"Natural" Origin of the Vampire (and also magic)

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Whizbang
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"Natural" Origin of the Vampire (and also magic)

Postby Whizbang » Tue Aug 11, 2015 6:19 pm UTC

I am in the beginning stages of writing a fantasy novel. This novel is in response to the horrible things that have happened to the vampire genre since Anne Rice, which lead to Stephenie Meyer, and has resulted in a huge amount of paranormal romance novels clogging the search results on Amazon and Overdrive. My goal is to correct this, or at least add one little story to the other side of the scale.

Two things I wish to discuss for this:
1: The origin of the vampire in my story is rooted in cannibalism. In fact, there is a region full of various tribes who all practice cannibalism. When they can manage it, they capture an outsider or enemy, ritualistically remove his heart a la the Aztecs, and drink the heart-blood from the still beating heart, then eat the heart. (They then also eat the rest of the body, but that is just for food.) Drinking the heart-blood and eating the heart transfers some of the strength and vitality of the victim into the cannibal.

Does anyone have some good resources or ideas I can draw from in regards to a functioning cannibal society? I want to try and put the reader in the mind of a cannibal, not just portray them as disgusting villains. I want to lead the reader down the primrose path of logic that states eating your enemies to make yourself stronger is only logical and right. Also, I want to make the tribes realistic. I don't want cartoon-y villains here, but instead sophisticated people who happen to practice cannibalism (which leads to strife and conflict with a more Western society). I am thinking they would have to be nomads (because if you are known to be cannibals, your meals will likely not come to you).

2: Magic. At some, via an accident, a person is transformed into a vampire, not just a cannibal, meaning the only way to sustain themselves is to feed off the blood of other humans, and also they have certain supernatural powers and longevity, as well as certain weakness (sunlight, dismemberment, shrivel and die quickly without blood, etc.). This means magic comes into play. I am looking for some insight or resources into building a magic system that is not just hand-waivey. Your thoughts would be much appreciated

As stated above, the cannibals are cannibals because they have hit on some ritual or process that allows them to steal some of the vitality and strength of their victims. I am thinking that all living things do something like photosynthesis where they absorb energy from light, but instead this energy is some some other mystical form. The problem I have is that I can't think of a reason why this energy would respond to a person's thoughts. So, performing magic by mental states or wishes is out. This means that the magic energy only reacts to matter in predictable ways. Maybe this magical energy is yet another energy field within the universe akin to gravity or electromagnatism or whatever. Therefore creating a specific effect would only occur when matter is arranged or pushed in certain ways, causing the magical energy to then affect other bits of matter. Since this world has evolved within a universe with this energy source, it is primed to react to it. So, an influx of this energy in an individual would accelerate biological processes (aka healing), or would interrupt/disrupt them (aka poison). Likewise, life is dependent on this energy source, so removing/blocking it from an individual would cause it to wither and die (in the case of the vampire, which is almost entirely dependent on it, this happens quickly).

Also, as hinted at above, this region of cannibals comes into contact with a more Western type of society. I am modelling this society on the Romans. When certain individuals in the empire hear tales of cannibals absorbing life from enemies, and therefore remaining vital for many years, they seek to research and experiment into this matter. One man (the enemy of the soon-to-be vampire) takes an almost scientific approach to this study and figures out ways to create items that have certain noticeable affects (healing, enhanced vision, even a crude form of communicated using coded bursts of energy (think Morse Code) visible from long distances).

What are some other things that could potentially be done (in a primitive society) with an alternate energy source such as this? In the case of the vampire/cannibals, what is a believable reason that this energy would be the most concentrated in the blood/heart (other than just saying it is so because magic)?

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Re: "Natural" Origin of the Vampire (and also magic)

Postby sevenperforce » Tue Aug 11, 2015 7:51 pm UTC

Ambitious project! But I like it.

You should probably start at the beginning by trying to define (to some degree) how much you're going to take in contribution from existing vampiric lore and how much you're going to invent de novo. Are you going to try (as Meyer's unfortunate work attempted) to explain all instances of standard vampiric lore within the context of your fictional world? Or are you seeking to invent something which is inspired by standard vampiric lore but freely makes departure from it in several key areas?

