, the Soviet scientist Valery Legasov, himself. We see him first in a horrible little flat, green-lit with bad fluorescents, a man counting down his life in minutes: a man with no other way out. Whatever story he’s just told his tape recorder is very obviously something dreadful, and we cut directly from his own departure-via-suicide to the event itself, witnessed from the city of Pripyat by a young woman who knows without being told that the fire which her husband will shortly be called to fight is no ordinary fire.

It is impossible not to compare HBO’s Chernobyl with the 2006 BBC version, Chernobyl: Surviving Disaster, written and directed by Nick Murphy, starring Adrian Edmondson of Young Ones fame as Legasov. In many ways the two versions are very similar – both open with Legasov’s last words, both employ British accents instead of faux-Russian ones, both have similar structures. Many scenes are nearly identical, word for word – but this is because both productions are telling the same story, and faithfulness to that story results in extremely similar dialogue. Where they depart from one another is in their approach to the storytelling itself. HBO’s version is separated into multiple episodes, of which we have only yet seen the first one; the BBC chose to condense the entire narrative into a single hour. Edmondson’s Legasov talks to the camera in intercut sections, telling the story as it happened; his voiceover throughout lends the film a deliberate poignancy. He draws us through the narrative, skipping forward in time through the medium of his interviews with the tape recorder.

HBO’s Craig Mazin and Johan Renck have more space and time in which to tell this tale, and don’t need the shell-structure of interviews for Jared Harris, as Legasov, to lead us through the gaps. We’re going to get to see everything, the whole grueling miserable sequence.

From the firefighter’s wife we cut to the control room of Unit 4, moments after the explosion, and here is where things start to get truly tragic: as the audience, we know what’s happened, the scale of the disaster, and the poor bastards in the white surgical caps have no idea: will not believe it, cannot believe it, and are directed by the deputy chief engineer Dyatlov to address an altogether different and imaginary accident. It is Dyatlov who sends the operators down into the ruined heart of the plant, Dyatlov who insists there is nothing more terribly wrong than a hydrogen explosion, Dyatlov who refuses to listen when another operator, his exposed skin already turning scarlet, tells him there is no core, the core exploded, it’s on fire. It can’t be, of course. RBMK reactors don’t explode. Soviet engineering has no faults, the design is perfect, the blame lies with the operators. Anything else is unthinkable. Later on he will shout you didn’t see graphite on the ground, you didn’t, because it’s not there, just before collapsing in a fit of vomiting.

In the crushed and sagging corridors, with the alarm klaxon wailing, we have the sense of entering something vast and terribly damaged, a gut-shot giant who has not yet collapsed all the way. As the operators struggle through haze and rubble and fallen girders to reach their missing comrades, the scale of the plant becomes evident. This is not a large building: this is a huge building, and whatever has gone wrong is also huge. We see more and more men collapsing, faces burned horribly scarlet, convulsed with retching, and when they finally get to the reactor hall and see with their own eyes exactly what is left of Unit 4, staring into the terrible beauty of the burning reactor even as their skin turns red, we know they are dead; that they have died, are dying, that it is only a matter of time before they finish the process. They are, quite literally, cooked.

Much of what makes Chernobyl so powerful hinges on that fact: that we know what’s happening but the characters do not. When a curious firefighter picks up a piece of graphite moderator lying on the ground outside the ruined building and shortly afterward starts to scream in agony as the skin of his hand comes off, his buddy’s casual and unheeded warning “I dunno, don’t fuck with it” echoes for a long time. Running underneath the whole story is the profound tragic error of the Soviet approach to safety culture: reality is what we say it is. One of the most chilling scenes in the entire episode comes in a local Party committee meeting early on, in a bunker deep underground, when the full scope of the disaster has not yet been understood: when the people ask questions that are not in their best interest, they should simply be told to keep their minds on their labor, says the terrifying and somewhat Palpatinian ranking Party official. They are to lock down the city of Pripyat, and cut the telephone wires to halt the spread of distracting information. We shall all be rewarded for what we do here tonight, he says, and smiles: you can see the skull beneath the skin. This is our moment to shine.

Chernobyl’s foreshadowing is deftly handled. At one point a doctor, looking out at the distant fire from a hospital maternity ward, asks if the hospital stocks iodine pills; it seems like a random question unless you know that human thyroid glands are thirsty for iodine and, unless saturated with the regular kind, will soak up radioactive iodine-131 – released from the damaged reactor – like sponges, a reservoir of poison poised to kindle cancer. Her colleague scoffs: why should the hospital stock iodine pills? It’s all the answer we need. Another effective scene has very little dialogue at all, showing the Pripyat residents watching the plant burn, looking up in wonder as what looks like snow begins to fall. At the end we see the children of Pripyat walking to school, laughing and chatting with each other, in bright sunlight: just after their feet pass by, a dying bird falls to the sidewalk and convulses briefly before lying still.

The cinematography is excellent, the visual effects effective, rendering the scope of the damage viscerally clear. I can’t tell how much was filmed using some other very similar plant as a stand-in and how much is CGI, which tells you how good the CGI is. I particularly appreciate the unflinching depiction of what unthinkable doses of ionizing radiation do to humans; I’ve read IAEA reports of industrial-irradiator and criticality accidents (hi there, Mayak), and the descriptions of victims suffering from the acute central-nervous-system type of radiation sickness is right there on the screen. Even the little details, like the taste of metal in their mouths. It’s enormously satisfying to watch.

The soundtrack is minimal, very little familiar or recognizable music behind any of the scenes; what there is is faint, pulsing, vaguely ominous. It works exceptionally well in scenes where all we hear is that background music, rather than the cacophony that is clearly happening behind it; there’s a scene in which Dyatlov is half-carried between two guards past ambulances, stretchers, men and women who are clearly dying, firefighters with faces burned bright red, and in the distance the ruined reactor building still billowing black and lethal smoke, and we hear none of it. The realization unspools behind his eyes, as we watch, and the lack of voices or background noise makes the viewer feel as dazed and horrified, unmoored from reality, as he does.

The minimalism of the soundtrack is one of the crucial tonal differences between this Chernobyl  and the BBC film – which uses musical cues to brilliant effect. Leonid Kharitonov’s Red Army Choir recording of The Cliff is played at a particularly moving point, underscoring not just the narrative of the story but the underlying Soviet narrative itself, from the inside. The gorgeous, operatic presentation of a traditional folk song juxtaposed with what Legasov describes as unquestioned sacrifice illustrates what he calls the Soviet heart: it’s 1941 all over again, the same desperation, the same lack of readiness, the same courage.

None of Chernobyl’s actors, just like the BBC’s actors thirteen years earlier, attempt to perform Russian accents. Instead, they all speak with British accents. This is an extremely well-done choice, and one which I am glad was repeated by the HBO production. For one thing, fake Russian is inherently distracting and somewhat farcical, and serves to insert a kind of unnecessary barrier between viewer and film; for another, it makes no sense -- these people are speaking to one another in their own language within the story, rather than an accented foreign language. Having these people talk in a more familiar and ordinary way – to the American and British audience, at least – immediately serves to make the story more accessible. It’s the same concept behind doing Shakespeare with colloquial, conversational pacing and pronunciation, rather than ~declaiming~ it: the familiar cadences of speech render the other, the unfamiliar, the difficult to follow, into something immediately more ordinary and thus in some ways more real.

In coming episodes, we will see in detail the brutal struggle to put out the fire and to drain the water from the chambers underneath the reactor before what’s left of the core can melt all the way down and meet that water in an unthinkably massive thermal explosion, rendering large stretches of the Ukraine uninhabitable for the foreseeable future. There will very likely be a great deal of well-researched information presented in a way which renders it both accessible and understandable, which is a net positive – anything that can help people understand what is, and is not, true about radiation and reactor design and design-basis accidents is enormously welcome. We are also, I anticipate, going to be given lovingly graphic illustrations of the progression of radiation injury in man, most of which I’m going to have to close my eyes for. I can, and do, read about this stuff with avid interest; seeing it is not my cup of tea, but body-horror enthusiasts are going to have a ball.

In sum: you need to see this, for a number of reasons; it is a deftly conceived and executed horror story, made more horrific by the fact that it is real.

Link to the BBC version

I will be posting a separate discussion of reactor design and why Chernobyl cannot happen at all in any American nuclear power plant shortly, so stay tuned :)

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT: Varney the Vampyre Starts Afresh

Previously on: Varney writes the world’s least grateful goodbye note and disappears, foiling the admiral’s plot to ship him off to America; Chillingworth and Jack encounter a stranger at the Hall attempting to make off with the Ominous Portrait and fight him off, but Chillingworth is attacked again while attempting to carry the portrait to the Cottage of Undisclosed Location and the portrait, it is gone.

We now cut to a completely different story taking place somewhere else. Rymer/Prest have done the Random Digression before, ad nauseam, but at this point the narrative abandons the Bannerworths and their situation completely, with one single line of transition between Story A and Story B. (Tom Servo: “I think this is movie D. D for dumb.”)

About twenty miles to the southward of Bannerworth Hall was a good-sized market-town, called Anderbury. It was an extensive and flourishing place, and from the beauty of its situation, and its contiguity to the southern coast of England, it was much admired; and, in consequence, numerous mansions and villas of great pretension had sprang up in its immediate neighbourhood.

that’s nice, why should we care

Betides, there were some estates of great value, and one of these, called Anderbury-on-the-Mount, in consequence of the mansion itself, which was of an immense extent, being built upon an eminence, was to be let, or sold.

BUT IT’S SPOOKY:

There were some peculiar circumstances why Anderbury-on-the-Mount was to let. It had been for a great number of years in possession of a family of the name of Milltown, who had resided there in great comfort and respectability, until an epidemic disorder broke out, first among the servants, and then spreading to the junior branches of the family, and from them to their seniors, produced such devastation, that in the course of three weeks there was but one young man left of the whole family, and he, by native vigour of constitution, had baffled the disorder, and found himself alone in his ancestral halls, the last of his race.

Last Scion Dude apparently developed severe situational depression and decided, unsurprisingly, to ditch the ancestral pile and go live somewhere that wasn’t rife with the ghosts of his departed family, therefore the house is to let, we get it.

And now we also get why this story is associated with the one we’ve just spent thirty zillion words slogging through. It is a shining example of How Not to Manage Information In A Book; approximately one week after the events we have just witnessed, a super rich aristocratic stranger arrives at the Anderbury inn. One guess only as to who the mysterious newcomer might be:

"Who is he?" asked the landlord.

"It's the Baron Stolmuyer Saltsburgh."

"Bless my heart, I never heard of him before; where did he come from—somewhere abroad I suppose?"

"I can't tell you anything of him further than that he is immensely rich, and is looking for a house. He has heard that there is one to let in this immediate neighbourhood, and that's what has brought him from London, I suppose."

also he wants to drink ur blood

He had not been long in the place when he sent for the landlord, who, hastily scrambling on his best coat, and getting his wife to arrange the tie of his neckcloth, proceeded to obey the orders of his illustrious guest, whatever they might chance to be.

He found the Baron Stolmuyer reclining upon a sofa, and having thrown aside his velvet cloak, trimmed with rich fur, he showed that underneath it he wore a costume of great richness and beauty, although, certainly, the form it covered was not calculated to set it off to any great advantage, for the baron was merely skin and bone, and looked like a man who had just emerged from a long illness, for his face was ghastly pale, and the landlord could not help observing that there was a strange peculiarity about his eyes, the reason of which he could not make out.

THAT’S BECAUSE HE’S A VAMPYRE

NAMED VARNEY

"You are the landlord of this inn, I presume," said the baron, "and, consequently, no doubt well acquainted with the neighbourhood?"

"I have the honour to be all that, sir. I have been here about sixteen years, and in that time I certainly ought to know something of the neighbourhood."

"'Tis well; some one told me there was a little cottage sort of place to let here, and as I am simple and retired in my habits I thought that it might possibly suit me."

Oh shut up, dude, “cottage.” It is evident that Varney has extracted Marma-B’s cash from the Ominous Portrait and bought himself a new, more obnoxious than ever, identity:

"Oh! sir, that is quite a mistake; who told you so? It's the largest place about here; there are a matter of twenty-seven rooms in it, and it stands altogether upon three hundred acres of ground."

"And have you the assurance," said the baron, "to call that anything but a cottage, when the castle of the Stolmuyers, at Saltzburgh, has one suite of reception rooms thirty in number, opening into each other, and the total number of apartments in the whole building is two hundred and sixty, it is surrounded by eight miles of territory."

"The devil!" said the landlord. "I beg your pardon, sir, but when I am astonished, I generally say the devil. They want eight hundred pounds a year for Anderbury-on-the-Mount."

"A mere trifle. I will sleep here to-night, and in the morning I will go and look at the place. It is near the sea?"

Just in case his financial status has not been painted in sufficiently broad strokes, Varney proceeds to order everything on the menu for dinner and then not eat it, which impresses the landlord more in terms of ostentatious displays of wealth and less in the OH FUCK YOU, I WASTED ALL THAT TIME AND FOOD? sense. The landlord, who is an inveterate gossipmonger after the manner of his kind, spreads the news that the guy staying at his inn is so rich omg. Everything appears to be proceeding satisfactorily, except DUN DUN DUNNN we now have the introduction of Shifty-Eyed Stranger Who’s Blackmailing Varney:

About an hour and a half after the baron had retired to rest, and while the landlord was still creeping about enjoining silence on the part of the establishment, so that the slumbers of a wealthy and, no doubt, illustrious personage should not be disturbed, there arrived a horseman at the Anderbury Arms.

He was rather a singular-looking man, with a shifting, uneasy-looking glance, as if he were afraid of being suddenly pounced upon and surprised by some one; and although his apparel was plain, yet it was good in quality, and his whole appearance was such as to induce respectful attention.

The only singular circumstance was, that such a traveller, so well mounted, should be alone; but that might have been his own fancy, so that the absence of an attendant went for nothing. Doubtless, if the whole inn had not been in such a commotion about the illustrious and wealthy baron, this stranger would have received more consideration and attention than he did.

Upon alighting, he walked at once into what is called the coffee-room of the hotel, and after ordering some refreshments, of which he partook but sparingly, he said, in a mild but solemn sort of tone, to the waiter who attended upon him,—

"Tell the Baron Stolmuyer, of Saltzburgh, that there is one here who wants to see him."

Rymer/Prest, never the ones to pay a blind bit of attention to continuity, apparently want to tell the same basic story all over again and therefore retcon the previous blackmailer’s death:

Then the baron shrunk back, and the stranger, folding his arms, said,—

"You know me. Let our interview be as brief as possible. There needs no explanations between us, for we both know all that could be said. By some accident you have become rich, while I continue quite otherwise. It matters not how this has occurred, the fact is everything. I don't know the amount of your possessions; but, from your style of living, they must be great, and therefore it is that I make no hesitation in asking of you, as a price for not exposing who and what you are, a moderate sum."

