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December 15th, 2008

THE FUN-DEAD: ALAN BALL, HBO AND AUTHOR CHARLAINE HARRIS HAVE MADE US ALL WANT TO BE VAMPIRES AGAIN WITH TRUE BLOOD.

by Mr. Norman Maine


Anna Paquin as Sookie Stackhouse.

So you think Alan Ball (Six Feet Under) and HBO have made vampires cool again? Wrong. They may have brought it to your attention but it’s the eight great books by author Charlaine Harris that’s really brought vampires back and
made us all want to be one…again. It’s the continuing saga of the adorable Sookie Stackhouse, with her ‘disability’ (she can read minds), her merry band of Southern-fried friends and family, of course, vampires.

These books are so much fun that you’ll want to go from one to the next right away and honestly, you should. Harris provides the consistency that was missing in the Ann Rice vampire books. Because the Rice vampires were basically about the vampires and their own kind, and the Harris books are more about humans and their relations with vampires, Harris has allowed herself a bigger playing field. Not only is there room to grow and expand on her original ideas but the addition of the synthetic blood in the first book gave her an opportunity to explore the vampire mind without having to have them chomp someone every night to stay alive—although there is certainly plenty of chomping.

Harris also kicked open the locked door of the vampire actually having sex with humans; well really, of vampires having sex at all. For a long time the allure of the vampire was, and still is, very sexual and what made it so hot was that it was always such forbidden fruit. Could they, couldn’t they? Dracula was very charming and in the Coppola version, Dracula (Gary Oldman) actually did have sex with the lovely Lucy, but he was in the form of a beast, or what looked like a beast. In Interview With The Vampire it was Lestat (Tom Cruise) and Louis (Brad Pitt) and then Louis and Armand (An- tonio Banderas). And although Rice created a very powerful homoerotic subtext, nothing physical came of it: their sex was sharing victims. But Harris has taken it to a whole new level with the notion that vampires can do it, seem to be really good at it and are at least as horny as their un-undead counterparts.

So far Ball and HBO have done a really nice job of taking the first book of the series and molding it into a TV show. Granted, HBO allows a freedom that the networks can’t match but they have had their share of really awful shows as well—remember John From Cincinnati, and Lucky Louie? Actually, I must admit that personally I thought the crass and hysterically vulgar Lucky Louie was brilliant. Anyway, The first episode of True Blood was dull and didn’t inspire much hope; the second episode was much better—subsequently the show built viewership each week and was consistently better each episode as well. True Blood turned into a genuine hit and created its own subculture of vampire fans and lovers, so much so that HBO has renewed the show for a second season. But knowing HBO as we do, we can expect to probably wait a minimum of 12 to 18 months for another season of True Blood. So to feed our blood lust, as it were, here is a brief review of the next three books in the “Dead” series. In our next issue we’ll cover the last four. By the time you’re done reading them all it should be time for the second season to premier!


BOOK 2—LIVING DEAD IN DALLAS:

In the first novel of the series, Dead Until Dark, Sookie met and fell in love with Bill the Vampire. While some of her neighbors looked down on Sookie for her relationship, others were more accepting of her unusual boyfriend. In addition to the uneasiness of her human friends, Sookie has some challenges from the undead side of her relationship. Given the mostly secret and politically complex nature of vampire society, Sookie is obligated to assist Bill when her unique talents are needed.

Here Sookie is required to travel to Dallas, accompanied by Bill, to assist in finding a missing vampire. The investi- gation is almost immediately complicated by an attack and evidence of spying on the local master–something that the vampires frown upon, and vampires frown a lot. We soon learn that our world is inhabited with other supernatural creatures, which Sookie thought were only myths. As it turns out they live in the shadows of society, a place once reserved for the vampire; some of these other children of the night are helpful, others deadly. Sookie’s life is soon threatened, to say nothing of her affections.

Despite some fantastical elements, this tale mainly plotted like a mystery. The story starts with a dead body, feeds us our share of investigation and the obligatory fighting for survival. While the mysteries are a major plot device, Sookie’s character arc, as well as her almost accidental exploration of the world around her, is the key element to this story. Sookie Stackhouse is a very likable main character and Harris’ gift of keeping her pleasant through the books is a gift—she remains humble, proud, and brave. Sookie possesses unusual talents but still holds true to the stereotype of believable small-town waitress. I certainly won’t give away anymore of the plot here, but I will tell you that this book, although good, is not as good as the first or subsequent titles; but it’s still worth reading.


BOOK 3—CLUB DEAD:

Club Dead features shape-shifters and werewolves now living side by side with humans. As usual, Sookie seems to possess the gift for getting into trouble. This time around we (eventually) find Bill, who was planning on leaving Sookie for another Vampire until he suddenly goes missing. Sookie’s confused emotions are the subtext of the plot for this entry. Being the third novel of the series, Sookie’s relationship with the Vampire world is well established. Sookie’s ‘gift’ makes her something of a misfit in the human world, but clearly very useful to the Vampires.

The plot of Club Dead is familiar but still interesting. Sookie is in danger from the very beginning of the novel. At first her enemies appear to be Bill’s captors. However, she soon pisses off a group of Werewolves who may or may not be linked to Bill’s kidnapping. Such a vast palette of enemies provides plenty of opportunity to create life-threatening situations for Sookie, and Harris crafts them well. The great mystery surrounding Bill’s kidnapping is a bit forgotten along the way, but it all wraps up nicely in the end. Club Dead is not a novel that will stand up to deep scrutiny, but it is good fun.


BOOK 4—DEAD TO THE WORLD:

The fourth book in the series finds Sookie back in Bon Temps still fuming at her ex-boyfriend vampire Bill. This time around all that Sookie wants to do is wait on tables, watch cable, and not get beaten up by yet another supernatural creature. In fact, when Bill announces he is bound for Peru to do research, she is even a bit pleased. But nothing lasts, and while driving home one night she finds Area 5 Vampire Sheriff Eric wandering around in various states of undress, confused and lacking any memory of who he was. Suddenly Sookie, who finds the new Eric much nicer than the old one, (we all know by now how conniving and ruthless Eric can be) is embroiled in a war that pits a coven of extortionist witches and werewolves who thrive on vampire blood against every supernatural creature in the Shreveport area. To make matters worse, Sookie’s perpetually half naked brother Jason disappears, leaving her worried to death and depending on a crazed, mixed crew of vampires and a somewhat ditzy fairy for support and protection.

Of course, the secret of this series is the fact that our somewhat “blond” heroine Sookie is a lot tougher than you might think. Yes, she is emotional, attracted to the spookiest men, has zero fashion sense—and lets not for get her “gift”—but time and again, through it all she has learned to pick up the pieces and carry on. If you don’t count her taste in men, Sookie’s actions generally makes sense. This is an easy read and a fun one. Harris again ties up MOST of the loose ends but leaves enough for the next book; and thankfully for the reader/viewer, Alan Ball, HBO and Sookie, there’s always going to be another book!

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