Fantastic Reviews - Story Collection Book Review
Stagestruck Vampires cover Stagestruck Vampires by Suzy McKee Charnas

Tachyon Publications - copyright 2004
256 pages
cover art by John Picacio (left)

Book reviewed January 2005

Rating: 7/10  (Recommended)

Review by Gary Romero

          Stagestruck Vampires and Other Phantasms is a collection of ten stories and essays published by Tachyon Publications in October of 2004.  Suzy McKee Charnas, best known for her feminist SF post-holocaust Holdfast series; Walk to the End of the World, Motherlines, The Furies, and Conqueror's Child, brings us a rare chance to enjoy her shorter fiction.  Almost all of the stories included in this book are award nominated or award winning stories.

The book's opening story, the Hugo award and World Fantasy award nominated novelette, "Beauty and the Opéra or The Phantom Beast" is a slow read.  The pace of the story makes it seem as if nothing is happening even as Charnas jumps forward and then back in time.  At certain points this story becomes very graphic but as the story moves on it becomes clear that it is necessary to the relationship of the characters.  This heart wrenching rewrite of the ending for The Phantom of the Opera had me excited and looking forward to the rest of the book.

Hugo winning, Nebula nominated short story "Boobs" is the one story I find myself re-reading over and over again.  The story of a young girl, having come of age over summer break, begins 8th grade and is ridiculed of her new adult body from her fellow students.  Then to make matters worse, she starts her monthly cycle.  But just as soon as it starts, it stops, and something worse happens, she turns into a Werewolf.  This story is so well written that I found myself cheering her on as she gets revenge against the immature boys she has to go to school with.  This, the shortest story in the book, turned out to be the story I enjoyed the most.

Several stories star Charnas' Dr. Edward Weyland from her book The Vampire Tapestry, a vampire with the unique ability to walk in the daylight and drink blood from a needle under his tongue.  "Unicorn Tapestry", a Nebula Award winning novella, is the best of these stories, placing Dr. Weyland into fascinating therapy sessions with Dr. Floria Landauer, Psychiatrist.  Another of these stories, "A Musical Interlude" sets Dr. Weyland at the Santa Fe Opera.  Charnas has a love for the opera that shines through as Dr. Weyland (and the reader with him) becomes so excited with the feel of the opera, Tosca, that he loses control of himself.  This story is written with so much familiarity for the Santa Fe Opera, that it didn't surprise me to find out that Charnas was one of the many writers living in New Mexico.

"Advocates", a Bram Stoker Award nominee, co-authored by World Fantasy award nominated author Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, changes the pace of Charnas' writing style and lets the reader enjoy some of Yarbro's faster paced writing style.  First though, the reader must push through a quick introduction about Charnas' time working with Yarbro.  In this story Dr. Weyland finds himself in an uncomfortable future in which vampires rule the world and humans are nothing more than cattle.  Dr. Weyland must face a jury of vampires that are not only angered by his uniqueness but scared as well.  This story lacks the excitement known to both Yarbro's and Charnas' other fiction and the pace Yarbro brings to the story doesn't feel right next to the rest of the collection.

"Listening to Brahms", a novelette nominated for a Nebula award, is a story of the future, a journal of sorts.  It tells of a small group of humans found by aliens that are infatuated with the human race.  There is only one problem: they're the only humans left.  Earth has self-destructed, having destroyed itself, just as predicted by the likes of H.G. Wells.  This new alien race attempts to preserve the human way and rather than learning from the mistakes of humanity, become more human themselves.

The story "Peregrines", a novella having only appeared in electronic form till now, had me feeling sad that I missed its original release.  The story of a young shaman, hiding from evils and increasing his skills, wanders through an America of the future.  Arriving at a bookstore looking for work and shelter, he meets Mary Anne.  Mary Anne, a tarot card reader, finds herself helping and protecting him in ways she never knew she could.

The two new essays at the end of the book, "Stagestruck Vampires" and "They're Right, Art is Long" go into detail about her making of the "Unicorn Tapestry" into a play, and the writing of her first novel, A Walk to the End of the World.  The essays are interesting and informational only if you want to know more about Charnas and her history as a writer not about the stories in this book.

          Suzy McKee Charnas has written many incredible and award winning stories.  Stagestruck Vampires brings eight of them to you in one volume.  While most of the stories are slow paced, she lets her unique characters and imaginative worlds carry them to greatness.  Suzy McKee Charnas' talent for creating memorable characters shines like no other.
What do you think? Comments are welcome!
Please send them to:
Gary.Romero@gmail.com
Copyright © 2005 Gary Romero

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Links to websites about Suzy McKee Charnas:
Suzy McKee Charnas official website
january magazine: Review | Stagestruck Vampires by Suzy McKee Charnas
The SF Site Featured Review: The Vampire Tapestry

For information on more science fiction and fantasy books:
Denver Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club

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