"I thought that you were dead."

"I know you did; but you behold me here, and, consequently, that delusion vanishes."

THIS IS THE LAZIEST FUCKING STORYTELLING OMG.

"What sum do you require, and what assurance can I have that, when you get it, the demand will not be repeated on the first opportunity?"

"I can give you no such assurance, perhaps, that would satisfy you entirely; but, for more reasons than I choose to enter into, I am extremely anxious to leave England at once and forever. Give me the power to do so that I require, and you will never hear of me again."

AND NOW THEY SCREW IT UP FURTHER:

The baron hesitated for some few seconds, during which he looked scrutinizingly at his companion, and then he said, in a tone of voice that seemed as if he were making the remark to himself rather than to the other,—

"You look no older than you did when last we parted, and that was years ago."

okay so is this guy the ex-murdered hangman or what (also never ever ever use the phrase looked scrutinizingly at)

"Why should I look older? You know as well as I that I need not.

Okay, so he’s the Hungarian vampire we last saw floating merrily downstream?

But, to be brief, I do not wish to interfere with any plans or projects you may have on hand. I do not wish to be a hindrance to you. Let me have five thousand pounds, and I am off at once and forever, I tell you."

Varney is like “lol no way, u can have one thousand” and the blackmailer refuses to budge, thus basically signing his own death warrant. At some point during this conversation they have gone walking along the seashore, and Varney tells him that he can think of another way to get rid of him other than handing over five thousand pounds and the dude is even more obtuse than Henry Bannerworth:

"I do not understand you; you had better beware how you tamper with me, for I am not one who will be calmly disposed to put up with much. The sense, tact, and worldly knowledge which you say you have before, from time to time, given me credit for, belongs to me still, and I am not likely easily to commit myself."

So Varney shoots him, or attempts to, but his pistol misfires and he has to judo-throw the blackmailing vampyre and stab him through the throat in what is actually a pretty damn intense little violent scene. The description here is some of Rymer/Prest’s better work, and Varney has a couple of great lines:

"Have mercy upon me. I meant not to take your life; and, therefore, why should you take mine?"

"You would have taken it, and, therefore, you shall die. Know, too, as this is your last moment, that, vampyre as you are, and as I, of all men, best know you to be, I will take especial care that you shall be placed in some position after death where the revivifying moonbeams may not touch you, so that this shall truly be your end, and you shall rot away, leaving no trace behind of your existence, sufficient to contain the vital principle."

"No—no! you cannot—will not. You will have mercy."

"Ask the famished tiger for mercy, when you intrude upon his den."

DANG

As he spoke the baron ground his teeth together with rage, and, in an instant, buried the poniard in the throat of his victim. The blade went through to the yellow sand beneath, and the murderer still knelt upon the man's chest, while he who had thus received so fatal a blow tossed his arms about with agony, and tried in vain to shriek.

The nature of the wound, however, prevented him from uttering anything but a low gurgling sound, for he was nearly choked with his own blood, and soon his eyes became fixed and of a glassy appearance; he stretched out his two arms, and dug his fingers deep into the sand.

The baron drew forth the poniard, and a gush of blood immediately followed it, and then one deep groan testified to the fact, that the spirit, if there be a spirit, had left its mortal habitation, and winged its flight to other realms, if there be other realms for it to wing its flight to.

And as usual they don’t stick the landing: that last line absolutely destroys the resonance and effect of the scene and returns it to farce. Varney has to dispose of the body, and this he does in a classical Varney fashion, badly. There is a sort of complicated underground ice-house passage leading from the mansion to the beach, into which he lugs the body and pitches it down one of the ice-wells:

It was an annoyance, however, for him to find that the distance was not so deep as he had anticipated, and when he took the light from the niche where he had placed it, and looked earnestly down, he could see the livid, ghastly-looking face of the dead man, for the body had accidentally fallen upon its back, which was a circumstance he had not counted upon, and one which increased the chances greatly of its being seen, should any one be exploring, from curiosity, that not very inviting place.

This was annoyance, but how could it be prevented, unless, indeed, he chose to descend, and make an alteration in the disposition of the corpse? But this was evidently what he did not choose to do; so, after muttering to himself a few words expressive of his intention to leave it where it was, he replaced the candle, after extinguishing it, in the box from whence he had taken it, and carefully walked out of the dismal place.

I can get screwing up the initial disposition of the body, but the fact that he kinda just sort of goes shrug emoji and wanders off is just so dumb. It’s his hallmark: he seems to want to get caught, whether consciously or unconsciously, and proceeds to do incredibly stupid things that practically guarantee angry mobs. It’s a version of dog science*, and it’s evidence of a couple of authors who refuse to let their characters develop or learn from their actions and mistakes.

Next time: we’re suddenly back in Story A with the Bannerworths, because nobody could accuse Rymer/Prest of understanding the necessity of transitions.


*From Allie Brosh’s brilliant Hyperbole and a Half.

Art Theft and Ent Henchmen: The Farewell of Varney the Vampyre

Previously on: Varney is chased by policemen, escapes them, and collapses; our heroes dig up Varney and Marma-B’s murder victim for the property deeds buried with him; the Hungarian vampyre, whose hovercraft is not full of eels, shows up briefly and pointlessly and departs.

We pick up with Dr. Chillingworth, having presumably left the others at the Cottage of Undisclosed Location, heading over to Bannerworth Hall to keep an eye on the portrait. He is distracted by eavesdropping on a pair of NPCs having an infodump conversation regarding the private affairs of one of them for absolutely no reason I can work out. Seriously:

As Mr. Chillingworth was going along, he thought he observed two men sitting inside a hedge, close to a hay-rick, and thinking neither of them had any business there, he determined to listen to their conversation, and ascertain if it had any evil tendency, or whether it concerned the late event.

Having approached near the gate, and they being on the other side, he got over without any noise, and, unperceived by either of them, crept close up to them.

"So you haven't long come from sea?"

"No; I have just landed."

"How is it you have thrown aside your seaman's clothes and taken to these?"

"Just to escape being found out."

"Found out! what do you mean by that? Have you been up to anything?"

"Yes, I have, Jack. I have been up to something, worse luck to me; but I'm not to be blamed either."

"What is it all about?" inquired his companion. "I always thought you were such a steady-going old file that there was no going out of the even path with you."

"Nor would there have been, but for one simple circumstance."

"What was that?"

"I will tell you, Jack—I will tell you; you will never betray me, I am sure."

"Never, by heavens!"

no1curr, Rymer/Prest. At length the story of the sailor and his bitchtastic captain and his intended wife and his speculation draws to a close, and Chillingworth continues to the Hall.

Indeed, he had sheltered himself from observation at every point of his road, especially so when near Bannerworth Hall, where there were plenty of corners to enable him to do so; and when he arrived there, he entered at the usual spot, and then sat down a few moments in the bower.

"I will not sit here," he muttered.

dude you just did

"I will go and have a watch at that mysterious picture; there is the centre of attraction, be it what it may."

As he spoke, he arose and walked into the house, and entered the same apartment which has been so often mentioned to the reader.

Here he took a chair, and sat down full before the picture, and began to contemplate it.

"Well, for a good likeness, I cannot say I ever saw anything more unprepossessing. I am sure such a countenance as that could never have won a female heart. Surely, it is more calculated to terrify the imagination, than to soothe the affections of the timid and shrinking female.

"However, I will have an inspection of the picture, and see if I can make anything of it."

As he spoke, he put his hand upon the picture with the intention of removing it, when it suddenly was thrust open, and a man stepped down.

The doctor was for a moment completely staggered, it was so utterly unexpected, and he stepped back a pace or two in the first emotion of his surprise; but this soon passed by, and he prepared to close with his antagonist, which he did without speaking a word.

Rymer/Prest have failed to insert any suggestion that the man who “stepped down” from behind the painting intends antagonism toward Chillingworth at this point, so it looks like he’s being the aggressor. In fact Painting Guy does mean to beat him up and take the painting, but is thwarted in doing so because Jack Pringle deus-exes on in and joins the fray.

A desperate fight ensued, and the stranger made the greatest efforts to escape with the picture, but found he could not get off without a desperate struggle.

Which is what she said. Painting Guy escapes through the window, in the standard fashion. We don’t know who he is; he may be Varney, but he’s only vaguely described:

"Well, he was a large, ugly fellow, sure enough, and looked like an old tree."

"Did you see him?"

"Yes, to be sure I did."

"Well, I could not catch a glimpse of his features. In fact, I was too much employed to see anything, and it was much too dark to notice anything particular, even if I had had leisure."

"Why, you had as much to do as you could well manage, I must say that, at all events. I didn't see much of him myself; only he was a tall, out-of-the-way sort of chap—a long-legged shark.”

 Varney is never described anywhere else as looking like an old tree, so I don’t know how much credence to put in that; it’s probably him, unless he’s got an Ent for a henchman. He may have henchmen, but it’s difficult to imagine.

We repair to the Cottage, where the Bannerworths are discussing their real estate plans. Much is made of Henry’s obstinate pride and determination not to be beholden to anyone else for monetary support, and specifically his decision not to seek the ill-gotten gold belonging to Varney and his father; he can’t be having with that money, it’s tainted by crimes, and therefore the painting is totally fair game for Varney to take as his own. I am like 98% sure the money is hidden somewhere in the frame of the painting, or between the canvas and the backing; it was described as being in paper, rather than metal, form, and could reasonably easily be hidden.

As to the large sum of money which Sir Francis Varney in his confessions had declared to have found its way into the possession of Marmaduke Bannerworth, Henry did not expect, and scarcely wished to become possessed of wealth through so tainted a source.

"No," he said to himself frequently; "no—I care not if that wealth be never forthcoming, which was so badly got possession of. Let it sink into the earth, if, indeed, it be buried there; or let it rot in some unknown corner of the old mansion. I care not for it."

Big of you, Henry. However, Charles and the admiral are not content to dismiss it, being rather more worldly than Master B and more into the having money aspect of the situation. Henry adroitly changes the subject to LET’S TALK ABOUT VARNEY SHALL WE, and surprisingly the admiral demonstrates a remarkably woke sensitivity:

"You don't contemplate," said the admiral, "letting him remain with you, do you?"

"No; that would be objectionable for a variety of reasons; and I could not think of it for a moment."

"I should think not. The idea of sitting down to breakfast, dinner, tea, and supper with a vampyre, and taking your grog with a fellow that sucks other people's blood!"

"Really, admiral, you do not really still cling to the idea that Sir Francis Varney is a vampyre."

"I really don't know; he clings to it himself, that's all I can say; and I think, under those circumstances, I might as well give him the benefit of his own proposition, and suppose that he is a vampyre."

"Really, uncle," said Charles Holland, "I did think that you had discarded the notion."

"Did you? I have been thinking of it, and it ain't so desirable to be a vampyre, I am sure, that any one should pretend to it who is not; therefore, I take the fellow upon his own showing. He is a vampyre in his own opinion, and so I don't see, for the life of me, why he should not be so in ours."

That is pretty damn insightful, actually. He suggests giving Varney enough cash moneys to go be a dick in America, where he’ll be somebody else’s problem; they agree that he, while currently playing nice, may be getting ready to return to full-on nuisance mode; and just as they begin to discuss whether they want to return to Bannerworth Hall or go live in the Dearbrook house that they’ve just dug up the deeds to, Chillingworth’s wife shows up to ask where the hell her husband is. The conversation that ensues is contentious in the extreme, as Mrs. C refuses to believe the heroes don’t know how to get hold of Chillingworth and considers them all a nest of snakes and vipers and vampyres. Exit Mrs. C. And just when they determine it’s time for The Talk with Varney:

"I believe she is a good wife to the doctor," said Henry, "notwithstanding his little eccentricities; but suppose we now at once make the proposal we were thinking of to Sir Francis Varney, and so get him to leave England as quickly as possible and put an end to the possibility of his being any more trouble to anybody."

Except the Americans, but whatever.

"Agreed—agreed. It's the best thing that can be done, and it will be something gained to get his consent at once."

"I'll run up stairs to him," said Charles, "and call him down at once. I scarcely doubt for a moment his acquiescence in the proposal."

Charles Holland rose, and ran up the little staircase of the cottage to the room which, by the kindness of the Bannerworth family, had been devoted to the use of Varney. He had not been gone above two minutes, when he returned, hastily, with a small scrap of paper in his hand, which he laid before Henry, saying,—

"There, what think you of that?"

Henry, upon taking up the paper, saw written upon it the words,—

"The Farewell of Varney the Vampyre."

The Farewell of Varney the Vampyre is what, a scrap of paper? It ought to be a goddamn calligraphed letter with that as the heading; merely labeling a bit of paper as a Farewell smacks of an absolutely astonishing level of conceit. Couldn’t he think of anything else to say, such as thank you for saving my life a whole bunch and letting me crash here rent-free?

It is patent that he has done a runner because he or whoever had been at the Hall has determined where the cash is and plan to grab it quick and get out of there, but come on dude, be a little gracious about it, you’re supposed to have manners.

Henry is obtuse, as usual:

"I must confess," said Flora, "I should not at all have thought this of Varney. It seems to me as if something new must have occurred to him. Altogether, I do not feel any alarm concerning his actions as regards us. I am convinced of his sincerity, and, therefore, do not view with sensations of uneasiness this new circumstance, which appears at present so inexplicable, but for which we may yet get some explanation that will be satisfactory to us all."

"I cannot conceive," said Henry, "what new circumstances could have occurred to produce this effect upon Varney. Things remain just as they were; and, after all, situated as he is, if any change had taken place in matters out of doors, I do not see how he could become acquainted with them, so that his leaving must have been a matter of mere calculation, or of impulse at the moment—Heaven knows which—but can have nothing to do with actual information, because it is quite evident he could not get it."

or he could have been sneaking out at night and having assignations and receiving information, maybe

just a thought

We return to Chillingworth and Jack at the Hall, discussing what to do. Clearly the stranger-who-might-be-Varney wanted the picture; therefore there must be some value to it other than its worth as a work of art, and just as clearly they cannot leave it here to be stolen. They determine to carry it back to the Cottage, which they almost manage, but crucially during the final approach Jack peels off so as not to encounter the admiral (they’ve had yet another fight, undoubtedly over who’s the bigger alcoholic) and leaves Chillingworth alone with the painting:

The doctor had been carrying the picture, resting the side of it on the small of his arm, and against his shoulder; but this was an inconvenient posture, because the weight of the picture cut his arm so much, that he was compelled to pause, and shift it more on his shoulder.

"There," he muttered, "that will do for the present, and last until I reach the cottage garden."

He was proceeding along at a slow and steady pace, bestowing all his care and attention to the manner of holding the picture, when he was suddenly paralysed by the sound of a great shout of such a peculiar character, that he involuntarily stopped, and the next moment, something heavy came against him with great force, just as if a man had jumped from the wall on to him.

This was the truth, for, in another moment, and before he could recover himself, he found that there was an attempt to deprive him of the picture.

