Monday, November 15, 2010

Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week :: When I'm Armouring My Belly by Gemma Files

evolve coverThe recommended story of the week is "When I'm Armouring My Belly" by Gemma Files, from the Edge anthology evolve, edited by Nancy Kilpatrick.

The glut of vampire fiction in the past several years has left vampires too commonplace, too familiar. In evolve, Nancy Kilpatrick has recaptured some of the strangeness of vampires by asking her contributors to imagine the next step in vampire evolution. As a result, the stories in evolve are less predictable than most vampire tales——you never know just what sort of creature will emerge. The authors in evolve are all Canadian and few are well-known (notable exceptions include Kelley Armstrong and Tanya Huff), but the stories are nearly all well-written, and I recommend the book to anyone looking for vampire fiction with a twist.

Despite their originality, however, to me most of the stories in evolve fail to recapture the ominous and disturbing nature of vampires. Through familiarity, the idea of someone sucking the very blood from your arteries has lost much of its power. Without that sense of dread, most vampire stories now feel now like fantasy rather than horror. (The same is true of werewolf stories.)

That's why my favorite story in evolve is "When I'm Armouring My Belly" by Gemma Files. This is a horror story, profoundly disturbing right from the opening line ("Much later, he would recall the exact moment when he finally forgot his own name") and the initial scene of sexual abuse ("Her insides milking him hard enough to bruise all the while, wet and tight and numbing-cold as a close-packed box of snow"). This unpleasant eroticism is far more interesting than anything we get from most of the current crop of dashing, romantic vampires.

For reasons that gradually become apparent, the protagonist of "When I'm Armouring My Belly" has a strange affinity with vampires. He is drawn to vampires and tries to aid them, even though he receives little in return but abuse and contempt. The tables eventually turn, but Files leaves it ambiguous whether the story's outcome is anything to celebrate.

Gemma Files has a knack for unsettling fiction. She is the co-author with husband Stephen J. Barringer of the striking story "each thing i show you is a piece of my death," which was on my Hugo recommendations list last year, and she won an International Horror Guild Award for "The Emperor's Old Bones." Her first novel A Book of Tongues, a weird Western, is just out from ChiZine Publications.

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