Sci is thinking she might like this new things Scienceblogs has entered into with National Geographic, for the express reason that it means that she gets access to all the hot new books before ANYONE ELSE!!
And lo and behold, Sci’s first example of this awesomeness arrived on Thursday, when she received Vampire Forensics: Uncovering the origin of an enduring legend in the mail. Cool, right? Sci thought so.
I figured this was going to be a neat kind of book, the real history of the vampire legend, and luckily I had a long plane ride coming up that was the perfect time for sticking my nose in a book and pretending that I am not packed into a flying sardine can. And so it went. And here it goes.
Vampire Forensics: Uncovering the Origin of an Enduring Legend
One might think that this book is extremely timely. Vampires are hotter than ever right now, almost beating out zombies in their appeal among the populace (and definitely beating out zombies in their appeal to the under-18-set). Sci is not going to go into her own interpretations of the currently popularity of vampires (though I did read Twilight and I can wax REALLY eloquent on that subject if you want to push my buttons), because that is not the subject of this book review. But this book is very timely, ass so many people are concerned with vampires in the bayou, sparkly vampires in the sunlight, and…all sorts of other stuff that Sci neither reads nor watches.
But vampires are hot. Whether it’s the sex appeal (blood and sort-of willing surrender), the idea of living forever, or maybe that you really like the way black and pallor go together, they appear to be here to stay for the time being, and so Sci thinks it’s a wonderful idea for a book like “Vampire Forensics” to come out at this time. With so many people so interested in the vampire mythos, some people may be very interested to hear where this myth came from, in all the various incarnations that it has around the world.
And this book delivers on that head. You learn everything you need to know about vampires, from the greats of stories and film (though the book skips the most modern incarnations in favor of a historical perspective) to the cases of modern day people who took vampire obsessions…a little too far (warning, that bit is a little stomach churning, especially if you’re on a plane).
Unfortunately, as it turns out, there’s really only so much out there on vampires themselves. So the book also delves in to other things that could or could not be considered types of vampires: walking spirits, ghouls, even zombies. From there the book explores some of the many varieties of funerary practices (other than your basic burying or cremation, or sending off in a flaming boat), all of which were designed to keep the dead…dead. Unwalking. All of it is from a cool scientific perspective, as to why people might believe certain things about the dead, based on forensics and natural occurrences during physical degeneration, which is some pretty neat stuff, and reminded me a little of Stiff: the Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, though this book focused much more on folklore and less on the physical decay.
The book was an interesting read, and a certain amount of bloody fun. After all, vampires and their ilk are pretty inherently interesting. However, Sci should note that the book doesn’t seem very well organized, and seems kind of like a hodgepodge of cool vampire and funerary myths thrown together in a book, because vampires are hot right now and we need to publish, rather than something that is the result of meticulous research and careful editing. It could use a little restructuring.
Additionally, the funerary practices are interesting, and the ghouls are interesting, too, but it’s often a real stretch to try and relate them back to the vampires in the title. The actual vampire parts of the book really only extend to about the first half, while the rest is devoted to other ghouls and ghosties which may, or may not, bear any resemblance whatsoever to vampires, though the author certainly tries. It’s another element that makes it feel as though the book was cobbled together out of various things because vampires are hot right now and they need to take advantage of it. This is kind of the overall sense I got from the book, which limited my enjoyment a little.
The end result is an entertaining, if somewhat scattered read, but the title is more than a bit misleading. The theme is vampires, to be sure, but the book covers far more than that, and only half the book being devoted to vampires stretches the title a bit. What’s wrong with “Vampires, Ghouls and Ghosties: the Myth and Forensics of Death”? Or maybe “The Undead Uncovered: forensics and myth collide”? Or…I could go on. But despite the slightly misleading the title and the somewhat scatterbrained approach, the book is interesting, and bound to provide some cool anecdotes for your next cocktail party! Like the one about the old lady with the brick in her mouth, and the aborigines bathing in the dripping decay of their loved ones who were exposed on trees to scavengers…you get the idea.
Filed under: Synaptic Misfires