This at once aroused him, and he made an instant and a vigorous defence; but he was compelled to let go his hold of the picture, and turn to resist the infuriated attack that was now commenced upon himself.

For some moments it was doubtful who would be the victor; but the wind and strength of the doctor were not enough to resist the powerful adversary against whom he had to contend, and the heavy blows that were showered down upon him.

He gets knocked out, and when he comes to a few minutes later, the painting is — of course — gone.

He wiped his hand across his brow, and finding it cut, he looked at the back of his hand, and saw by the deep colour that it was blood, indeed, he could now feel it trickle down his face.

What to do he hardly knew; he could stand, and after having got upon his feet, he staggered back against the wall, against which he leaned for support, and afterwards he crept along with the aid of its support, until he came to the door.

He was observed from the window, where Henry and Charles Holland, seeing him come up with such an unsteady gait, rushed to the door to ascertain what was the matter.

"What, doctor!" exclaimed Henry Bannerworth; "what is the matter?"

OH MAYBE THE FREELY-BLEEDING HEAD WOUND MIGHT HAVE SOMETHING TO DO WITH IT

"I am almost dead, I think," said Chillingworth. "Lend me your arm, Henry."

Henry and Charles Holland immediately stepped out, and took him between them into the parlour, and placed him upon a couch.

"What on earth has happened, doctor?—have you got into disgrace with the populace?"

"No, no; give me some drink—some water, I am very faint—very faint."

I love this: they’re so used to angry mobs attacking people by now that they immediately assume Chillingworth has fallen foul of one.

"Do you think it was the same man who attacked you in the house that obtained the picture?" at last inquired Henry Bannerworth.

"I cannot say, but I think it most probable that it was the same; indeed, the general appearance, as near as I could tell in the dark, was the same; but what I look upon as much stronger is, the object appears to be the same in both cases."

This seems reasonable, and we still don’t know if the attacker is Varney or a Varney hanger-on. The nature of Varney’s ~ farewell ~ may possibly be somewhat clearer at this point, unless one is Henry Bannerworth, in which case — never mind.

Next time: AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT except not really

site housekeeping

The navigation bar was getting a little ridiculous, so I tidied it up and moved the various non-authorial sections into a new page, Art & Design. You can now access Varney recaps, art books that need to happen, logos for imaginary organizations, and photos all in one handy features section.

Coming soon: freelance editing services! Yes, I, that person, who has a goddamn fountain pen devoted to red ink and who carries a red sharpie at all times, can comb through your manuscript (and offer a variety of types of service including line edits, structural edits, proofreading, and formatting). You give me cash money, I edit you manuscript, at reasonable rates plus an introductory discount.

Also, if you liked the stuff I published this year, you can nominate me for the Campbell Award for Best New Author, and for Nebula and/or Hugo Awards for “The Utmost Bound” and DREADFUL COMPANY!

More administrative ephemera, plus AWARD ELIGIBILITY POST!

I love getting to see other people’s imaginary cast lists for my stuff — and doing so reminded me of the old mockup covers and posters Past Me designed in like 2014, back when STRANGE PRACTICE was called THE UNDERGLOW and nobody but friends and LJ followers had read it yet, so I put a few of them up on the site. I still love the stupid tagline on the movie poster and I always will, so fight me.

More importantly, a reminder: IT’S NOMINATING TIME, and I am eligible for nomination for a couple of things including the Campbell Award for Best New Writer (my last year of eligibility), the Hugos, and the Nebulas. So if you’ve read my work and like it, do consider telling people so!

Here’s some useful links:

“The Utmost Bound” is a story I’ve been wanting to write ever since I got a good look at the Soviet Venera images (Don P. Mitchell’s website has all the information you could want; see also the stitched-together and colored versions of Venera-13 and -14’s images, giving you a horribly ordinary view of a landscape that is effectively hell). It’s also a story I’ve been wanting to write ever since I read M.P. Shiel’s “The Dark Lot of One Saul,” a tale that impressed much-younger me with its enormous crushing inevitability, the narrator’s awareness that they were trapped by vast and implacable natural forces, that escape was utterly impossible, that it was only a matter of time — and, also, of course, a story I’ve been wanting to write ever since I read Sturgeon’s “The Man who Lost the Sea.” That narrator’s dying cry and the imagined last words of my own doomed cosmonaut are vastly disparate, but there is an echo there which I so very much enjoyed exploring.

It was also an opportunity to write the kind of hard SF I particularly love to read, given how many times I’ve read and re-read Carrying the Fire and Liftoff and Last Man on the Moon and Apollo 13; I’m the kind of space nerd who was utterly gleeful at getting to include a reference to the CUVMS described by Michael Collins as “the official NASA-approved procedure for going potty in space.” I just really love the history of spaceflight, and getting to play with that and horror at the same time was a plain and simple joy.

It was also an honor to be selected to read an excerpt from the story at the Museum of Science Fiction’s “More than Human” Theodore Sturgeon centenary reading. “The Utmost Bound” will be republished on the museum’s website with the other authors’ work in the near future.

Here’s the opening of the story:

… and this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
—Tennyson

The check-in chime in his headset: on time, annoyingly on time, as usual, waking him as they came around the curve of Venus. “Aphrodite-1, this is Honolulu, do you read?”

Faint washes of static through the words, three months of interplanetary travel and a scant handful of minutes away by radio wave. Again: “Aphrodite-1, Honolulu, do you read? Over.”

“Hi, Hawaii,” said McBride, pushing the headset mike a little further from his mouth. He was used to the delay by now, the measured pauses in conversation while the signal made its way across twenty-five million miles of nothingness. At first it had been disconcerting; now he barely even noticed. “Weather okay down there?”

“Just dandy, since you ask, Commander, but it’s time for the morning report. How’s Little Buddy doing?”

McBride yawned and keyed up the monitors, one by one, waking them into life: you didn’t waste juice out here on instruments you weren’t actually using. The cabin lights dimmed slightly as the displays came on line. “Little Buddy’s reet and complete at last report,” he said, scanning the data, and typed in the downlink command to send Honolulu everything the rover had been up to since the previous infodump transmission. “There you go. Still trundling west over Lakshmi Planum as we speak. Temperature’s—let’s see—still holding at 469 C, pressure 93, no significant changes in atmospheric makeup. Yellow sky. Ugly as shit.”

Honolulu laughed, a tinny little sound, rasping with distance. “Keep your personal aesthetic impressions out of the record, Commander. Okay. We want you to go north today—there’s a couple of anomalies we’d like to get a closer look at. Stand by for transmission of coordinates.”

You can read the whole story here.

The second thing of mine that came out in 2018, DREADFUL COMPANY, was definitely the hardest of the Helsing trilogy to write, and that’s why I’m particularly proud of it: there was a lot of work and despair and horror and excitement and moments of inspiration that went into book two, and what it ended up being is something I am pleased with. The fact that it was so damn hard to write makes the achievement slightly more of a thing, in my mind, than it would have been had it come out smoothly in one go. I got to explore stories and locations I haven’t played with in twenty years: I spent two weeks in Paris at 18 on the student-exchange AP French trip and by the end of that time I was dreaming in French, which was both bizarre and exciting, and I fell desperately in love with the city itself. It was very satisfying to get to revisit the Palais Garnier via Google Street View, a thing 18-year-old me could not possibly have imagined.

You can read the first three chapters of DREADFUL COMPANY on the Orbit website — there are also links to the hard copy, audiobook, and ebook from various retailers.

If you like my stuff, you can nominate me for the Campbell Award for Best New Author, and for Nebula and/or Hugo Awards for “The Utmost Bound” and DREADFUL COMPANY.

Thanks as always for reading, and for your consideration!

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Grave-Robbing and Pointless Hungarians: Varney the Vampyre spends this one largely passed out

Previously on: Varney tells everyone his life story complete with total retcon of the opening of the book, i.e. he claims that at no point did he actually bite Flora at all but merely frightened her into fits by leering from the window, when we have multiple incontrovertible claims of bloodletting from the text its own damn self; this is Trumpian levels of lolwut alternative facts. Varney develops Mysterious Wasting Disease and flops around on couches, until…

…a couple of cops arrive to arrest him and he leaps out of the window and runs away. Again.

"Sir," said Charles Holland, "if you cannot explain quickly your business here, we will proceed to take those measures which will at least rid ourselves of your company."

"Softly, sir. I mean no offence—not the least; but I tell you I do not come for any purpose that is at all consonant to my wishes. I am a Bow-street officer in the execution of my duty—excuse me, therefore."

"Whom do you want?"

"Francis Beauchamp; and, from the peculiarity of the appearance of this individual here, I think I may safely request the pleasure of his company."

Varney now rose, and the officer made a rush at him, when he saw him do so, saying,—

"Surrender in the king's name."

Varney, however, paid no attention to that, but rushed past, throwing his chair down to impede the officer, who could not stay himself, but fell over it, while Varney made a rush towards the window, which he cleared at one bound, and crossing the road, was lost to sight in a few seconds, in the trees and hedges on the other side.

Apparently “Varney” is a nom de vampyre and the name under which that individual was hanged is “Beauchamp,” because oh why not. The cops give up after a while, being unable to catch up with Varney and his long-legged Fleeing from Pursuit gait, and return to the Cottage of Undisclosed Location to fill the family in. Of course everybody already knows the saga of the man who was hanged and yet survived, because Varney has spent much of the previous chapter going on and on about it, but they pretend to be surprised nonetheless. It turns out that the blackmailing hangman, whose name is no longer Mortimore but Montgomery because Rymer/Prest are allergic to continuity, was married and had taken precautions to alert the authorities if he happened to disappear on one of his shakedown visits:

"However that may be, Montgomery dreaded it, and was resolved to punish the deed if he could not prevent it. He, therefore, left general orders with his wife, whenever he went on a journey to Varney, if he should be gone beyond a certain time, she was to open a certain drawer, and take out a sealed packet to the magistrate at the chief office, who would attend to it.

"He has been missing, and his wife did as she was desired, and now we have found what he there mentioned to be true; but, now, sir, I have satisfied you and explained to you why we intruded upon you, we must now leave and seek for him elsewhere."

"It is most extraordinary, and that is the reason why his complexion is so singular."

"Very likely."

They poured out some wine, which was handed to the officers, who drank and then quitted the house, leaving the inmates in a state of stupefaction, from surprise and amazement at what they had heard from the officers.

Reread that last sentence. It’s so bad. It’s astonishingly bad. It’s Guy In Your MFA bad. First off, there’s the dough-heavy pacing, the list of activities, the unnecessary commas, the repetition of “officers,” and the superfluous last clause that takes all the impact out of the statement. SIGH.

And then guess what happens:

There was a long pause, and Flora was about to speak, when suddenly there came the sound of a footstep across the garden. It was slow but unsteady, and paused between whiles until it came close beneath the windows. They remained silent, and then some one was heard to climb up the rails of the veranda, and then the curtains were thrust aside, but not till after the person outside had paused to ascertain who was there.

Then the curtains were opened, and the visage of Sir Francis Varney appeared, much altered; in fact, completely worn and exhausted.

It was useless to deny it, but he looked ghastly—terrific; his singular visage was as pallid as death; his eyes almost protruding, his mouth opened, and his breathing short, and laboured in the extreme.

He climbed over with much difficulty, and staggered into the room, and would have spoken, but he could not; befell senseless upon the floor, utterly exhausted and motionless.

There was a long pause, and each one present looked at each other, and then they gazed upon the inanimate body of Sir Francis Varney, which lay supine and senseless in the middle of the floor.

I’m going to start counting how many times he faints without being shot first. In one of the book’s many inadvertently hilarious moments, there is a scene break but absolutely no lead-in text to a completely different conversation:

The importance of the document, said to be on the dead body, was such that it would admit of no delay before it was obtained, and the party determined that it should be commenced instanter. Lost time would be an object to them; too much haste could hardly be made; and now came the question of, "should it be to-night, or not?"

Because of the juxtaposition of this and the previous scene, it is difficult to remember that they aren’t talking about Varney. They decide to go a-robbing, completely ignoring the dude lying senseless on the floor:

"Certainly," said Henry Bannerworth; "the sooner we can get it, the sooner all doubt and distress will be at an end; and, considering the turn of events, that will be desirable for all our sakes; besides, we know not what unlucky accident may happen to deprive us of what is so necessary."

"There can be none," said Mr. Chillingworth; "but there is this to be said, this has been such an eventful history, that I cannot say what might or what might not happen."

"We may as well go this very night," said Charles Holland. "I give my vote for an immediate exhumation of the body. The night is somewhat stormy, but nothing more; the moon is up, and there will be plenty of light."

"And rain," said the doctor.

CHARLES YOU ARE AN IDIOT

It is now time for one of the book’s incredibly unnecessary and lengthy conversations, which could have been dealt with in a line or two but takes up nearly five hundred goddamn words:

"Come with me into the garden," said Henry Bannerworth; "we shall there be able to suit ourselves to what is required. I have a couple of lanterns."

"One is enough," said Chillingworth; "we had better not burden ourselves more than we are obliged to do; and we shall find enough to do with the tools."

"Yes, they are not light; and the distance is by far too great to make walking agreeable and easy; the wind blows strong, and the rain appears to be coming up afresh, and, by the time we have done, we shall find the ground will become slippy, and bad for walking."

"Can we have a conveyance?"

"No, no," said the doctor; "we could, but we must trouble the turnpike man; besides, there is a shorter way across some fields, which will be better and safer."

LET’S ARGUE ABOUT THIS SOME MORE

"Well, well," said Charles Holland; "I do not mind which way it is, as long as you are satisfied yourselves. The horse and cart would have settled it all better, and done it quicker, besides carrying the tools."

"Very true, very true," said the doctor; "all that is not without its weight, and you shall choose which way you would have it done; for my part, I am persuaded the expedition on foot is to be preferred for two reasons."

"And what are they?"

"The first is, we cannot obtain a horse and cart without giving some detail as to what you want it for, which is awkward, on account of the hour. Moreover, you could not get one at this moment in time."

"That ought to settle the argument," said Henry Bannerworth; "an impossibility, under the circumstances, at once is a clincher, and one that may be allowed to have some weight."

"You may say that," said Charles.

JESUS CHRIST PEOPLE SHUT UP AND JUST GO DIG UP THE DEAD GUY

"Besides which, you must go a greater distance, and that, too, along the main road, which is objectionable."

"Then we are agreed," said Charles Holland, "and the sooner we are off the better; the night grows more and more gloomy every hour, and more inclement."

"It will serve our purpose the better," said Chillingworth. "What we do, we may as well do now."

"Come with me to the garden," said Henry, "and we will take the tools. We can go out the back way; that will preclude any observation being made."

They all now left the apartment, wrapped up in great overcoats, to secure themselves against the weather, and also for the purpose of concealing themselves from any chance passenger.

