I finished reading Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith (2010) last night (Nov. 19, 2016). If I were to start writing book reviews here there would be no end to it, but I would like to make some observations and then move on.
Mr. Grahame-Smith's novel is a weird tale and so descended from Weird Tales and from the gothic and romantic stories of the 18th and 19th centuries. It's called a "mashup," a word that contemporary readers find cute but is really just revolting. (Whatever else it might be, "mashup" is way overused.) In addition to being a "mashup" between real historical figures (including Edgar Allan Poe) and those that exist only in fantasy, Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter is a combination of realism and romanticism or gothicism. There is even a navel-gazing writer at the beginning of the book, and, as we know, contemporary fiction in America is mostly fiction by, about, and for navel-gazing writers, preferably writers living and working and agonizing and suffering through their existential crises somewhere on the East Coast. I was waiting for that writer to reappear in the book, as his appearance at the beginning seemed to be the first part of a framing device, but there is no finished frame.
Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter received good reviews, and I can say that it's not a bad book. I have to admit, though, that it's a pretty dreary chronicle of violence and gore. Although the book deals with the problem of evil in the world, it doesn't carry any great moral force or reach any great depth. In fact it trivializes the anguish and suffering of millions of people in general--slaves, Civil War soldiers, and their loved ones--and of Abraham Lincoln and his family in particular. It also offers a hatch through which we can escape from our culpability for the evil that exists in this world by laying blame on vampires. Perhaps its worst offenses are that it makes American history less interesting by introducing vampires into the story, and ultimately remakes Abraham Lincoln into a force for evil rather than for good.
Some miscellaneous thoughts: First, Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, ostensibly a story of good and evil, is reduced to a mere adventure story--and pretty colorless at that--by what I sense to be a prevailing twenty-first century style of writing. A story of this kind demands treatment by a stylist like William Faulkner or Cormac McCarthy. Instead we get what is essentially a screenplay in book form. Second, in terms of classification, Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter might fall into the category of alternate history, more specifically, of secret history, in other words, a kind of conspiracy theory, alternatively, a cult history, like Theosophy or Scientology. Third, in the book, Abraham Lincoln is used and manipulated by a vampire. Rather than being a self-actuated agent of radical change, he is more nearly a pawn of a greater personality, that of his vampire handler. Fourth, in that way, Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter isn't very much different from Mission: Impossible or Charlie's Angels. It's Abraham Lincoln as Sabrina, Jill, or Kelly.
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We went to see Arrival last night (Nov. 19, 2016), and we saw it in a movie theater full of deplorables. Yes, they can read and write and do simple math problems like this: (538 x 0.5) + 1 = the presidency. It's a beautifully made movie--intelligent, sensitive, well written, adult. At first I wondered about the cruelty of moviemakers: this is the second science fiction movie I have seen in recent years in which a child is killed off. (The other was Gravity , ultimately a spiritually empty film.) Here, though, the death of the child proves to be a different matter. The arrival in Arrival is, at first glance, the arrival on Earth of aliens from space. They come here in great asphalt-black ships shaped like giant red corpuscles. (When they turn on their sides, they look like flying saucers.) There are minor offenses in the movie against two of Hollywood's favorite villains, but those are beside the point. This is more the point: Last year, I wrote about circles and spirals on the cover of Weird Tales. Circles and cycles are a theme and a motif in this movie. The alien ships are circular. The aliens themselves have radial symmetry. Their writing, which looks like a cross between a Rorschach blot and a coffee cup stain, is circular. Their closest connection is to a woman, a representative of that half of our species which lives more by cycles than by linearity. (Enforcing that theme is an image of birth and of an after-death experience--or rebirth--in the walk through a long, dark tunnel into a place full of light.) I won't give too much away here, but an escape from the linear into the cyclic is how the death of the child is ameliorated and how Arrival attains a spiritual dimension, something so lacking in the art and popular culture of today.
Copyright 2016 Terence E. Hanley