As far as the magic and blood consumption thing is concerned...

My best suggestion would be to say that blood undergoes some yet-undiscovered change when it passes through the ordinary human brain. Perhaps some portion of the limbic system acts to "refresh" blood plasma (or red blood cells, or white blood cells, or some other part of the blood). It could be some sort of stored electrical potential or some sort of chemical catalysis, but whatever it is, it enables an enhanced adrenal and/or metabolic reaction. For ordinary humans, this effect is distributed out through the body via the bloodstream.

But when the blood of another human being is consumed (either by eating the heart immediately after death or by drinking it directly from the external jugular vein), it floods the digestive system of the cannibal with "primed" blood at a much higher concentration than the digestive system receives from arteries. Because the digestive system functions to utilize nutrients as efficiently as possible, the consumption of fresh human blood results in a massive uptick in the body's healing and strength and general vitality.

This would explain why vampires are typically depicted as drinking from the external jugular -- it's because that vein is coming straight from the brain and thus has the highest concentration of "primed" blood. This would also explain why (if you desire) only the consumption of human blood has this effect; animal brains have not developed the "priming" function at all, or have only developed it to an extremely minor degree.

Here's some potential dialogue from one of your characters explaining the discovery:

one of Whizbang's sciencey characters wrote:Dr. Heisenbrau sank back into her chair. "Have you ever wondered why the placebo effect works so well?"

"It makes sense," said Paul. "If you think you've taken a pain pill, your brain will rate pain as lower than it actually is. That's just basic confirmation bias."

The old professor gave a snort. "Pshaw! That's what they tell you in your first year of medical school, no doubt. But it's so much more than that. Taking a placebo produces real, measurable effects! Broken bones heal more quickly. Tumors shrink. Degenerative disease reverses. Not from drugs, but from belief. Why do you think depressed people fall ill more easily?" She tapped the side of her head with a forefinger. "It's all in here."

Paul didn't answer.

The doctor started flipping through some worn notebooks in front of her. "The ancient Hebrews had a proverb -- 'The life of the flesh is in the blood.' Now, I'm sure that was nothing more than an a superstition, but that's not the point."

"What's the point?"

"The point is that our brain doesn't just interact with our bodies through the off and on switches of the nervous system," she answered, excitement building in her voice. "How we feel, what we believe...those things pass into the rest of our body through the bloodstream."

Alice chimed in. "So when these cannibals drank the blood of their enemies, it did something to them?"

"Precisely," answered Dr. Heisenbrau. "How do you think your brain reacts when you're about to be murdered? A morbid question, I know, but consider it anyway. You are in fight-or-flight. Your senses are heightened, your reactions accelerated. You won't feel pain; your metabolism will run much faster than normal. And all that comes from what your brain does to your bloodstream."

Paul's eyes widened. "And when the cannibals drank the blood, their bodies reacted to that?"

"Almost makes me want to join up," quipped the old professor.

How supernatural do you want your actual vampires to be? As far as abilities and so forth are concerned. Are we talking Captain America/Batman (peak human abilities) or actual superpowers?

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Re: "Natural" Origin of the Vampire (and also magic)

Postby Whizbang » Tue Aug 11, 2015 8:33 pm UTC

Thank you muchly for your response. Plenty of food for thought.

sevenperforce wrote:You should probably start at the beginning by trying to define (to some degree) how much you're going to take in contribution from existing vampiric lore and how much you're going to invent de novo. Are you going to try (as Meyer's unfortunate work attempted) to explain all instances of standard vampiric lore within the context of your fictional world? Or are you seeking to invent something which is inspired by standard vampiric lore but freely makes departure from it in several key areas?


