In the 1978 horror movie Martin, writer/director George A. Romero presented us with a young man who enjoys killing people and drinking their blood, but who may or may not be a so-called “vampire”; the film is wonderfully ambiguous all the way down the line on that score. Seventeen years before Martin skulked through the dreary suburbs of Pittsburgh, however, another unconventional vampire was given to the world, in the pages of Theodore Sturgeon’s Some of Your Blood. (Actually, an apology may be in order right now, as that last is a bit of a spoiler; the sanguinary habits of the central character of Sturgeon’s novel are only revealed toward the story’s conclusion. However, seeing that the back cover of the book’s current incarnation, the one from Millipede Press, gives away even more spoiler details than this, perhaps I may be excused here.)
Theodore Sturgeon, of course, is a writer perhaps more well known for his sci-fi and fantasy work; I know it surprised me to find an article lauding this book in the excellent overview volume Horror: Another 100 Best Books, in which writer Peter Atkins calls Some of Your Blood “an almost unacknowledged masterpiece of unflinchingly dark vision.” But having read and been a fan of Sturgeon’s sci-fi classics More Than Human and Venus Plus X, and been blown away by his shockingly clever short story “The Perfect Host,” perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised at how fine a book Some of Your Blood has turned out to be.
Like that most famous of vampire novels, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), Sturgeon’s novel is an epistolary affair; not solely taken up with letters and diary entries, it also includes medical transcripts, notes between two Army psychiatrists and, most fascinatingly, a third-person account by our blood luster himself. Self-given the pseudonym of George Smith (it is revealed at one point that his actual name is, uh, Bela), he has been in an Army psychiatric hospital for three months, following a seemingly unwarranted attack on a superior officer. George, in the book’s most compelling section, tells us the story of his life, all 23 years of it, in his barely passable English. He’d lived with a sickly mother and brutal, drunken father in a backwoods Kentucky cabin; a hillbilly, I suppose you might call him. Following a terrible childhood, George had gone on to reform school and service overseas in the Army, until an intercepted letter that he’d written to his girl back home precipitated that brawl and his subsequent incarceration. Now, as the two psychiatrists send each other memos and George undergoes hypnotherapy, perhaps his inner secrets will soon be revealed….
Some of Your Blood is ultimately a very sad book, with George almost coming off like a Norman Bates type, but with a mania of a different sort. His blood lust is explained with a convincing rationale, and some of the events that he is said to have perpetrated are fairly horrific. George is not a vampire in any conventional sense; just a kid who, because of his regrettable upbringing, developed an occasional taste for the red stuff. Sturgeon tells his tale wonderfully, employing different voices (lunkheaded for George, wisecracking and clinical for the two shrinks) and revealing his central character’s secrets slowly, like the gradual peeling of a very sick onion. George is a very realistic creation, a most credible bloodsucker, which almost makes him a scarier proposition than the more fanciful vampire of myth. As Atkins tells us, “the book recasts an ancient bogeyman as a terrifyingly and truthfully rendered contemporary monster.”
It is not a perfect book, however. At one point, we are told that George’s father’s sister has a farm in Virginia; a little later, we are told that it belongs to the mother’s sister. But actually, whether this is a slip on the part of Sturgeon or on the part of George, it is impossible to say. Some of Your Blood is a very compact affair, less than 150 pages long, but tells a memorably chilling tale within that short compass. And, oh… you should just love reading that letter of George to his girlfriend; the one that set off all the ruckus!
The previously mentioned Millipede Press edition of this book is a very good deal for the reader, too. Featuring not only the short novel, this volume also provides a most amusing introduction by horror writer Steve Rasnic Tem, as well as a short story by Sturgeon, on a similar theme, entitled “Bright Segment.” This tale originally appeared in the July 1960 issue of Shock (“The Magazine of Terrifying Tales”), and deals not with another hemoglobin guzzler, but rather, with another big-boned, social misfit/lunkhead. In this memorable story, a simpleminded man — his boss refers to him as an “orangutan,” and we never do learn his actual name — takes in a grievously injured young woman who he finds lying in the gutter. He operates on her and nurses her back to health, her bedridden, silent presence being the so-called “bright segment” of his lonely life. But problems arise when the woman is well enough to leave, leading to a memorably grisly conclusion. Here, we again have a psychologically damaged man, a simpleton, really, whose ill treatment in previous years has resulted in a decidedly oddball, social outcast. It is a wonderful piece from Mr. Sturgeon, at once touching and shocking, and serves as a nice coda for this most fascinating volume.