In the garden they found the tools they required, and having chosen them, they took a lantern, with the mean of getting a light when they got to their journey's end, which they would do in less than an hour.

After having duly inspected the state of their efficiency, they started away on their expedition.

Or, in other words, “They discussed the best way forward, and determined that while a horse and cart would make carrying the tools easier, it was probably impossible; therefore they set out on foot.” Except I’m not getting paid by the inch.

Off they go, making lengthy and lugubrious conversation about various things. Chillingworth seems to know where the grave is located, which — presumably Varney could have told him offscreen at some point, but I have my doubts. Forward progress is briefly inhibited by their coming across a pair of itinerants getting drunk by a campfire, but Chillingworth solves this problem by shattering the bottle of gin with a well-aimed projectile; the two men panic and run away.

"But, doctor, what in the name of Heaven induced you to make such a noise, to frighten them, in fact, and to tell them some one was about?"

"They were too much terrified to tell whether it was one, or fifty. By this time they are out of the county; they knew what they were talking about."

"And perhaps we may meet them on the road where we are going, thinking it a rare lonely spot where they can hide, and no chance of their being found out."

"No," said the doctor; "they will not go to such a place; it has by far too bad a name for even such men as those to go near, much less stop in."

"I can hardly think that," said Charles Holland, "for these fellows are too terrified for their personal safety, to think of the superstitious fears with which a place may be regarded; and these men, in such a place as the one you speak of, they will be at home."

"Well, well, rather than be done, we must fight for it; and when you come to consider we have one pick and two shovels, we shall be in full force."

"Well said, doctor; how far have we to go?"

"Not more than a quarter of a mile."

They pursued their way through the fields, and under the hedge-rows, until they came to a gate, where they stopped awhile, and began to consult and to listen.

"A few yards up here, on the left," said the doctor; "I know the spot; besides, there is a particular mark. Now, then, are you all ready?"

HOW DO YOU KNOW THE SPOT, is it generally acknowledged to be Shallow Graves “R” Us? Was there a horrible smell that hung around the area and caused people to be wary of it? Perhaps ghosts haunted that particular stretch of road? Throw me a frickin’ bone here.

It’s also not clear how long ago the murder was committed — my impression was many years, but the dead guy is still fairly runny:

They began to shovel away, and continued to do so, after it had been picked up, working alternately, until at length Charles stuck his pick-axe into something soft, and upon pulling it up, he found it was the body.

A dreadful odour now arose from the spot, and they were at no loss to tell where the body lay. The pick-axe had stuck into the deceased's ribs and clothing, and thus lifted it out of its place.

"Here it is," said the doctor; "but I needn't tell you that; the charnel-house smell is enough to convince you of the fact of where it is."

"I think so; just show a light upon the subject, doctor, and then we can see what we are about—do you mind, doctor—you have the management of the lantern, you know?"

"Yes, yes," said Chillingworth; "I see you have it—don't be in a hurry, but do things deliberately and coolly whatever you do—you will not be so liable to make mistakes, or to leave anything undone."

"There will be nothing of any use to you here, doctor, in the way of dissection, for the flesh is one mass of decay. What a horrible sight, to be sure!"

Now me, if I was a horror novelist wanting to get the maximum number of words out of any given grotesque, I’d do a lot of description here. Paradoxically, Rymer/Prest’s lack of loquacity during this scene actually makes it work a lot better and cause a greater impact on the reader. The terse dialogue without tags gives a nice impression of tension and a need to get this godawful experience over with; imagine how much less well this would read if it were in the Let’s State the Obvious Multiple Times mode of the conversation in the garden.

"It is; but hasten the search."

"Well, I must; though, to confess the truth, I'd sooner handle anything than this."

"It is not the most pleasant thing in the world, for there is no knowing what may be the result—what creeping thing has made a home of it."

"Don't mention anything about it."

Henry and Charles Holland now began to search the pockets of the clothes of the dead body, in one of which was something hard, that felt like a parcel.

Nameless Guy can’t have been buried very deep, by Varney’s own admission, and it hasn’t taken our heroes long to dig him up. I know better than to estimate how long will a man lie i’the earth ere he rot without a hell of a lot of information regarding temperature, soil composition, insect activity, etc, but by the description we’re pretty much still in active decomposition and I am still so curious as to how long ago this happened.

"What have you got there?" said Chillingworth, as he held his lantern up so that the light fell upon the ghastly object that they were handling.

"I think it is the prize," said Charles Holland; "but we have not got it out yet, though I dare say it won't be long first, if this wind will but hold good for about five minutes, and keep the stench down."

They now tore open the packet and pulled out the papers, which appeared to have been secreted upon his person.

"Be sure there are none on any other part of the body," said Chillingworth, "because what you do now, you had better do well, and leave nothing to after thought, because it is frequently impracticable."

Nobody wants to come back and dig this guy up again, Henry.

There was little inducement to hover about the spot, but Henry could not forbear holding up the papers to the light of the lantern to ascertain what they were.

"Are they all right?" inquired the doctor.

"Yes," replied Henry, "yes. The Dearbrook estate. Oh! yes; they are the papers I am in want of."

"It is singularly fortunate, at least, to be successful in securing them. I am very glad a living person has possession of them, else it would have been very difficult to have obtained it from them."

Is anyone else confused here? A living person, i.e. Henry, has possession of the papers; otherwise it would have been difficult to have obtained the papers from [presumably a non-living person] — but that’s what they just did gdi.

"So it would; but now homeward is the word, doctor; and on my word there is reason to be glad, for the rain is coming on very fast now, and there is no moon at all—we had better step out."

They did, for the three walked as fast as the nature of the soil would permit them, and the darkness of the night.

Presumably by now Flora and her on-again off-again mother have by now hauled Sir Francis Varney off the floor and arranged him on a fainting couch, possibly even chafed his wrists or bathed his temples with cool water, but we are not privy to this information because now for some reason Rymer/Prest take a screeching turn off into the wilds of WHO CARES ABOUT THAT GUY:

We left the Hungarian nobleman swimming down the stream; he swam slowly, and used but little exertion in doing so. He appeared to use his hands only as a means of assistance.

The stream carried him onwards, and he aided himself so far that he kept the middle of the stream, and floated along.

Where the stream was broad and shallow, it sometimes left him a moment or two, without being strong enough to carry him onwards; then he would pause, as if gaining strength, and finally he would, when he had rested, and the water came a little faster, and lifted him, make a desperate plunge, and swim forward, until he again came in deep water, and then he went slowly along with the stream, as he supported himself.

It was strange thus to see a man going down slowly, and without any effort whatever, passing through shade and through moonlight—now lost in the shadow of the tall trees, and now emerging into that part of the stream which ran through meadows and cornfields, until the stream widened, and then, at length, a ferry-house was to be seen in the distance.

Binnorie, oh Binnorie.

Then came the ferryman out of his hut, to look upon the beautiful moonlight scene. It was cold, but pure, and brilliantly light. The chaste moon was sailing through the heavens, and the stars diminished in their lustre by the power of the luminous goddess of night.

There was a small cottage—true, it was somewhat larger than was generally supposed by any casual observer who might look at it. The place was rambling, and built chiefly of wood; but in it lived the ferryman, his wife, and family; among these was a young girl about seventeen years of age, but, at the same time, very beautiful.

Welp, we know where this is going. The Hungarian (every time Rymer/Prest mention his nationality I cannot help thinking of naughty phrasebooks) proceeds to fake-drown, so that the ferryman has to rescue him:

The ferryman put back to the shore, when he paused, and secured his boat, and then pulled the stranger out, saying,—

"Do you feel any better now?"

"Yes," said the stranger; "I feel I am living—thanks to you, my good friend; I owe you my life."

"You are welcome to that," replied the ferryman; "it costs me nothing; and, as for my little trouble, I should be sorry to think of that, when a fellow-being's life was in danger."

"You have behaved very well—very well, and I can do little more now than thank you, for I have been robbed of all I possessed about me at the moment."

"Oh! you have been robbed?"

"Aye, truly, I have, and have been thrown into the water, and thus I have been nearly murdered."

"It is lucky you escaped from them without further injury," said the ferryman; "but come in doors, you must be mad to stand here in the cold."

"Thank you; your hospitality is great, and, at this moment, of the greatest importance to me."

"Such as we have," said the honest ferryman, "you shall be welcome to. Come in—come in."

“Here’s my daughter! Look what a super great neck she has for the biting!”

Exactly what you would expect to happen proceeds to happen, and the ferryman is ticked about it:

"It is you, vile wretch! that has attempted to steal into the cottage of the poor man, and then to rob him of his only child, and that child of her heart's blood, base ingrate!"

"My friend, you are wrong, entirely wrong. I am not the creature you believe me. I have slept, and slept soundly, and awoke not until your daughter screamed."

"Scoundrel!—liar!—base wretch! you shall not remain alive to injure those who have but one life to lose."

As he spoke, the ferryman made a desperate rush at the vampyre, and seized him by the throat, and a violent struggle ensued, in which the superior strength of the ferryman prevailed, and he brought his antagonist to the earth, at the same time bestowing upon him some desperate blows.

The Hungarian vampyre is apparently the most passive-aggressive asshole in this book, and there are many passive-aggressive assholes to choose from. He also doesn’t seem to have the freaky vampyre strength thing going for him:

"Thou shall go to the same element from which I took thee," said the ferryman, "and there swim or sink as thou wilt until some one shall drag thee ashore, and when they do, may they have a better return than I."

As he spoke, he dragged along the stranger by main force until they came to the bank of the river, and then pausing, to observe the deepest part, he said,—

"Here, then, you shall go."

The vampyre struggled, and endeavoured to speak, but he could not; the grasp at his throat prevented all attempts at speech; and then, with a sudden exertion of his strength, the ferryman lifted the stranger up, and heaved him some distance into the river.

I mean, sure, that’s one way of dealing with the problem. He bobs off downstream pretty much exactly as he had been doing before this entire abortive little episode, and like Georgie Denbrough’s boat passes out of the narrative entirely. We are never given to understand what the point of this character was supposed to be. He shows up randomly to see Varney, basically wearing a T-shirt saying ASK ME ABOUT BEING A VAMPYRE, gets shot, respawns, floats down a river, does stupid vampyre shit, gets tossed back into the river, and is never seen again.

Next time: Chillingworth Has His Own Agenda; Random Naval Backstory; the Ominous Portrait Rides Again.

"And now I have but to lie down and die": Varney the Vampyre Retcons His Own Goddamn Introduction

Previously on: the mysterious Hungarian vampire gets shot for a change, but respawns as usual and swims off down a stream, to the discomfiture of the locals; Varney, yet again pursued by an angry mob, parkours his way to the Cottage of Undisclosed Location and collapses at the feet of Flora Bannerworth in time to tell our heroes lots more of his origin story.

Charles has filled everyone in on the part of it which Varney already shared with him, and now Varney takes up the narrative thread to explain that, having murdered Some Guy, he and Marmaduke Bannerworth then had to hide the body and this was a gigantic hassle:

"It is ever the worst part of the murderer's task, that after he has struck the blow that has deprived his victim of existence, it becomes his frightful duty to secrete the corpse, which, with its dead eyes, ever seems to be glaring upon him such a world of reproach.

That it is which should make people pause ere they dipped their hands in the blood of others, and that it is which becomes the first retribution that the murderer has to endure for the deep crime that he has committed.”

Not, y’know, the murdering people is generally a bad idea and frowned upon in polite society thing, but the fact that you gotta hide the fucking body afterwards. They’re kind of bad at this:

"When we had completed this, and likewise gathered handsfull of dust from the road, and dry leaves, and such other matter, to sprinkle upon the grave, so as to give the earth an appearance of not having been disturbed, we looked at each other and breathed from our toil.

"Then, and not till then, was it that we remembered that among other things which the gambler had won of Marmaduke were the deeds belonging to the Dearbrook property."

D’OH. Marma-B is like goddamnit I can’t believe I have to dig this asshole up again and Varney tells him in no uncertain terms that he, Varney, is all kinds of not up for any such thing. Proving that he is very far from the smartest apple on the Bannerworth family tree, Marmaduke decides to leave the deeds on the dead guy and see if anybody notices:

"'Well, well,' he said, 'I will not, at the present time, disturb the remains; I will wait to see if anything should arise from the fact of the murder; if it should turn out that no suspicion of any kind is excited, but that all is still and quiet, I can then take measures to exhume the corpse, and recover those papers, which certainly are important.'

Brilliant. It’s getting on for morning, so they decide to bugger off. Varney tells Marma-B to take the whole of their recovered winnings back to Bannerworth Hall and hide them somewhere clever, and he will come by in the near future to collect his half. Of course, we know this doesn’t end up happening because Bannerworth shoots himself in a drunken access of guilt without telling Varney where he hid the loot. This is the reason Varney’s been scheming up ways to get hold of Bannerworth Hall all book, in case you were wondering, but in the meantime he has to decamp for London and take up a new career as a desperate criminal. This goes about as well as you could imagine, and the gang he’s running with end up getting caught and sentenced to death. Varney doesn’t take this well:

"In this state of affairs, and seeing nothing but death before me, I gave myself up to despair, and narrowly missed cheating the hangman of his victim.

"More dead than alive, I was, however, dragged out to be judicially murdered, and I shall never forget the crowd of frightful sensations that came across my mind upon that terrific occasion.”

He recalls that the mob who came out to watch his execution apparently yelled invective not at him but at the hangman, who seems to occupy a ceremonially reviled role similar to the member of the ancient Egyptian embalming team who made the first incision on the corpse and was thence chased away and pelted with stones. This dude is, of course, the other person who has been trying to get inside Bannerworth Hall and who is now, I think, ded from angry mob. Varney is, without further ado, dispatched to the great beyond OR IS HE:

"Then suddenly there was a loud shout—I felt the platform give way beneath my feet—I tried to utter a yell of agony, but could not—it seemed to me as if I was encompassed by fire, and then sensation left me, and I knew no more.

"The next feelings of existence that came over me consisted in a frightful tingling sensation throughout my veins, and I felt myself making vain efforts to scream. All the sensations of a person suffering from a severe attack of nightmare came across me, and I was in such an agony, that I inwardly prayed for death to release me from such a cruel state of suffering. Then suddenly the power to utter a sound came to me, and I made use of it well, for the piercing shriek I uttered, must have struck terror into the hearts of all who heard it, since it appalled even myself.

"Then I suppose I must have fainted, but when I recovered consciousness again, I found myself upon a couch, and a man presenting some stimulus to me in a cup. I could not distinguish objects distinctly, but I heard him say, 'Drink, and you will be better.'

Since Chillingworth pulled a Victor Frankenstein and ran the fuck away after successfully resurrecting the dead, rather than bothering to provide aftercare, it’s up to the hangman. Varney has a bit of difficulty understanding what the fuck just happened.

"It was some time before I could speak, and when I did, it was only in a few muttered words, to ask what had happened, and where I was.

"'Do you not remember,' he said, 'that you were hanged?'