I want at least the big ones that appear in pop culture, namely drinking blood, seeming immortality, quick regeneration, and sensitivity to sunlight. The sunlight bit comes from another (unmentioned above, and not fully explored in my musings) element of the magic. These cannibals are far from idle barbarians. They see firsthand the benefits of the magic in the blood. Therefore, they try (through crude, often superstitious means) to harness this power for other things. At some point in their history they have also figured out how to crystallize the energy to power certain things (this is the main draw for the Roman-like researchers). One thing they've done is to use this crystallized energy to set off a conflagration, which is then further powered by the blood of those caught within it, setting off a chain reaction where the fire leaps from person to person. This allows the barbarians to withstand the military might of the empire. Anyway, the person who becomes a vampire does so through a strange alchemy of various of these energy crystals, at least one of which generates the blood-fire. So, this fire both consumes and powers him. If he doesn't feed, the fire turns him to ash. Likewise, when he is pierced, his blood combusts in the air and if he doesn't heal quickly enough he is burnt. Also, for some hand-waivy reason, if he is weakened and exposed to the sun, he burns quicker. I haven't worked out all the details on that. Maybe the magic energy comes from the sun, just like light, and this feeds the fire or something.

Spoiler:
sevenperforce wrote:As far as the magic and blood consumption thing is concerned...

My best suggestion would be to say that blood undergoes some yet-undiscovered change when it passes through the ordinary human brain. Perhaps some portion of the limbic system acts to "refresh" blood plasma (or red blood cells, or white blood cells, or some other part of the blood). It could be some sort of stored electrical potential or some sort of chemical catalysis, but whatever it is, it enables an enhanced adrenal and/or metabolic reaction. For ordinary humans, this effect is distributed out through the body via the bloodstream.

But when the blood of another human being is consumed (either by eating the heart immediately after death or by drinking it directly from the external jugular vein), it floods the digestive system of the cannibal with "primed" blood at a much higher concentration than the digestive system receives from arteries. Because the digestive system functions to utilize nutrients as efficiently as possible, the consumption of fresh human blood results in a massive uptick in the body's healing and strength and general vitality.

This would explain why vampires are typically depicted as drinking from the external jugular -- it's because that vein is coming straight from the brain and thus has the highest concentration of "primed" blood. This would also explain why (if you desire) only the consumption of human blood has this effect; animal brains have not developed the "priming" function at all, or have only developed it to an extremely minor degree.

I like this. :) The story excerpt was also pleasing. I am toying with the idea of also having a supplemental plot line taking place in a modern-like setting, but that seems to be done to death, so I am not sure. But, hey, it sells, so why not?

sevenperforce wrote:How supernatural do you want your actual vampires to be? As far as abilities and so forth are concerned. Are we talking Captain America/Batman (peak human abilities) or actual superpowers?

Increased strength and agility, though more in the realm of steroids rather than comic book strength. A bit less than Captain America, but more than enough to overwhelm your average person. I want the victims to have a fighting chance. No super-speed. I want his powers to be rooted more in the physical world. His magical/supernatural abilities come more from a knowledge of the magical energy and techniques acquired over time. Although part of the accident that transformed him included crystallized energy that was intended for various purposes, including enhanced senses, rapid healing, and maybe some other abilities that I haven't thought through yet.

I am trying to figure out how an additional, and prevalent, energy source would affect the world and the people in it. It would affect the biology of everything, but for the purposes of story telling, people and animals are more or less like the real world, with minor adjustments. So, the amount of energy a single being can absorb has to be small, with only a minor impact on life (small enough not to really be noticed except by this one region of cannibals who hit upon a way to leech that energy from others). But when an individual steels from other beings on a regular and frequent basis, it adds up.

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Re: "Natural" Origin of the Vampire (and also magic)

Postby sevenperforce » Tue Aug 11, 2015 9:24 pm UTC

Incidentally, sensitivity to sunlight was only one of the more recent additions to vampiric lore; the first (known) instance of this was in the 1922 Nosferatu.

If you've ever used infrared night-vision goggles, you know how blinding it can be to accidentally direct them at a strong light source. Perhaps one of the effects of vampirism is vision which is enhanced so dramatically (think extreme pupil dilation and a multiplication of rod/cone cells in the retina) that being exposed to full direct sunlight is devastatingly painful. I think that would be easier than trying to say that sunlight will asplode a vampire.

At some point in their history they have also figured out how to crystallize the energy to power certain things (this is the main draw for the Roman-like researchers). One thing they've done is to use this crystallized energy to set off a conflagration, which is then further powered by the blood of those caught within it, setting off a chain reaction where the fire leaps from person to person. This allows the barbarians to withstand the military might of the empire.

