Exploring Vampires in Science Fiction
In most cases, there are fantasy monsters like fairies and sci-fi monsters like aliens, but at least one horror icon seems to comfortably occupy both. What makes vampires fit so easily into the past, the future, the domestic world, and the depths of space?
Most horror fans know the origin of vampires. Eighteenth-century superstition mixed with the semi-truthful stories of Elizabeth Bathory and Vlad III gave way to groundbreaking fiction. Sheridan Le Fanu’s carmilla is popularly considered the first recorded track, but that of Bram Stoker Dracula is the one who defined the genre. From those humble beginnings, the concept has achieved unimaginable variety.
These early examples of vampire fiction are strictly fantastical. There is little or no science to speak of. Dracula is magical in nature, with his powers and weaknesses being handcrafted by the Christian god as a form of punishment. Over the years, however, vampires have evolved from horror monsters to one of countless fantasy races. There is apparently no fictional world in which vampires cannot appear. The rules are loose, most fictional vampires choose from the list of characteristics established in the early works. It’s fair to say that vampire fiction is its own genre, with no need to seem cohesive within a specific type of story. With that in mind, a few interesting themes emerge as vampires enter the world of science fiction.
It didn’t take too long for the vampire to make her way through space. The popular suggestion of actual vampires came in the early 1700s and the first stories of vampires in space came in the early 1900s. Perhaps the seminal stories about space-related vampires came in 1908 when Gustave Le Rouge Vampires of Mars has been freed. This bizarre story followed classic sci-fi tropes, blending planetary romance and cosmic horror as a team of swashbuckling space heroes encounter a planet of vampires. The creatures in this novel are the native inhabitants of Mars, humanoid monsters with enormous bat-like wings and deadly fangs. This concept of alien species that closely match human descriptions of vampires is common in science fiction stories.
Most space fiction has at least one or two planets inhabited by an alien creature that shares some or all of the traits with vampires. Doctor Who, for example, got tangled up with a few versions of vampires. In the tradition of this long-running series, vampires are a sort of parasite descended from a more powerful species, and each sentient species deals with a vampire phase. The 1985 film by horror great director Tobe Hooper life force featured the invasion of a group of deadly space vampires who threatened to consume the living souls of Earth. The exciting film Giallo by Mario Bava planet of the vampires sees a crew of space explorers crash into a hostile planet, whereupon their dead rise up and attack. Aliens as vampires are a fairly common concept in science fiction, serving largely as an excuse to bring the creatures into a science fiction story.
Many, but probably not most, vampire stories are inherently antagonistic. They depict the conflict between humanity and the creatures of the night. The problem is, in a fair fight, no human being can reliably defeat a vampire. A common way to solve this problem and allow the conflict to escalate is to arm humanity with futuristic or specialized weaponry. This is the philosophy of works like Blade, Ultraviolet, and underworld. These works fit into another trend of sci-fi vampires, scientific explanations for their unique condition. Sometimes it’s the result of unorthodox experimentation, other times it’s a rare blood disease, and other works describe it as a plague. These are examples of coming to a familiar conclusion through a new path. Telling the classic tale of humans slaying monsters, now with the benefit of scientific enlightenment.
Sci-fi and vampires mix well, easily transitioning genre tropes into classic sci-fi settings. This concept works for several reasons. The concept of something that looks like a normal human, but behaves like an unrepentant monster is common and relatable fictional fodder. Vampires specifically represent themes of sexuality, class struggle, abuse, and the commodification of the poor by the rich. These themes are no less relevant to modern times than they were when they first emerged, and most science fiction writers consider them to be relevant for the future. Cyberpunk dystopia, nightmarish future outcomes, and the continuous cyclical nature of progress and regress are all as common in science fiction as they are in everyday life. With all of this in mind, vampires function as thoughtless monsters of the week and as entries into the ongoing mythos that were set hundreds of years ago.
The truth about vampires in fiction is that they work wherever they need to. Vampires might as well be a genre of fiction on their own, but the genre’s crossover with science fiction is among the medium’s most interesting.
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