"'I do—I do,' was my reply. 'Is this the region of damned souls?'

"'No; you are still in this world, however strange you may think it. Listen to me, and I will briefly tell you how it is that you have come back again, as it were, from the very grave, to live and walk about among the living."

So he does, and then drops this bombshell on Varney:

"'There can be no doubt but my duty requires of me to give you up again to the offended laws of your country. I will not, however, do that, if you will consent to an arrangement that I shall propose to you.'

"I asked him what the arrangement was, and he said that if I would solemnly bind myself to pay to him a certain sum per annum, he would keep my secret, and forsaking his calling as hangman, endeavour to do something that should bring with it pleasanter results. I did so solemnly promise him, and I have kept my word. By one means or another I have succeeded in procuring the required amount, and now he is no more."

Thus the scene a few hundred thousand chapters back where Varney is awaiting the dire and terrible visit of a mysterious personage who keeps extorting money out of him. However, since the angry mob has done for Mr. Ketch, Varney is freed from his obligation:

"I believe," cried Henry, "that he has fallen a victim to the blind fury of the populace."

"You are right, he has so, and accordingly I am relieved from the burden of those payments; but it matters little, for now I am so near the tomb myself, that, together with all my obligations, I shall soon be beyond the reach of mortal cavilling."

Woe, doom. You can just see him pressing a hand to his forehead and siiiiighing. The others are like “get over it” and want the rest of the story:

"You need not think so, Varney; you must remember that you are at present suffering from circumstances, the pressure of which will soon pass away, and then you will resume your wonted habits."

"What did you do next?" said the admiral.—"Let's know all while you are about it."

Varney relates that the hangman, whose name was apparently “Mortimore,” let him crash on his couch until he was all better from being dead. He spent that time coming up with clever and nefarious plans to get hold of cash, never having forgotten that somewhere in Bannerworth Hall there was a huge wad thereof, part of which technically belonged to him. It is at this point that he first discovered himself to be a supernatural creature incapable of staying dead, entirely by accident, falling off his horse into a stream:

"I could not swim, and so, for a second time, death, with all its terrors, appeared to be taking possession of me. The waters rolled over my head, gurgling and hissing in my ears, and then all was past. I know no more, until I found myself lying upon a bright green meadow, and the full beams of the moon shining upon me.

"I was giddy and sick, but I rose, and walked slowly away, each moment gathering fresh strength, and from that time to this, I never discovered how I came to be rescued from the water, and lying upon that green bank. It has ever been a mystery to me, and I expect it ever will.

"Then from that moment the idea that I had a sort of charmed life came across me, and I walked about with an impression that such was the case, until I came across a man who said that he was a Hungarian, and who was full of strange stories of vampyres. Among other things, he told me that a vampyre could not be drowned, for that the waters would cast him upon its banks, and, if the moonbeams fell upon him, he would be restored to life.

"This was precisely my story, and from that moment I believed myself to be one of those horrible, but charmed beings, doomed to such a protracted existence. The notion grew upon me day by day, and hour by hour, until it became quite a fixed and strong belief, and I was deceiving no one when I played the horrible part that has been attributed to me."

ARE YOU OR AREN’T YOU A GODDAMN VAMPYRE, DUDE — no, you know what, I’m not going to yell at Varney for something that is entirely Rymer/Prest’s stupid fault, it is lazy writing to leave the answer to this question completely up in the air, smdh.

"But you don't mean to say that you believe you are a vampyre now?" said the admiral.

"I say nothing, and know not what to think. I am a desperate man, and what there is at all human in me, strange to say, all of you whom I sought to injure, have awakened."

Henry’s all “who gives a shit, make with the rest of the story”:

"Heed not that," said Henry, "but continue your narrative. We have forgiven everything, and that ought to suffice to quiet your mind upon such a subject."

At this point Varney proceeds to fucking retcon his own first appearance in print. He explains that he had determined to get hold of Bannerworth Hall through whatever means necessary, and after sending them chummy notes asking to buy their home failed to work, he decided to terrify them out of the place instead:

"By prowling about, I made myself familiar with the grounds, and with all the plan of the residence, and then one night made my appearance in Flora's chamber by the window."

"But how do you account," said Charles Holland, "for your extraordinary likeness to the portrait?"

"It is partly natural, for I belong to a collateral branch of the family;

OH COME ON NOW

and it was previously arranged. I had seen the portrait in Marmaduke Bannerworth's time, and I knew some of its peculiarities and dress sufficiently well to imitate them. I calculated upon producing a much greater effect by such an imitation; and it appears that I was not wrong, for I did produce it to the full."

"You did, indeed," said Henry; "and if you did not bring conviction to our minds that you were what you represented yourself to be, you at least staggered our judgments upon the occasion, and left us in a position of great doubt and difficulty."

"I did; I did all that, I know I did; and, by pursuing that line of conduct, I, at last, I presume, entirely forced you from the house."

"That you did."

"Flora fainted when I entered her chamber; and the moment I looked upon her sweet countenance my heart smote me for what I was about; but I solemnly aver, that my lips never touched her, and that, beyond the fright, she suffered nothing from Varney, the vampyre."

OH COME THE LIVID FUCK ON NOW I CANNOT EVEN BELIEVE THIS SHIT

LET’S GO BACK TO THE BEGINNING SHALL WE

With a sudden rush that could not be foreseen—with a strange howling cry that was enough to awaken terror in every breast, the figure seized the long tresses of her hair, and twining them round his bony hands he held her to the bed. Then she screamed—Heaven granted her then power to scream. Shriek followed shriek in rapid succession. The bed-clothes fell in a heap by the side of the bed—she was dragged by her long silken hair completely on to it again. Her beautifully rounded limbs quivered with the agony of her soul. The glassy, horrible eyes of the figure ran over that angelic form with a hideous satisfaction—horrible profanation. He drags her head to the bed's edge. He forces it back by the long hair still entwined in his grasp. With a plunge he seizes her neck in his fang-like teeth—a gush of blood, and a hideous sucking noise follows. The girl has swooned, and the vampyre is at his hideous repast!

AND A LITTLE FURTHER ON

Before it passed out they each and all caught a glance of the side-face, and they saw that the lower part of it and the lips were dabbled in blood. They saw, too, one of those fearful-looking, shining, metallic eyes which presented so terrible an appearance of unearthly ferocity.

This is not just lazy writing, this is insufferably irresponsible writing. Do not do this, people. Gaslighting your own readers is just not such a great look. Just about as insufferable is the complete lack of surprise or disagreement on the part of the other characters in hearing this asshole flatly contradict the evidence of their own eyes; they’re just like “oh, okay then.”

"I presume, Sir Francis Varney," said Charles Holland, "that you have now completed your narrative?"

"I have. After events are well known to you. And, now, I have but to lie down and die, with the hope of finding that rest and consolation in the tomb which has been denied me hitherto in this world. My life has been a stormy one, and full of the results of angry passions. I do hope now, that, for the short time I have to live, I shall know something like serenity, and die in peace."

this dude is Edgar Allan Poe character levels of dramatic bullshit I swear

He proceeds to develop Mysterious Wasting Disease, which is related to Movie Tuberculosis without the delicate episodes of hemoptysis, and lies around on couches being pathetic at everybody:

Time flew by. The mode of passing time at the cottage was calm and serene. Varney had seldom witnessed anything like it; but, at the same time, he felt more at ease than ever he had; he was charmed with the society of Flora—in fact, with the whole of the little knot of individuals who there collected together; from what he saw he was gratified in their society; and it seemed to alleviate his mental disquiet, and the sense he must feel of his own peculiar position. But Varney became ill. The state of mind and body he had been in for some time past might be the cause of it. He had been much harassed, and hunted from place to place. There was not a moment in which his life was not in danger, and he had, moreover, more than one case, received some bodily injuries, bruises, and contusions of a desperate character; and yet he would take no notice of them, but allow them to get well again, as best they could. His escapes and injuries had made a deep impression upon his mind, and had no doubt a corresponding effect upon his body, and Varney became very ill.

Which is where I will leave him for the moment. Next time: yet more people show up to play Chase the Vampyre because we haven’t had enough of that in this book so far.

SO IT'S AWARDS SEASON (AND MY LAST YEAR OF CAMPBELL ELIGIBILITY)...

I’ve been writing books since I was eleven or so, but the first thing I ever had professionally published in my life was STRANGE PRACTICE, Greta Helsing 1, back in 2017. Which means I’m still eligible for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer this year, along with the Hugos and Nebulas.

2018 has been a dumpster fire of a year in terms of politics but not too shabby for me in terms of publication; my first-ever short story, “The Utmost Bound,” came out in Uncanny issue 20 and Greta Helsing 2, DREADFUL COMPANY, dropped at the end of July. I’m enormously proud of both of them, for quite different reasons.

“The Utmost Bound” is a story I’ve been wanting to write ever since I got a good look at the Soviet Venera images (Don P. Mitchell’s website has all the information you could want; see also the stitched-together and colored versions of Venera-13 and -14’s images, giving you a horribly ordinary view of a landscape that is effectively hell). It’s also a story I’ve been wanting to write ever since I read M.P. Shiel’s “The Dark Lot of One Saul,” a tale that impressed much-younger me with its enormous crushing inevitability, the narrator’s awareness that they were trapped by vast and implacable natural forces, that escape was utterly impossible, that it was only a matter of time — and, also, of course, a story I’ve been wanting to write ever since I read Sturgeon’s “The Man who Lost the Sea.” That narrator’s dying cry and the imagined last words of my own doomed cosmonaut are vastly disparate, but there is an echo there which I so very much enjoyed exploring.

It was also an opportunity to write the kind of hard SF I particularly love to read, given how many times I’ve read and re-read Carrying the Fire and Liftoff and Last Man on the Moon and Apollo 13; I’m the kind of space nerd who was utterly gleeful at getting to include a reference to the CUVMS described by Michael Collins as “the official NASA-approved procedure for going potty in space.” I just really love the history of spaceflight, and getting to play with that and horror at the same time was a plain and simple joy.

I Here’s the opening of the story:

… and this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
—Tennyson

The check-in chime in his headset: on time, annoyingly on time, as usual, waking him as they came around the curve of Venus. “Aphrodite-1, this is Honolulu, do you read?”

Faint washes of static through the words, three months of interplanetary travel and a scant handful of minutes away by radio wave. Again: “Aphrodite-1, Honolulu, do you read? Over.”

“Hi, Hawaii,” said McBride, pushing the headset mike a little further from his mouth. He was used to the delay by now, the measured pauses in conversation while the signal made its way across twenty-five million miles of nothingness. At first it had been disconcerting; now he barely even noticed. “Weather okay down there?”

“Just dandy, since you ask, Commander, but it’s time for the morning report. How’s Little Buddy doing?”

McBride yawned and keyed up the monitors, one by one, waking them into life: you didn’t waste juice out here on instruments you weren’t actually using. The cabin lights dimmed slightly as the displays came on line. “Little Buddy’s reet and complete at last report,” he said, scanning the data, and typed in the downlink command to send Honolulu everything the rover had been up to since the previous infodump transmission. “There you go. Still trundling west over Lakshmi Planum as we speak. Temperature’s—let’s see—still holding at 469 C, pressure 93, no significant changes in atmospheric makeup. Yellow sky. Ugly as shit.”

Honolulu laughed, a tinny little sound, rasping with distance. “Keep your personal aesthetic impressions out of the record, Commander. Okay. We want you to go north today—there’s a couple of anomalies we’d like to get a closer look at. Stand by for transmission of coordinates.”

You can read the whole story here.

The second thing of mine that came out in 2018, DREADFUL COMPANY, was definitely the hardest of the Helsing trilogy to write, and that’s why I’m particularly proud of it: there was a lot of work and despair and horror and excitement and moments of inspiration that went into book two, and what it ended up being is something I am pleased with. The fact that it was so damn hard to write makes the achievement slightly more of a thing, in my mind, than it would have been had it come out smoothly in one go. I got to explore stories and locations I haven’t played with in twenty years: I spent two weeks in Paris at 18 on the student-exchange AP French trip and by the end of that time I was dreaming in French, which was both bizarre and exciting, and I fell desperately in love with the city itself. It was very satisfying to get to revisit the Palais Garnier via Google Street View, a thing 18-year-old me could not possibly have imagined.

You can read the first three chapters of DREADFUL COMPANY on the Orbit website — there are also links to the hard copy, audiobook, and ebook from various retailers.

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If you like my stuff, you can nominate me for the Campbell Award for Best New Author, and for Nebula and/or Hugo Awards for “The Utmost Bound” and DREADFUL COMPANY.

Thanks as always for reading, and for your consideration!

"Van Horne! Pneumatic transit! I can't believe it's still here!", or In the NYC City Hall Subway Station At Long Last

So I’ve always loved the underground, even as a child: going down into the dark places in the earth and coming out again a slightly different person felt natural, felt correct. I loved mines and I loved subways and tunnels dug underneath water — and I have also always loved the abandoned. If I had any guts at all, and the potential consequences were not so dire, I would absolutely be urbexing all over the damn place; as it is I have to look longingly at derelict and fascinating structures and wonder what’s inside.

There are some places underground that are well-known to people like me as a kind of prize achievement, something longed-for, a wonderful addition to a collection. The deep-level shelters under certain London Underground stations, for example: I still hold out hope that just maybe I’ll be able to see inside one myself, after having spent so long writing about horrors hiding in those tunnels and shafts. It’s much, much easier to visit the Paris catacombs, and that I plan to do when I eventually make enough money and time to go back to France for a holiday. But the crown jewel of underground exploration in New York is the old City Hall subway station, and today I got to go down there and omg omg omg.

You can look up the history of City Hall at the New York Museum of Transit; ground was broken in 1900 and the city’s first subway train departed City Hall station in 1904. It was closed at the end of 1945 for several reasons, one of them being that the longer trains of the latter day had trouble navigating the tight radius of the City Hall loop. It’s still used as a turnaround for the 6, and while we were there several trains squealed and shrieked their way around the curve — some of them containing passengers staring in awe, or possibly just surprise.

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The tour we took is arranged through the museum, and you have to sign up several months in advance and cross your fingers you got there before the list was full. It was fantastic. I’ve been on countless guided tours of various stately homes or ancient fortresses and this was one of the best I can remember; our guide was not only incredibly informative but also wry and funny and engaging, and obviously loved her job.

She told us all about the first underground attempt at people-moving, Alfred Beach’s Pneumatic Transit, which never got anywhere beyond a demonstration tunnel with a car shuttling back and forth — I’ve researched it myself, to some considerable extent, because I’ve been fascinated with the Beach project ever since I first encountered it in Ghostbusters II. Remember the abandoned Van Horne station Ray finds under the street, the one containing a river of shimmery pink psychomagnetheric slime? That’s a conflation of the Beach Pneumatic Transit and City Hall station, and the Ghostbusters fan in me as well as the underground history enthusiast was internally jumping up and down and yelling in glee.