If I were you, I'd borrow some tripe from free energy proponents -- you know, the sort who claim that water has a special lower hydrogen energy state which can be activated by some sort of catalyst. If the brain "does something" to blood, perhaps part of it can be "elevating the spin of hydrogen orbitals in water" or similar gobbledygook. This, in turn, makes blood flammable when exposed to the right conditions, and so forth.
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Re: "Natural" Origin of the Vampire (and also magic)

Postby SDK » Tue Aug 11, 2015 10:31 pm UTC

Have you ever read Blindsight by Peter Watts? Pretty complicated book, but it had vampires thrown into a science fiction setting (they were not the core of the novel). They'd gone extinct ages before, but were brought back with genetics first for research, then for their increased abilities, with one acting as the captain of the spaceship that the bulk of the story follows. That was hard SF, so the nature of vampires is explored in some detail, including a take on how they might have evolved their various strengths and weaknesses. Might be worth a read if you're looking to stay away from magic as much as possible.
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Re: "Natural" Origin of the Vampire (and also magic)

Postby Whizbang » Wed Aug 12, 2015 12:27 am UTC

SDK wrote:Have you ever read Blindsight by Peter Watts?


No, but it is now on my list. Thanks.

Also, the more I think of it, the more I like the idea of the brain supplying the body with the magic energy. Not only does it neatly explain the need for human blood specifically, it provides an opportunity to show the cannibals' ignorance and lack of sophisticated thought. The heart is the obvious organ one thinks of when you think of blood. And so the barbarians tied the magic to the heart in error.

This also provides an opportunity to use another idea I have been indecisive on, namely zombies. I wanted the enemy of the vampire to create zombies, but felt two supernatural creatures in my tale would stretch my wish to limit magic as much as possible while still keeping vampires. But with this idea, the enemy guy, who is basically a mad scientist engineer, could experiment with people to learn the process of generating the magic. This results in people, deformed both physically and mentally, more or less animated corpses, with a desire to eat brains.

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Re: "Natural" Origin of the Vampire (and also magic)

Postby sevenperforce » Thu Aug 13, 2015 5:31 pm UTC

Because of your questions, I'm going to assume that you either want uniformly natural explanations (no "real" magic at all) or you want to leave any "real" magic vague and unexplained. Either way, it's desirable to come up with a way everything could have developed naturally to the greatest extent possible. Evolving something like this is tricky. It requires a series of gradual steps, but each of the gradual steps must also confer some immediate benefit separate from the ultimate end, or they won't be passed on.

Thankfully, it's common in evolution for a couple of different processes to be "linked", usually by an accident of anatomy or of biochemistry or of genetics (plieotropy), so that the progressive development of one process enables the other one to rise to a dominating level even if the second process did not initially confer any survival advantage on its own.

To that end, I think you might benefit from giving vampirism a progressive element. That will also come in handy in writing the battles between the cannibals and the Romans, as it offers a way to very naturally produce more powerful and less powerful vampires.

I'll explain in-universe using an expository discourse from Doctor Heisenbrau again. I like her.
"This can't be all of it, though," said Paul. "If what you're saying is true, that might explain slightly greater strength and lifespan, but that's not even scratching the surface of these legends."

"Oh, there's more. It's just a lot to take in." The professor smiled knowingly. "Tell me, do any of you know when the first modern open-heart surgery was performed?"

Alice nodded. "1953, right?"

"Well, that was the first time a complete heart-lung machine was used," answered Dr. Heisenbrau, "but the first artificial heart machine was used earlier than that, in 1951. However, they found that pumping blood into the lungs from the vena cava produced a markedly lower oxygenation level than when blood is pumped from the jugular vein. As it turns out, the human brain has evolved the ability to mediate the blood's ability to absorb oxygen through a catalytic process. It's as if our brain can 'prime' blood to absorb more or less oxygen from the lungs. That's why the jugular vein empties almost directly into the pulmonary artery."

"And?" Paul still seemed skeptical.

"The point is, the brain's ability to adjust the chemical makeup of blood has far-reaching consequences. At first, the cannibals merely benefited from enhanced strength and longer lifespans. But when blood is consumed directly from the jugular, catalyzed for oxygenation, a new metabolic pathway becomes available."

