I’m currently reading a series of books by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan: The Strain, The Fall, and The Night Eternal. I’m not reading them strictly for fun; they’re part of my research into apocalyptic stories with supernatural or paranormal elements, in order to better understand the genre. These books deal with a vampire apocalypse, with vampirism spreading to victims through parasitic blood worms that infect the body after the person is bitten. They’re a much darker, more gruesome look at vampires than the Anne Rice or Stephanie Meyer variety. In many ways, the series has more in common with zombie horror films in the style of the Resident Evil series.
I’ve just started the third book, and . . . I’ve got some issues with it right off the bat (spoilers ahead!).
In the first book, a Master vampire arrives in New York city, his coffin delivered in the cargo hold of an airplane. This starts off with a feeling very similar to how Dracula traveled by ship in the original Bram Stoker story. The plane lands with all the passengers and crew dead, and unknown to anyone, already incubating the parasitic blood worms. Over the next few days, all the dead turn into vampires, then return home because the remaining shreds of humanity fill them with the urge to be with their families. Their families become the next victims, resulting in hundreds of new vampires being born. Throughout the rest of the book, the vampire plague spreads more and more, unable to be stopped.
In the second book, it gets even worse. More planes of infected victims land around the globe, spreading the plague to more and more cities. The vampires increase their population each night until they have the strength of armies. Some humans try to fight back and hold them off, but they fail. Eventually the entire world starts to fall.
Then at the start of the third book . . . we skip ahead to two years later in the first four pages, getting only a brief summary of how the vampire hordes seized power, toppled every world government, and turned the human race into slaves. We don’t actually get to see any of that conflict, or really understand how no government in the world was able to put up any resistance. It’s just summarized in the prologue in a very disappointing fashion.
It’s basically the exact same thing that happens in the first 30 seconds of Resident Evil 3:
The reason I think the writers do this is the same reason I think all apocalyptic story writers skip over the apocalypse: they don’t want to deal with all the hard questions. How did the vampires stamp out the resistance so easily? How did they coordinate this on such a global scale in such a short time period (compare the two years here to the length of any real-life war, such as a timetable of the events in World War II). The reader is told the vampires destroyed most of the world’s planes to restrict travel, but no explanation is given about how they pulled it off. We also find out the vampires destroyed most of the world’s arsenal of nuclear weapons, with no explanation of how.
It seems to me that the writers wanted to write the next stage of their story as a human rebellion against their vampire overlords, but they just didn’t want to deal with the complicated questions of how the vampires became overlords in the first place. It’s like the first Matrix movie: we’re shown a world where humans are subjugated, given very brief explanations that provide no real answers, and we’re simply asked to accept that this is how things are. The rest of the story can’t proceed if these pieces aren’t in place at the beginning, so they’re simply placed there.
I see this over and over again in apocalyptic stories, and it’s one of the specific issues I decided not to repeat in my own novels, starting with Manifestation. I don’t want to skip over the apocalypse, the most interesting part of the story. I don’t want to drop a ready-to-go shattered civilization in front of the reader so they can see the downtrodden humans rise up and overcome the darkness. I want to actually shatter the civilization, step by step, and show every piece along the way.
In fact, it took me six books to do it.
But one of the worst crimes I feel this book committed, and the one that inspired this blog post, is that the characters aren’t even shown overcoming one of the big obstacles of the story. See, one thing they’ve learned is that they can’t simply attack the Master vampire and kill him with swords or a stake through the heart. He can switch bodies and implant his essence and his consciousness into a new host body. In order to destroy him, they need to destroy his metaphysical tie to the earth, which is how he draws his immortality. In order to do this, they need to scorch the earth itself (specifically, the land where the Master’s original grave was) with a cleansing fire. It’s explained that in biblical times, this “cleansing fire” was the sort of divine wrath that struck down Sodom and Gomorrah. And that the only modern-day way to duplicate it is a nuclear bomb. In other words, they need to drop a nuke on the Master’s graveyard.
And one of the main characters gets a nuclear bomb on page 21.
We’re given a hand-wave summary of how the character made contact with smugglers who operate in secret, working against the vampire government. That these smugglers were able to get an old Soviet bomb they bought from former generals who are selling off military goods behind the vampire’s backs. And that the main character was able to (somehow?) acquire a huge arsenal of other smuggled goods to trade for the bomb. No explanation about how all this was pulled off in this post-apocalyptic, vampire-controlled world. The nuke is basically just dropped into the character’s lap with no effort.
Now, I’m sure there will be tons of conflict and struggle later on to actually find the Master’s grave and nuke it. I’m sure there will be plenty of tension building up to that point. But I’m very disappointed that there wasn’t even a full chapter devoted to the seemingly-impossible-yet-somehow-so-easy task of acquiring a nuclear bomb. Heck, even the summary of how it was acquired only lasted two paragraphs.
I’m determined not to hand-wave any difficult questions like this. If my characters ever need to acquire a nuke (wait, that’s a spoiler for Book Three, Collapse), I’m going to make sure a lot of effort is put into it. No free nukes in chapter one for my characters.
And no skipping over the destruction of all civilization.
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