Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s The Strain trilogy, of which The Strain is the first, re-imagines the classic Vampire in contemporary termsi. Hogan has undertaken the actual writing, with del Toro plotting and directing.
The novel follows Center for Disease Control epidemiologist Dr. Ephraim Goodweather as he investigates the mysterious deaths of everybody on an international flight landed in New York. Early chapters of the book have a distinct CSI feel about them with scene investigations and lab work, and interstitial scenes hinting at horror. As the book progresses, a more traditional horror narrative takes over.
While the overall writing is good, tense beats are fumbled for the sake of precise definitions or scientific thoroughness. The pacing is closer to an action adventure than a more typical horror. There are successful moments of horror however, like one scene from minor character Ansel’s perspective which creeped me right out and made me feel physically ill.
A summary of this book wouldn’t be complete without a discussion of the vampires themselves. In many respects these vampires are closer to B-movie zombies than to the typical vampireii. Early depictions have them as shambling ravenous beasts, while later they are organized into hierarchies and factions.
The core issue I have revolves around the premise that the vampires are actually an extremely vicious virus. This in itself is a reasonable extension of the vampire myth. The problems occur with the scientific and medical portrayal of the vampires; some aspects are quite concrete, but others are inexplicably still mythical. For example, mirrors show if someone has been turned, and sunlight causes vampires to burn up. At the same time, crosses and holy water have no effect.
I haven’t yet decided if these dualities of Zombie Horde/Vampire Clans, Explainable/Inexplicable and Taint/Disease help or hinder the story. They certainly do play a part in mucking with the symbolism…
- This does not mean they sparkle.
- Using the classification presented by Kenneth Hite in GURPS Horror, the vampires in this story very clearly fall into a Fear of Taint. In contrast Hite places the traditional zombies into Fear of Death; this fear is almost completely absent from the story.