Alice looked puzzled. "What pathway?"

The professor leaned forward. "Ordinarily, your cells only use a single energy pathway: the fermentation-assisted oxidization of adenosine triphosphate. Certain bacteria, however, can break adenosine triphosphate and similar molecules into energy without directly using oxygen. There are nearly a thousand different species of bacteria already living symbiotically with every human being; it only took one mutation in one species of bacteria to change everything."

"So vampirism is a bacterial infection," snorted Paul.

"You could say that," she said, laughing. "When the cannibals were regularly consuming catalyzed blood, their gut bacteria had to work overtime to break it down. Blood is a fantastic cocktail of chemicals...creatinine, cholesterol, lipids, salt, amino acids, even ethanol and acetone."

"Acetone?" interrupted Alice. "Like, nail polish remover?"

Dr. Heisenbrau nodded. "Exactly. Blood doesn't make for a particularly healthy diet. But one species of bacteria in one of the cannibals began piggybacking on the oxygen catalysis and started breaking down the larger molecules into smaller volatiles, using the amino acids in blood to change the state of the blood plasma. It's a pretty complex set of chemical reactions, but the reaction products enable a vastly more energetic metabolic pathway in human cells. It's like replacing coal with jet fuel."

"That's terrifying," muttered Alice.

"Ordinarily, that sort of mutated bacteria would never be able to out-compete the other species," continued the professor. "And even if it did, it would only result in the host cannibalizing its own blood supply and expiring in a matter of days. But for the cannibals, it was different. Since they were regularly consuming catalyzed blood, the bacteria fed on that. They could still eat ordinary food, but drinking blood dramatically increased their strength and endurance."

In this conception, the far higher efficiency of the new metabolic pathway gives cells a much greater energy budget. They can repair themselves more quickly and they are less susceptible to disease or environmental changes.

The leftover byproducts of the metabolic process -- basically everything else in blood -- gets secreted from the cells and builds up in the outer layer of skin, causing it to become extremely dense and tough. Body temperature drops because the body no longer needs to maintain a narrow range. The bacterial-assisted metabolic pathway is anaerobic, so the vampires no longer need to breathe.

Obviously, if a vampire bites another person, the mutated bacteria (which has now out-competed almost all the other bacteria in the body) will infect them and they will have to drink catalyzed blood in order to survive.

One more side effect...flammability. The anaerobic process is energetic enough, but the metabolic byproducts exponentially catalyze the oxidization potential of blood. If a vampire's blood is exposed to flame in open air, it deflagrates rapidly, and the reaction products further catalyze the same reaction. As a result, any human being caught within the fire of a burning vampire will find their own blood igniting as well, resulting in a chain reaction. In this way, a vampire can fight his way into the center of a tightly-packed phalanx of Roman soldiers, and then use a spark to ignite himself once he has been wounded. He will virtually explode and the fire will spread throughout the ranks rapidly.

The longer a vampire remains, well, a vampire, the less capable his body will be of processing ordinary food and the more dependent he will become on blood. His cells will eventually lose the ability to undergo ordinary metabolic processes and his strength will increase more and more. He will also become more and more flammable; a fifty-year-old vampire might be able to produce an explosion wiping out a hundred soldiers while a 200-year-old vampire might be able to wipe out a thousand.

Your community wouldn't end up 100% vampires, though. You'd end up with two castes: uninfected cannibals who gain the previously-discussed low-level benefits from drinking blood, and infected vampires with varying ages and thus varying degrees of vampirism. The younger vampires are almost indistinguishable from the lower caste, while the older ones are stronger and more sensitive to light and far more different. From time to time, an uninfected cannibal would be accidentally exposed to the bacteria and end up "turning" on his own, which would likely be seen as a sign from the gods (or whatever) that he was "chosen". At other times, infection would be intentional vis-a-vis a ritual of some kind during which the infectee would be bitten by one of the senior vampires.

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Re: "Natural" Origin of the Vampire (and also magic)

Postby sevenperforce » Fri Aug 14, 2015 1:53 pm UTC

I don't know how far into the typical lore/mythos you want to go, but there are a few other extensions you could consider...
Paul was pacing now, shaking his head. "It's just too much. Next you'll be telling us that vampires can only be killed with stakes or silver bullets."