I’ve put a few photos up of the station and the wonderful undulating arches of the City Hall entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge station, which is where we emerged. I fell in love with the city pretty much the first night I spent in it with my future wife, and I keep falling. Every time I come here it’s like being accepted into a huge, vast, incredibly complex living thing, a corpuscle in some unknowable circulatory system, and the more I see of it the more I love it. Visiting this station was an enormous gift, and I’m so grateful — and also still so goddamn stoked I GOT TO SEE THE GHOSTBUSTERS STATION AAAAH.

Nobody ever accused me of dignity, after all.

"He wants a dollop of blood from somebody": Varney the Vampyre and the Angry Mob, Parkour Edition

Previously on: a mysterious Hungarian nobleman WHO IS OBVIOUSLY A VAMPYRE falls afoul of the local angry mob and, when resurrected by the moonlight, swims off down a stream; our heroes don’t actually do anything of interest; Varney is Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Chapter.

We pick up with Charles and Henry at the Cottage of Undisclosed Location, discussing whether they should try to locate gainful employment rather than continue to mooch off the admiral’s hard-earned cash. Henry has brought a box of Random Shit from Bannerworth Hall which he now proposes to go through and determine if they can sell any of it, in the process of which he discovers an old pocket-book belonging to Marma-B which contains Exciting Clues such as a card and some notes:

Charles took up the card, and read upon it the name of Count Barrare.

"That name," he said, "seems familiar to me. Ah! now I recollect, I have read of such a man. He flourished some twenty, or five-and-twenty years ago, and was considered a roue of the first water—a finished gamester; and, in a sort of brief memoir I read once of him, it said that he disappeared suddenly one day, and was never again heard of."

"Indeed! I'm not puzzled to think how his card came into my father's pocket-book. They met at some gaming-house; and, if some old pocket-book of the Count Barrare's were shaken, there might fall from it a card, with the name of Mr. Marmaduke Bannerworth upon it."

"Is there nothing further in the pocket-book—no memoranda?"

"I will look. Stay! here is something upon one of the leaves—let me see—'Mem., twenty-five thousand pounds! He who robs the robber, steals little; it was not meant to kill him: but it will be unsafe to use the money for a time—my brain seems on fire—the remotest hiding-place in the house is behind the picture."

So now we know the name of Some Guy who won Varney and Marma-B’s gambling winnings off of them and subsequently got himself skewered. Charles knows that end of the story but, due to the fact that he promised not to tell anyone but Flora, cannot very well say so. They ask Chillingworth what he thinks, and he refuses to tell them anything useful and walks off with the evidence. Charles resolves to go coax Varney into allowing him to share the story with the full group.

Cut to the town, where the urchin who had promised to guide the Hungarian to Varney’s hiding place is understandably ticked off by that worthy’s failure to appear with the agreed-upon half-crowns, and decides to cause some trouble by telling people where the vampyre is to be found ("It's a fact," said the boy. "I saw him go in, and he looks thinner and more horrid than ever. I am sure he wants a dollop of blood from somebody.")

This, of course, results in Angry Mob Number I’ve Lost Count heading Varneywards with pitchfork and torch in hand. He’s chilling out on the rooftop, like you do:

The old mansion in which Sir Francis Varney had taken refuge, stood empty and solitary; it seemed as though it were not associated with the others by which it was surrounded. It was gloomy, and in the moonlight it reminded one of things long gone by, existences that had once been, but now no longer of this present time—a mere memento of the past.

Sir Francis Varney reclined upon the house-top; he gazed upon the sky, and upon the earth; he saw the calm tranquillity that reigned around, and could not but admire what he saw; he sighed, he seemed to sigh, from a pleasure he felt in the fact of his security; he could repose there without fear, and breathe the balmy air that fanned his cheek.

Except here comes the angry mob again.

The knock which came so loud and so hard upon the door caused Sir Francis to start visibly, for it seemed his own knell. Then, as if the mob were satisfied with their knowledge of his presence, and of their victory, and of his inability to escape them, they sent up a loud shout that filled the whole neighbourhood with its sound.

It seemed to come from below and around the house; it rose from all sides, and that told Sir Francis Varney that the house was surrounded and all escape was cut off; there was no chance of his being able to rush through such a multitude of men as that which now encircled him.

With the calmest despair, Sir Francis Varney lay still and motionless on the house-top, and listened to the sounds that proceeded from below. Shout after shout arose on the still, calm air of the night; knock after knock came upon the stout old door, which awakened responsive echoes throughout the house that had for many years lain dormant, and which now seemed disturbed, and resounded in hollow murmurs to the voices from without.

They break in and there is some rollicking action with Varney laying about himself with a stout ash-staff before a chase scene across the rooftops, which — okay, the house was just described as being solitary, not right next to a bunch of other houses, so how the hell are they running across the rooftops come on now Rymer/Prest, keep up with your own goddamn book.

The hoots and shouts of the mob above had now attracted those below to the spot where Sir Francis Varney was trying to escape, but he had not gone far before the loud yells of those behind him told him that he was again pursued.

Half dead, and almost wholly spent, unarmed, and defenceless, he scarce knew what to do; whether to fly, or to turn round and die as a refuge from the greater evil of endeavouring to prolong a struggle which seemed hopeless. Instinct, however, urged him on, at all risks, and though he could not go very far, or fast, yet on he went, with the crowd after him.

"Down with the vampyre!—seize him—hold him—burn him! he must be down presently, he can't stand!"

The chase scene goes on for long enough that we are about as glad as Varney when it finally ends— he’s in moderately poor shape, having fallen off various roofs and taken a couple of half-bricks to the head while parkouring for his life — and wouldn’t you know it, he winds up in exactly the wrong house:

Then came a great shout upon his ears, as though they had found out he had left the wood. This caused him to redouble his speed, and, fearful lest he should be seen in the moonlight, he leaped over the first fence that he came to, with almost the last effort he could make, and then staggered in at an open door—through a passage—into a front parlour, and there fell, faint, and utterly spent and speechless, at the feet of Flora Bannerworth.

TIME FOR SOME HURT/COMFORT :D :D :D Varney’s like omg please spare my life they want to murder me a whole lot, you wouldn’t let that happen would you and she’s like well duh of course not and apparently Varney didn’t hear that the first time:

"Save me! Miss Flora Bannerworth, save me!" he again said, raising himself on his hands. "I am beset, hunted like a wild beast—they seek my life—they have pursued me from one spot to another, and I have unwittingly intruded upon you. You will save me: I am sure your kindness and goodness of heart will never permit me to be turned out among such a crew of blood-thirsty butchers as those who pursue me are."

"Rise, Sir Francis Varney," said Flora, after a moment's hesitation; "in such an extremity as that which you are in, it would be inhuman indeed to thrust you out among your enemies."

"Oh! it would," said Varney. "I had thought, until now, I could have faced such a mob, until I was in this extremity; and then, disarmed and thrown down, bruised, beaten, and incapable of stemming such a torrent, I fled from one place to another, till hunted from each, and then instinct alone urged me to greater exertion than before, and here I am—this is now my last and only hope."

"Rise, Sir Francis."

"You will not let me be torn out and slaughtered like an ox. I am sure you will not."

"Sir Francis, we are incapable of such conduct; you have sought refuge here, and shall find it as far as we are able to afford it to you."

The others arrive and they’re nice to him and he doesn’t know what to do with that. After tidying himself up a bit he proceeds to (as is fairly standard for this book) recap what just happened:

"Your escape was very narrow indeed," said Flora; "it makes me shudder to think of the dangers you have gone through; it is really terrible to think of it."

"You," said Sir Francis, "are young and susceptible, and generous in your disposition, You can feel for me, and do; but how little I could have expected it, it is impossible to say; but your sympathy sinks into my mind and causes such emotions as never can be erased from my soul.

“She loved me for the dangers I had passed, and I loved her that she did pity them.”

"But to proceed. You may guess how dreadful was my position, by the fact that the first man who attempted to get over tore the ivy away and fell, striking me in his fall; he was killed, and I thrown down and stunned. I then made for the wood, closely pursued and got into it; then I baffled them: they searched the wood, and I went through it. I then ran across the country to these houses here; I got over the fence, and in at the back door."

Now that we’re all caught up, Varney is put to bed in a spare room and is not woken even once by angry mobs, which must be something of a novelty. He spends the next day hanging out with the Bannerworths, and tells Charles and Flora that he will finish the spine-tingling autobiography he’d begun to relate in one week. Way to tease, dude. That night all is well until it isn’t, and we are treated to another of Rymer/Prest’s inadvertently hilarious conversations:

"Hurrah!—hurrah!—hurrah!" shouted the mob, which had silently collected around the cottage of the Bannerworths.

"Curses!" muttered Sir Francis, as he again sank in his chair, and struck his head with his hand. "I am hunted to death—they will not leave me until my body has graced a cross-road."

"Hurrah!—down with the vampyre—pull him out!"

Then came an instant knocking at the doors, and the people on the outside made so great a din, that it seemed as though they contemplated knocking the house down at once, without warning the inmates that they waited there.

There was a cessation for about a minute, when one of the family hastened to the door, and inquired what was wanted.

"Varney, the vampyre," was the reply.

"You must seek him elsewhere."

"We will search this place before we go further," replied a man.

"But he is not here."

"We have reason to believe otherwise. Open the door, and let us in—no one shall be hurt, or one single object in the house; but we must come in, and search for the vampyre."

"Come to-morrow, then."

"That will not do," said the voice; "open, or we force our way in without more notice."

So in they force, and Varney’s like “well, shit, I’m done for, the only place in the world they won’t look is FLORA’S ROOM”:

"Miss Bannerworth—" began Varney.

"Sir Francis!"

"Yes, it is indeed I, Miss Bannerworth; hear me, for one moment."

"What is the matter?"

"I am again in peril—in more imminent peril than before; my life is not worth a minute's purchase, unless you save me. You, and you alone, can now save me. Oh! Miss Bannerworth, if ever pity touched your heart, save me from those only whom I now fear. I could meet death in any shape but that in which they will inflict it upon me. Hear their execrations below!"

"Death to the vampyre! death to Varney! burn him! run a stake through his body!"

She’s like “uh what do you expect ME to do” and he says “can i hide in ur room no hanky-panky i promise pinky swear,” and it works, of course. When the mob is gone he proceeds to have the vapors and, prompted by Charles Holland, removes the embargo on retelling of his story — and for once Rymer/Prest don’t actually have the entire narrative written out in the text, simply saying that Charles Tells Everyone What He Knows:

Thus empowered by the mysterious being, Charles Holland related briefly what Varney had already told him, and then concluded by saying,—

"That is all that I have myself as yet been made aware of, and I now call upon Sir Francis Varney to finish his narration."

"I am weak," said Varney, "and scarcely equal to the task; but yet I will not shrink from the promise that I have made. You have been the preservers of my life, and more particularly to you, Flora Bannerworth, am I indebted for an existence, which otherwise must have been sacrificed upon the altar of superstition."

"But you will recollect, Master Varney," said the admiral, who had sat looking on for some time in silent wonder, "you must recollect, Master Varney, that the people are, after all, not so much to blame for their superstition, because, whether you are a vampyre or not, and I don't pretend to come to a positive opinion now, you took good care to persuade them you were."

OOOOOOOOOH

"I did," said Varney, with a shudder; "but why did I?"

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOH

"Well, you know best."

"It was, then, because I did believe, and do believe, that there is something more than natural about my strangely protracted existence; but we will waive that point, and, before my failing strength, for it appears to me to be failing, completely prevents me from doing so, let me relate to you the continued particulars of the circumstances that made me what I am."

Which he proceeds to do at extremely great length, so I will leave that recap for next time :D


"There are things living in the stream, and I am one of them": Varney the Vampyre Goes Nowhere Fast

Previously on: Charles Holland follows Varney to his latest lair, gets him to wake up with effort, and proceeds to coax his life story out of him while continuing to emphasize confusion regarding the actual nature of Varney himself — and also calls Varney on his shit, for the first time all book, and I am gleeful.

Presumably because Rymer/Prest wanted to pad the narrative, Varney tells Charles only part of his backstory before telling him to run along and come back the following evening for the thrilling conclusion. What we know so far is that he and Flora’s dad were involved in a highway robbery that went south; he was tried and hanged for it; Chillingworth revived him with mysterious galvanic something-or-other; and he has a scorching case of vampire angst whether or not he is in fact a legit sanguivore.

We now cut back to the local inn, where yet another mysterious stranger has arrived and is asking after Varney. The newcomer is tall, dark, cadaverous, doesn’t eat food, etcetera:

"I live upon drink," said the stranger; "but you have none in the cellar that will suit me."

"Indeed, sir."

"No, no, I am certain."

"Why, we've got some claret now, sir," said the landlord.

"Which may look like blood, and yet not be it."

come on now does everyone in this whole book have to be such a goddamn edgelord

The stranger wishes to have it put about that a nobleman from Hungary is looking for Varney and wants to have a chat regarding same with Mr. Henry Bannerworth. There is some unnecessary byplay establishing that the innkeeper is still comic relief, Chillingworth’s wife is annoying, and local enterprising urchins are enterprising; the Hungarian settles with one such to act as a guide for him and lead him to the house Varney is currently renting.

Back at the Cottage of Undisclosed Location the admiral and Jack do a bit more fighting and making up; Charles arrives, fresh from his all-night storytelling session with Varney, and true to his word does not vouchsafe any of the secrets he now conceals in his bosom. Not a hell of a lot actually happens, so we cut back to the Hungarian who is arousing suspicion amongst the locals due to acting really fucking suspicious. It is determined that he is probably a vampyre:

"Have you an almanack in the house?" was the question of the mysterious guest.

"An almanack, sir? well, I really don't know. Let me see, an almanack."

"But, perhaps, you can tell me. I was to know the moon's age."

"The devil!" thought the landlord; "he's a vampyre, and no mistake. Why, sir, as to the moon's age, it was a full moon last night, very bright and beautiful, only you could not see it for the clouds."

"A full moon last night," said the mysterious guest, thoughtfully; "it may shine, then, brightly, to-night, and if so, all will be well. I thank you,—leave the room."

"Do you mean to say, sir, you don't want anything to eat now?"

"What I want I'll order."

"But you have ordered nothing."

"Then presume that I want nothing."

The discomfited landlord was obliged to leave the room, for there was no such a thing as making any answer to this, and so, still further confirmed in his opinion that the stranger was a vampyre that came to see Sir Francis Varney from a sympathetic feeling towards him, he again reached the bar-parlour.

"You may depend," he said, "as sure as eggs is eggs, that he is a vampyre. Hilloa! he's going off,—after him—after him; he thinks we suspect him. There he goes—down the High-street."

