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Thursday, October 28th, 2004


Incubus Dreams (Anita Blake Vampire Hunter #12)

by Laurell K. Hamilton

'Tis the Season

A review by Sacha Zimmerman

Fans of Laurell K. Hamilton have called her the new Anne Rice. Her books -- stories of vampires, sex, and sex with vampires -- skyrocket up the best-seller lists. And yet, despite the obvious similarities, Hamilton makes Rice look like Umberto Eco. Whether or not you appreciate Rice's brand of fiction, her attention to historical detail, narrative, and plot always feels genuine. The decades and decades of lives recounted in Interview With A Vampire are textured by different eras, places, and moods -- from Southern plantations in the eighteenth century to European operas in the nineteenth century. And, in The Witching Hour, my favorite Rice book, she creates a clan with such a detailed and psychologically layered family history that the reader feels the weight of legions of ancestors. Though Rice has been responsible for her share of clunkers, to think that anyone could consider Hamilton's painfully trite prose, excruciatingly annoying characters, and insufferable plot (such that it is) reminiscent of anything by Rice is deeply vexing.

Hamilton's newest goth-epic, Incubus Dreams, is the latest in her Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series, which follows Blake's violent and erotic travails in modern-day St. Louis. And yet, modern-day St. Louis seems a lot like those crappy futuristic societies in early 1980s alien flicks that can be seen on the SCI FI Channel at two o'clock on Saturday afternoons. Hamilton's world is littered with vampires, shapeshifters, zombies, werewolves, wererats, wereleopards ... you get the idea. All of these are regulated by laws, which include "safe houses" for werewolves during the full moon, age-of-consent rules for vampirism, and complicated hunting protocols. There are the expected human racisms (species-isms?) toward the animal and undead worlds that make for insufferably inane social commentary. ("It's good to share information when you know someone else is dating the lunarly challenged" -- yes, education is key.)

But really, all of this setting and social arrangement is just a backdrop for Hamilton's chief aims: sex and violence, generally in tandem. Hamilton's book reads like a bad porno in which the voluptuous heroine must save her vampire lover with sex -- if I don't sleep with him, he'll die! The first half of Incubus Dreams covers an approximately twelve-hour span in which Anita has four separate sexual interludes with several man-beast types: There's a ménage à trois with her servant vampire, Damian, and her pomme de sang (boyfriend expressly used as sexual food to feed her ardeur -- she basically goes into heat every twelve hours), Nathaniel, on the kitchen floor; another ménage with the two after a gruesome fight that leaves them all battered and bloody (this time as several other people look on); an intimate moment with her ex-fiancé, the werewolf Richard, for the sake of saving some lives (they give new meaning to "sexual healing"); and a romantic feeding with her boyfriend Micah, which sends Nathaniel into a jealous rage. The vio-sex is so pervasive as to eclipse any other themes or plots in the novel.

I swallowed the blood first, scalding from the chase, and then the meat that still held the last flickering of pulse, a last beat of life. The meat moved in my mouth as it went down, as if it were struggling, even now, to live. ... It wasn't horror that made me slap at Nathaniel. It was that I had liked it. Gloried in the feel of blood raining down on me. ...

He trapped my hips under the strength of his hands, and he forced himself inside me, fought the tightness of my body, as if he were piercing my body, making a new hole, because this one wasn't wide enough. The blood was flowing across my chest in widening lines, as my heart beat faster, and my blood pumped itself out of those two little holes. The blood looked so red, so red, on the white of my skin. ...

I felt Nathaniel's body thrust against the carpet, felt him let go, and that orgasm traveled back up my arm and into Damian. It was his turn to scream, and that made him writhe his body still plunged inside of mine, which made me move underneath him. It was like being caught in an endless loop of pleasure; one body's release, bringing the other, until we ended in a sweating, bloody pile on the floor.

If you're naïve like me, then you may suppose that sadomasochistic group sex is, shall we say, a fringe fetish. But, if the popularity of Hamilton's novel is any indication, it seems that American women are having -- or at least fantasizing about -- a great deal of sadomasochistic group sex. A great, great deal. So, though I happily recommended the saucy advice included in porn star diva Jenna Jameson's memoir, I see now how that was mere child's play. It was mainstream porn; it was blonde and cute and acceptable. So gentlemen, listen up: I must conclude based on Hamilton's sales that women would like to be mauled violently during intercourse by werewolves, wereleopards, vampires, and the undead. Are you boys up for that? Oh, and watch your necks, because part of this fantasy includes "shearing through skin with teeth that were made for tearing."

How, as a woman, I never managed to fantasize about drinking blood while making love now just seems extremely prudish. Not having five homoerotic lovers (some of whom are strippers, some of whom are servants, some of whom are masters, all of whom are non-human) also makes me feel like a prude. I feel meaningless, vacant; I feel ... one of those shells that washed up on the sand, so pretty, so clean, so white and pink, and so empty. That place inside me where Richard had been meant to fit, to fill, was empty, but not empty like a wound. Empty like that seashell, all slick and wet and waiting. Waiting for someone to come along and slip inside and make that emptiness into their protection, their shield, their armor, their home.

Where will I ever find a sadistic man-beast lover to be the hermit crab to my pink, empty shell? I thought perhaps I would get some insight from Hamilton's website. Someone this hard-core must have a bad-ass gothic fan base; perhaps I could find my hermit crab among them. And then I read her blog:

Yet another great event in the San Francisco area! Jerry, the Barnes & Noble store manager, once again wrote a poem to introduce [me]. We saw a lot of familiar faces, some of them from the signing the day before at Borderlands. ... Thanks to Crystal who modeled the Tour Shirt that was forgotten. Without her help, a lot of people would not have known what the shirt looks like. ... Also a special shout out to the young lady who gave us the Fruit Basket!

So, if these folks aren't actually all darkness and gore, and if sadomasochistic group sex is not a new rage among American housewives, then why exactly is this book doing so well? It's certainly not the unsatisfying serial-killer vampire plot that creeps up very seldomly between descriptions of bloody sex scenes that last longer than Sting on a tantric bender. It can't be the main character, who throws a tantrum over every possible decision she has to make and who agonizes monotonously for pages and pages about whether or not to give her pomme de sang what she seems to give freely to just about every other male character (i.e., access to her "shell"). It most certainly can't be the writing (blood can only "bloom" on pale skin so many times before it just gets old, ya know?). Maybe it's the season. It's October, it's chilly, it's almost Halloween; maybe people are craving a little mindless vampire-on-wereleopard action. For all of our sake, I hope so.

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