The locals follow him; he apparently notices this and instead of continuing toward the agreed-upon rendezvous with the urchin he heads off across the countryside, but not fast enough to get out of range; one of the more enterprising locals takes a shot at him while he crosses a stream, and apparently finds his mark. Rymer/Prest now employ a rare but not unheard-of scene break and now proceed to go absolutely florid in descriptive prose. You can clearly tell they’re enjoying the opportunity to reach truly magnificent heights of purplitude:

How silently and sweetly the moon's rays fall upon the water, upon the meadows, and upon the woods. The scenery appeared the work of enchantment, some fairy land, waiting the appearance of its inhabitants. No sound met the ear; the very wind was hushed; nothing was there to distract the sense of sight, save the power of reflection.

This, indeed, would aid the effect of such a scene. A cloudless sky, the stars all radiant with beauty, while the moon, rising higher and higher in the heavens, increasing in the strength and refulgence of her light, and dimming the very stars, which seemed to grow gradually invisible as the majesty of the queen of night became more and more manifest.

The dark woods and the open meadows contrasted more and more strongly; like light and shade, the earth and sky were not more distinct and apart; and the ripling stream, that rushed along with all the impetuosity of uneven ground.

The banks are clothed with verdure; the tall sedges, here and there, lined the sides; beds of bulrushes raised their heads high above all else, and threw out their round clumps of blossoms like tufts, and looked strange in the light of the moon.

Here and there, too, the willows bent gracefully over the stream, and their long leaves were wafted and borne up and down by the gentler force of the stream.

Below, the stream widened, and ran foaming over a hard, stony bottom, and near the middle is a heap of stones—of large stones, that form the bed of the river, from which the water has washed away all earthy particles, and left them by themselves.

These stones in winter could not be seen, they were all under water, and the stream washed over in a turbulent and tumultuous manner. But now, when the water was clear and low, they are many of them positively out of the water, the stream running around and through their interstices; the water-weeds here and there lying at the top of the stream, and blossoming beautifully.

The daisy-like blossoms danced and waved gently on the moving flood, at the same time they shone in the moonlight, like fairy faces rising from the depths of the river, to receive the principle of life from the moon's rays.

'Tis sweet to wander in the moonlight at such an hour, and it is sweet to look upon such a scene with an unruffled mind, and to give way to the feelings that are engendered by a walk by the river side.

And so on and so on and so on. But lo, all is not well: there is a form lying in the babbling brook, i.e. the dead Hungarian:

How it came there it would be difficult to say. It appeared as though, when the waters were high, the body had floated down, and, at the subsidence of the waters, it had been left upon the stones, and now it was exposed to view.

It was strange and mysterious, and those who might look upon such a sight would feel their blood chill, and their body creep, to contemplate the remains of humanity in such a place, and in such a condition as that must be in.

A human life had been taken! How? Who could tell? Perhaps accident alone was the cause of it; perhaps some one had taken a life by violent means, and thrown the body in the waters to conceal the fact and the crime.

OR YOU KNOW IT COULD BE THE DEAD GUY WHO WE JUST SAW GETTING SHOT LITERALLY ONE SCENE AGO

The moon continues to rise; its silvery rays creep ever nearer the dark and mysterious form; Rymer/Prest are unintentionally hilarious:

Now and then a fish leaps out of the stream, and just exhibits itself, as much as to say, "There are things living in the stream, and I am one of them."

After several million more words the moonlight does its thing; the dead guy respawns and proceeds to swim off down the river. It turns out that all this time the locals have been standing there watching:

During the continuance of this singular scene, not one word had passed between the landlord and his companions. When the blacksmith fired the fowling-piece, and saw the stranger fall, apparently lifeless, upon the stepping-stones that crossed the river, he became terrified at what he had done, and gazed upon the seeming lifeless form with a face on which the utmost horror was depicted.

They all seemed transfixed to the spot, and although each would have given worlds to move away, a kind of nightmare seemed to possess them, which stunned all their faculties, and brought over them a torpidity from which they found it impossible to arouse themselves.

But, when the apparently dead man moved again, and when, finally, the body, which appeared so destitute of life, rolled into the stream, and floated away with the tide, their fright might be considered to have reached its climax. The absence of the body, however, had seemingly, at all events, the effect of releasing them from the mental and physical thraldom in which they were, and they were enabled to move from the spot, which they did immediately, making their way towards the town with great speed.

I’d like to point out that inland streams don’t have goddamn tides, thanks. The locals don’t know what the fuck to make out of any of this, and have to come up with excuses for where they’ve been all this time, and the landlord is understandably slightly worried that his mysterious guest will return and be ticked off about getting shot. Rymer/Prest have truly outdone themselves in terms of Hilariously Bad Writing this time around, but they reach stunning and unprecedented heights with the closing sentences of the chapter.

And now we will return to the cottage where the Bannerworth family were at all events, making themselves quite as happy as they did at their ancient mansion, in order to see what is there passing, and how Dr. Chillingworth made an effort to get up some evidence of something that the Bannerworth family knew nothing of, therefore could not very well be expected to render him much assistance. That he did, however, make what he considered an important discovery, we shall perceive in the course of the ensuing chapter, in which it will be seen that the best hidden things will, by the merest accident, sometimes come to light, and that, too, when least expected by any one at all connected with the result.

okay then thank you for that crystalline, pellucid statement, guys, all is completely understood

(Next time: SECRET HIDING PLACES and MENTION OF TREASURE~)

To Me 'Tis Full of Horrible Shapes: Someone At So Long Last Calls Varney the Vampyre On His Bullshit

Previously on: Varney and the hangman argue inside the Hall; our heroes lay in wait outside until they determine there’s an angry mob also lying in wait to attack Varney; Henry shows a flicker of uncharacteristic inspiration and sends said mob off on a wild-goose chase; random dude gets murdered; Varney pretends to shoot Chillingworth and escapes them yet again.

(OF PERHAPS VITAL IMPORTANCE: I did not actually realize during the previous recap that the chapter title included THE MURDER OF THE HANGMAN: i.e., the mysterious random dude who gets killed by the angry mob is supposedly the guy who’s been fucking around inside Bannerworth Hall looking for the super sekrit treasure. Why he’d have gone over to the ruins, where the mob located him, is beyond me, but if that’s true then there is one fewer loose end to knot.)

At the end of the last chapter, our heroes repair to the Cottage of Undisclosed Location except for Jack, whom the authors forgot about, and Charles, who has mysteriously disappeared. We pick up with the latter, who has in fact followed Varney on his headlong flight and means to have A Talk with him:

Now, Charles Holland either had an inclination, for some reasons of his own, to follow the vampyre alone; or, on the spur of the moment, he had not time to give an alarm to the others; but certain it is that he did, unaided, rush after him. He saw him enter the summer-house, and pass out of it again at the back portion of it, as he had once before done, when surprised in his interview with Flora.

But the vampyre did not now, as he had done on the former occasion, hide immediately behind the summer-house. He seemed to be well aware that that expedient would not answer twice; so he at once sped onwards, clearing the garden fence, and taking to the meadows.

It formed evidently no part of the intentions of Charles Holland to come up with him. He was resolved upon dogging his footsteps, to know where he should go; so that he might have a knowledge of his hiding-place, if he had one.

"I must and will," said Charles to himself, "penetrate the mystery that hangs about this most strange and inexplicable being. I will have an interview with him, not in hostility, for I forgive him the evil he has done me, but with a kindly spirit; and I will ask him to confide in me."

Because one thing Varney has hitherto demonstrated is a strong desire to tell everybody his secrets, particularly importunate young men whom he has previously imprisoned. Charles follows him to a house for rent, watches Varney let himself in with an actual key through the door rather than climbing through a window as is his usual wont, and comes up with a clever plan re. how to gain entry:

But how to accomplish such a purpose was not the easiest question in the world to answer. If he rung the bell that presented itself above the garden gate, was it at all likely that Varney, who had come there for concealment, would pay any attention to the summons?

After some consideration, he did, however, think of a plan by which, at all events, he could ensure effecting an entrance into the premises, and then he would take his chance of finding the mysterious being whom he sought, and who probably might have no particular objection to meeting with him, Charles Holland, because their last interview in the ruins could not be said to be otherwise than of a peaceable and calm enough character.

Oh, dude. You are standing into danger.

He saw by the board, which was nailed in the front of the house, that all applications to see it were to be made to a Mr. Nash, residing close at hand; and, as Charles had the appearance of a respectable person, he thought he might possibly have the key entrusted to him, ostensibly to look at the house, preparatory possibly to taking it, and so he should, at all events, obtain admission.

Me, I thought it was either dusk or the middle of the night at this point, but Rymer/Prest set me straight:

The day had now fairly commenced, so that there was abundance of light, although, even for the country, it was an early hour, and probably Mr. Nash had been not a little surprised to have a call from one whose appearance bespoke no necessity for rising with the lark at such an hour.

The landlord is somewhat skeptical on account of the last guy who asked for a key walked off with it (hi, Varney) but Charles plays the I Am A Respectable Gentleman classist card and obtains the key without further ado. He lets himself into Varney’s latest lair and finds the vampyre not at his hideous repast, or hanging upside down like a bat, or any number of presumable pursuits: instead he’s sacked out on the damn floor under the window instead of, like, on a bed or even a sofa.

Charles thinks at first that he’s found a dead body, and depending on your version of the mythos (ASSUMING VARNEY IS IN FACT A VAMPYRE, SIGH) he is technically correct.

Upon a nearer examination, he found that the whole body, including the greater part of the head and face, was wrapped in a large cloak; and there, as he gazed, he soon found cause to correct his first opinion at to the form belonging to the dead, for he could distinctly hear the regular breathing, as of some one in a sound and dreamless sleep.

Closer he went, and closer still. Then, as he clasped his hands, he said, in a voice scarcely above a whisper,—

"It is—it is the vampyre."

Yes, there could be no doubt of the fact. It was Sir Francis Varney who lay there, enveloped in the huge horseman's cloak, in which, on two or three occasions during the progress of this narrative, he had figured. There he lay, at the mercy completely of any arm that might be raised against him, apparently so overcome by fatigue that no ordinary noise would have awakened him.

Frozen in terror at the undead fiend, once more. Varney, you kind of suck at this. You kind of suck at pretty much everything, which is rather a pity, but nobody else in this book is particularly competent either except perhaps Chillingworth.

Charles tries to wake him unsuccessfully, and Varney — still asleep — starts to make incriminating statements:

"Where is it?" he said; "where—where hidden?—Pull the house down!—Murder! No, no, no! no murder!—I will not, I dare not. Blood enough is upon my hands.—The money!—the money! Down, villains! down! down! down!"

Charles is like “wtf, dude,” and Varney shuts up for a little while and emits low moans before going into more detail:

"No harm," he said, "no harm,—Marchdale is a villain!—Not a hair of his head injured—no, no. Set him free—yes, I will set him free. Beware! beware, Marchdale! and you Mortimer. The scaffold! ay, the scaffold! but where is the bright gold? The memory of the deed of blood will not cling to it. Where is it hidden? The gold! the gold! the gold! It is not in the grave—it cannot be there—no, no, no!—not there, not there! Load the pistols. There, there! Down, villain, down!—down, down!"

Despairing, now, of obtaining anything like tangible information from these ravings, which, even if they did, by accident, so connect themselves together as to seem to mean something, Charles again cried aloud,—

"Varney, awake, awake!"

Nope. Demonstrating once again their utter inability to detect the moment when drama flips over into unintended comedy, Rymer/Prest refuse to wake up the vampyre until Charles pokes him with a boot:

The effect was as startling as it was instantaneous. The vampyre sprang to his feet, as he had been suddenly impelled up by some powerful machinery; and, casting his cloak away from his arms, so as to have them at liberty, he sprang upon Charles Holland, and hurled him to the ground, where he held him with a giant's grip, as he cried,—

"Rash fool! be you whom you may. Why have you troubled me to rid the world of your intrusive existence?"

The attack was so sudden and so terrific, that resistance to it, even if Charles had had the power, was out of the question. All he could say, was,—

"Varney, Varney! do you not know me? I am Charles Holland. Will you now, in your mad rage, take the life you might more easily have taken when I lay in the dungeon from which you released me?"

Varney is still pinning him to the floor, by the way.

The sound of his voice at once convinced Sir Francis Varney of his identity; and it was with a voice that had some tones of regret in it, that he replied,—

"And wherefore have you thought proper, when you were once free and unscathed, to cast yourself into such a position of danger as to follow me to my haunt?"

"I contemplated no danger," said Charles, "because I contemplated no evil. I do not know why you should kill me."

I’M A VAMPYRE, I AM THE NIGHT, KEEP UP WITH ME HERE

"You came here, and yet you say you do not know why I should kill you. Young man, have you a dozen lives that you can afford to tamper with them thus? I have, at much chance of imminence to myself, already once saved you, when another, with a sterner feeling, would have gladly taken your life; but now, as if you were determined to goad me to an act which I have shunned committing, you will not let me close my eyes in peace."

"Take your hand from off my throat, Varney, and I will then tell you what brought me here."

Sir Francis Varney did so.

Charles explains that he wants to know what Varney’s deal is, and Varney is like “that’s why you came here?” and he admits actually he wants to know not only what Varney’s deal is and why he’s made such a goddamn nuisance of himself to the Bannerworths but why he gave Charles’s girlfriend the PTSDs. The answer that comes to mind is “he thought he would.” Varney is somewhat taken aback, and Charles is all c’mon, man, you totally have feelings and stuff.

AND THEN MAGIC HAPPENS

"I accessible to human feeling! know you to whom you speak? Am I not he before whom all men shudder, whose name has been a terror and a desolation; and yet you can talk of my human feelings. Nay, if I had had any, be sure they would have been extinguished by the persecutions I have endured from those who, you know, with savage ferocity have sought my life."

"No, Varney; I give you credit for being a subtler reasoner than thus to argue; you know well that you were the aggressor to those parties who sought your life; you know well that with the greatest imaginable pains you held yourself up to them as a thing of great terror."

CHARLES. CALLS VARNEY. ON HIS BULLSHIT.

"I did—I did."

"You cannot, then, turn round upon ignorant persons, and blame them because your exertions to make yourself seem what you wish were but too successful."

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"You use the word seem," said Varney, with a bitterness of aspect, "as if you would imply a doubt that I am that which thousands, by their fears, would testify me to be."

"Thousands might," said Charles Holland; "but not among them am I, Varney; I will not be made the victim of superstition. Were you to enact before my very eyes some of those feats which, to the senses of others, would stamp you as the preternatural being you assume to be, I would doubt the evidence of my own senses ere I permitted such a bugbear to oppress my brain."

"Go," said Sir Francis Varney, "go: I have no more words for you; I have nothing to relate to you."

Okay, we’re back to the IS HE OR ISN’T HE thing. I kinda want to mount an expedition to locate Rymer/Prest’s last resting places, dig them up, and yell at them about responsible storytelling practices, because COME ON, MAN. Fucking pick one, it’s the entire premise of your stupid book, this is not rocket science.

Charles presses his advantage:

"In the name of all that is great, and good, and just, I call upon you for justice."

"What have I to do with such an invocation? Utter such a sentiment to men who, like yourself, are invested with the reality as well as the outward show of human nature."

"Nay, Sir Francis Varney, now you belie yourself. You have passed through a long, and, perchance, a stormy life. Can you look back upon your career, and find no reminiscences of the past that shall convince you that you are of the great family of man, and have had abundance of human feelings and of human affections?"

"Peace, peace!"

"Nay, Sir Francis Varney, I will take your word, and if you will lay your hand upon your heart, and tell me truly that you never felt what it was to love—to have all feeling, all taste, and all hope of future joy, concentrated in one individual, I will despair, and leave you. If you will tell me that never, in your whole life, you have felt for any fair and glorious creature, as I now feel for Flora Bannerworth, a being for whom you could have sacrificed not only existence, but all the hopes of a glorious future that bloom around it—if you will tell me, with the calm, dispassionate aspect of truth, that you have held yourself aloof from such human feelings, I will no longer press you to a disclosure which I shall bring no argument to urge."

Varney’s like THIS IS NOT OKAY I AM HAVING SERIOUS BOUNDARY ISSUES HERE KID:

"Do you wish to drive me mad, that you thus, from memory's hidden cells, conjure up images of the past?"

"Then there are such images to conjure up—there are such shadows only sleeping, but which require only, as you did even now, but a touch to awaken them to life and energy. Oh, Sir Francis Varney, do not tell me that you are not human."

for fuck’s sake

The vampyre

PICK ONE

made a furious gesture, as if he would have attacked Charles Holland; but then he sank nearly to the floor, as if soul-stricken by some recollection that unnerved his arm; he shook with unwonted emotion, and, from the frightful livid aspect of his countenance, Charles dreaded some serious accession of indisposition, which might, if nothing else did, prevent him from making the revelation he so much sought to hear from his lips.

"Varney," he cried, "Varney, be calm! you will be listened to by one who will draw no harsh—no hasty conclusions; by one, who, with that charity, I grieve to say, is rare, will place upon the words you utter the most favourable construction. Tell me all, I pray you, tell me all."

Now that he’s triggered the fuck out of Varney, Charles gets what he’s looking for:

"This is strange," said the vampyre. "I never thought that aught human could thus have moved me. Young man, you have touched the chords of memory; they vibrate throughout my heart, producing cadences and sounds of years long past. Bear with me awhile."

"And you will speak to me?"

"I will."

But only on the condition that Charles never breathe a word of it to anybody else, which is not good enough for our Mr. Holland. After several volleys of argument, he manages to extract the concession from Varney that he can tell Flora and Flora alone, whereupon Varney goes into come gather round children I’ll tell you a tale mode. Prepare for infodump!

“Some years ago, it matters not the number, on a stormy night, towards the autumn of the year, two men sat alone in poverty, and that species of distress which beset the haughty, profligate, daring man, who has been accustomed all his life to its most enticing enjoyments, but never to that industry which alone ought to produce them, and render them great and magnificent."

"Two men; and who were they?"

"I was one. Look upon me! I was of those men; and strong and evil passions were battling in my heart."

"And the other!"

"Was Marmaduke Bannerworth."

"Gracious Heaven! the father of her whom I adore; the suicide."

ok now waaaaay back in the beginning I recall that the wastrel ancestor so clearly depicted in the Ominous Portrait was first known as Sir Runnagate Bannerworth and then transmogrified mid-grave-desecration into Marmaduke Bannerworth, Yeoman, who died either in the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries depending on what paragraph you’re reading. Either the name “Marmaduke” is passed down in the Bannerworth family fairly consistently, or Rymer/Prest have managed yet another breathtaking continuity error. We know that Flora’s dad killed himself in the summerhouse, but until now we haven’t understood quite why. Varney continues his tale of hanging out with Marma-B and plotting evil deeds:

“We were not nice in the various schemes which our prolific fancies engendered. If trickery, and the false dice at the gaming-table, sufficed not to fill our purses, we were bold enough for violence. If simple robbery would not succeed, we could take a life."

"Murder?"

"Ay, call it by its proper name, a murder. We sat till the midnight hour had passed, without arriving at a definite conclusion; we saw no plan of practicable operation, and so we wandered onwards to one of those deep dens of iniquity, a gaming-house, wherein we had won and lost thousands.”

Where they proceed to wager on the success of one of the other guys playing, and are actually winning for once when Some Guy totally obliterates them and wins the whole pot. Varney and his double-dactylic pal are like oh no you fucking didn’t, and proceed to follow the dude when he leaves with what they consider their cold hard cash.

They discuss briefly how best to go about getting said cash back from Some Guy. Varney zips past him in the country lane and Bannerworth comes up behind to cut off his retreat; Varney’s like STAND AND DELIVER, and Some Guy proceeds to stand and deliver one of Varney’s very first gunshot wounds.

"'Your money,' I said; 'your winnings at the gaming-table. We cannot, and we will not lose it.'

"So suddenly, that he had nearly taken my life, he drew a pistol from his pocket, and levelling it at my head, he fired upon me.

"Perhaps, had I moved, it might have been my death; but, as it was, the bullet furrowed my cheek, leaving a scar, the path of which is yet visible in a white cicatrix.”

Awww, it’s totally his first.

"I felt a stunning sensation, and thought myself a dead man. I cried aloud to Marmaduke Bannerworth, and he rushed forward. I knew not that he was armed, and that he had the power about him to do the deed which he then accomplished; but there was a groan, a slight struggle, and the successful gamester fell upon the green sward, bathed in his blood."

WELP THAT DID NOT GO WELL

"And this is the father of her whom I adore?"

"It is. Are you shocked to think of such a neat relationship between so much beauty and intelligence and a midnight murderer? Is your philosophy so poor, that the daughter's beauty suffers from the commission of a father's crime?"

"No, no, It is not so. Do not fancy that, for one moment, I can entertain such unworthy opinions. The thought that crossed me was that I should have to tell one of such a gentle nature that her father had done such a deed."

"On that head you can use your own discretion. The deed was done; there was sufficient light for us to look upon the features of the dying man. Ghastly and terrific they glared upon us; while the glazed eyes, as they were upturned to the bright sky, seemed appealing to Heaven for vengeance against us, for having done the deed.”

At which point Varney goes into full-on melodrama:

"Many a day and many an hour since at all times and all seasons, I have seen those eyes, with the glaze of death upon them, following me, and gloating over the misery they had the power to make. I think I see them now."

"Indeed!"

"Yes; look—look—see how they glare upon me—with what a fixed and frightful stare the bloodshot pupils keep their place—there, there! oh! save me from such a visitation again. It is too horrible. I dare not—I cannot endure it; and yet why do you gaze at me with such an aspect, dread visitant? You know that it was not my hand that did the deed—who laid you low. You know that not to me are you able to lay the heavy charge of your death!"

"Varney, you look upon vacancy," said Charles Holland.

"No, no; vacancy it may be to you, but to me 'tis full of horrible shapes."

Charles is like “okay there, dial it back down” and Varney pulls himself together:

"Compose yourself; you have taken me far into your confidence already; I pray you now to tell me all. I have in my brain no room for horrible conjectures such as those which might else torment me."

Varney was silent for a few minutes, and then he wiped from his brow the heavy drops of perspiration that had there gathered, and heaved a deep sigh.

"Speak to me," added Charles; "nothing will so much relieve you from the terrors of this remembrance as making a confidence which reflection will approve of, and which you will know that you have no reason to repent."

"Charles Holland," said Varney, "I have already gone too far to retract—much too far, I know, and can well understand all the danger of half confidence. You already know so much, that it is fit you should know more."

"Go on then, Varney, I will listen to you."

"I know not if, at this juncture, I can command myself to say more. I feel that what next has to be told will be most horrible for me to tell—most sad for you to hear told."

Charles is like “okay, spill, what else is there,” and Varney spurts melodrama again but Charles is having none of it (you go, Charles, you are rapidly climbing the Actually Sensible ladder, I didn’t think you had it in you):

"You are right—such is the fact; the death of that man could not have moved me as you now see me moved. There is a secret connected with his fate which I may well hesitate to utter—a secret even to whisper to the winds of heaven—I—although I did not do the deed, no, no—I—I did not strike the blow—not I—not I!"

"Varney, it is astonishing to me the pains you take to assure yourself of your innocence of this deed; no one accuses you, but still, were it not that I am impressed with a strong conviction that you're speaking to me nothing but the truth, the very fact of your extreme anxiety to acquit yourself, would engender suspicion."

"I can understand that feeling, Charles Holland; I can fully understand it. I do not blame you for it—it is a most natural one; but when you know all, you will feel with me how necessary it must have been to my peace to seize upon every trivial circumstance that can help me to a belief in my own innocence."

Charles wants to know why he has such a thing about this particular dude’s death. Was he perhaps important in some way, or a really nice person, or what? Varney changes the subject to be all about him again, because of course that’s the central point of this entire exchange: me me me me me.

"It is true, then, as the doctor states, that you were executed in London?"

"I was."

"And resuscitated by the galvanic process, put into operation by Dr. Chillingworth?"

"As he supposed; but there are truths connected with natural philosophy which he dreamed not of. I bear a charmed life, and it was but accident which produced a similar effect upon the latent springs of my existence in the house to which the executioner conducted me, to what would have been produced had I been sufficed, in the free and open air, to wait until the cool moonbeams fell upon me."

"Varney, Varney," said Charles Holland, "you will not succeed in convincing me of your supernatural powers. I hold such feelings and sensations at arm's length. I will not—I cannot assume you to be what you affect."

"I ask for no man's belief. I know that which I know, and, gathering experience from the coincidences of different phenomena, I am compelled to arrive at certain conclusions. Believe what you please, doubt what you please; but I say again that I am not as other men."

He’s special. And we still don’t know what the fuck he is. Charles, again, calls him on his shit, and he admits that yeah, he totally is wandering from the point because he dreads it, woe. Varney apparently cannot leave well enough alone and asks Charles what he, Charles, thinks regarding Varney’s guilt in the death of the gambler. Charles offers a reasonable response:

"It seems then to me that, not contemplating the man's murder, you cannot be accused of the act, although a set of fortuitous circumstances made you appear an accomplice to its commission."

"You think I may be acquitted?"

"You can acquit yourself, knowing that you did not contemplate the murder."

"I did not contemplate it. I know not what desperate deed I should have stopped short at then, in the height of my distress, but I neither contemplated taking that man's life, nor did I strike the blow which sent him from existence."

"There is even some excuse as regards the higher crime for Marmaduke Bannerworth."

"Think you so?"

"Yes; he thought that you were killed, and impulsively he might have struck the blow that made him a murderer."

Okay, fair enough. Won’t stand up in court but it makes sense. Varney’s like I SUBSCRIBE TO YOUR NEWSLETTER TYVM:

"Be it so. I am willing, extremely willing that anything should occur that should remove the odium of guilt from any man. Be it so, I say, with all my heart; but now, Charles Holland, I feel that we must meet again ere I can tell you all; but in the meantime let Flora Bannerworth rest in peace—she need dread nothing from me. Avarice and revenge, the two passions which found a home in my heart, are now stifled for ever."

"Revenge! did you say revenge?"

"I did; whence the marvel, am I not sufficiently human for that?"

"But you coupled it with the name of Flora Bannerworth."

"I did, and that is part of my mystery."

oh my god dude “part of my mystery” you are SO a sixteen-year-old asking the internet if painting your turtle black will make it spooky. Also I don’t know if you’re human or not, since nobody else seems to have a damn clue, including the authors.

Abruptly Varney’s like I am le tired, come back tomorrow for the thrilling conclusion of my life story, adieu and Charles takes himself off — only to encounter an urchin on the road who reports that the mob has been burning down Bannerworth Hall, OH NO except what the urchin actually means is the old ruins, which are apparently no longer ecclesiastical in origin, and also the mob has killed some guy in case he was a vampyre. Charles is like oh for fuck’s sake:

"When will these terrible outrages cease? Oh! Varney, Varney, you have much to answer for; even if in your conscience you succeed in acquitting yourself of the murder, some of the particulars concerning which you have informed me of."

And with that I leave you. Next time: said thrilling conclusion, a Mysterious Nobleman from Hungary, and more!

Unrelated to Varney the Vampire: Research Boner Time, Aviation Edition

So one of the things I love to do most in all the world, other than lie around reading books, is doing research for stuff I’m interested in. Right now I’m writing a novella about practical necromancy and air crash investigation, and therefore there is a lot of research being done at the moment.

And despite the ongoing dumpster fire that is reality — look around, look around, to see how lucky we are to be alive right now in a world where you can access practically any damn thing on the internet, at once, without even having to get up and go anywhere, or even put on pants. For example, I needed to know what route a fictional flight from Reagan National to Eppley Field in Omaha would take, and at first I started out going “welp, let’s find the navigational waypoints and imagine what route might be the most sensible between them,” before finding the most wonderful site I’ve encountered in ages, called iFlightPlanner. Which does what it says on the tin.

It shows you all the charts for the United States. There are a lot, and you have to look up how to read them, but that’s not difficult: the FAA has kindly provided a guide. The charts and the custom flight plan showed me all sorts of things I needed to know, such as roughly how long it would take from the point where the flight was handed off from one air traffic control center to its scheduled landing. If I’d needed to include the actual ATC transcript of the handoff I could have done that too, because there are lots of places around the internet where people ask questions about this and have answers provided. In this case it was reddit, but there are others.

And this is only one aspect of one project. The internet is an absolute treasure trove of information, readily available in incredibly useful ways (for the most part). When I was writing STRANGE PRACTICE and DREADFUL COMPANY, I used Google Street View heavily to give myself an accurate picture of what routes people would take to get from here to there, what landmarks they would encounter, what views they would see — because I can’t personally nip over to London or Paris for a fact-finding mission, lacking Ruthven’s cash flow. I could have worked out the routes with an ordinary map, but I wouldn’t have known what my characters would see on the way, and therefore wouldn’t be able to describe it, and I won’t write something I’m not pretty sure I can get right.

Which, of course, makes me That Person regarding other people’s research habits. It drives me nuts when people don’t bother to do any, and it almost drives me more nuts when the person has done a little bit of research but either completely misunderstood what they’ve read or failed to read any further, thus setting themselves up for great big glaring factual errors. The metric for this type of fail is the Dan Brown Scale of Did Not Do the Research, upon which Brown himself scores an eleven.

My point is that the internet is an enormous resource for writers — and because it’s such a vast repository of information and it is generally so easy to access, there is no excuse for not doing your due diligence. Back in the Cretaceous we had to rely on interlibrary loan and long hours in uncomfortable library carrels cramming information into our eyeballs: these days you can get very nearly anything you damn well please delivered directly.

Go forth and learn cool things!

(If you’re interested, here’s the flight plan and a closeup of the chart to give you an idea of what they look like. Ignore the groundspeed; I just needed to know the route.)

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