The professor smirked.

"Wait, really?" exclaimed Alice. "No way!"

She shrugged. "It should be obvious that simply shooting a vampire isn't going to do much. Granted, a head shot will always be effective, and severing the spinal column will definitely stop it...though only temporarily, as it takes just a few hours for the vampire's body to fully repair even a complete spine fracture. But a bullet anywhere else in the body is relatively useless."

"How come?" asked Paul.

"Well, how does a bullet typically kill you?" countered the professor. "In almost every case where the wound doesn't directly impact the central nervous system, the cause of death is simply blood loss. You bleed out and your body won't be able to get oxygen to the brain and other vital organs. But vampires -- at least old ones -- don't have many vital organs. Their bodies are little more than a digestive system, a nervous system, and a musculoskeletal system; the liver, kidneys, heart, and lungs have all been rendered unnecessary. And since their circulatory system has been converted to a terminal arrangement rather than a cycle, there's no heartbeat and no regular flow of blood. They don't bleed out because they don't really bleed at all...at least, not the way we do."

Doctor Heisenbrau lifted one arm and pinched a small portion of her skin between the thumb and forefinger of her other hand. "Ordinary human skin and muscle tissue isn't much more dense than water. But over time, the minerals that build up in the tissue of a vampire make it much heavier...about as heavy as dense clay. Vampires are not very good swimmers; a 6' adult male might weigh around 200 pounds, but a 6' vampire weighs closer to 250 pounds. Anyway, the density of their skin prevents bullets from penetrating very far, and its resilience closes up any ballistic cavities instantly."

"I still haven't heard anything about silver bullets or stakes," complained Paul.

"Oh ye of little faith," quipped the professor, smiling again. "I'm getting there. An ordinary bullet won't really do anything to a vampire, but a silver bullet is different. For centuries, silver has been known to act as a natural antibiotic. A silver bullet won't kill a vampire immediately, but it will slowly begin to poison the bacteria that the vampire needs to survive. Fill a vampire with silver bullets and it's an eventual death sentence. According to legend, garlic can repel vampires as well; that's probably because raw garlic also acts as an antibiotic, though only mildly."

"And stakes?"

"The density and elasticity of a vampire's skin makes it almost impossible to create open wounds. Stabbing it with a wooden stake, however, forces the wound to remain open, and the porosity of the wood will allow oxygen to be exchanged with the outside environment. The accelerated metabolic process is anaerobic but has a tremendously high oxidization potential, so forcing an open wound that exposes the vampire's insides to oxygen gas will cause their blood to oxidize and break down."

This covers fear of water and of garlic, death by silver bullet, and death by wooden stake. I can't think of any way to get fangs, though, unless it was a prior/parallel adaptation universal to the cannibal tribe.

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Re: "Natural" Origin of the Vampire (and also magic)

Postby Copper Bezel » Wed Aug 26, 2015 2:45 am UTC

To me, magic is the power of the irreducible and symbolic, where the actual behavior of real things in the world is rather the opposite, in that everything is reducible to parts and doesn't much care what we think of it. Vampire lore specifically is closely tied with ideas of souls and vitalism. Vampires consume the life force of living blood, which their blood (and the blood of any dead creature) lacks. Love or hate Anne Rice's novels as fiction, but the way the mechanisms of vampirism were handled were, to me, spot on. Any attempt to make a modern pseudoscience explanation for vampirism just seems really sophomoric to me. If you don't like vampire lore, don't use it. = .

But it does dovetail beautifully with alchemic notions of the workings of the world and all those lovely experiments in past centuries with stabbing glass pipes into the arteries of live horses and swapping out the blood with someone else's or strangling dogs to see if they weigh more or less after death and so on. The quaint barbarism that makes alchemy alchemy and vampires vampires evaporates once you introduce the germ theory of disease and a rudimentary understanding of metabolism.
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Re: "Natural" Origin of the Vampire (and also magic)

Postby Whizbang » Wed Aug 26, 2015 12:48 pm UTC

Copper Bezel wrote:Any attempt to make a modern pseudoscience explanation for vampirism just seems really sophomoric to me. If you don't like vampire lore, don't use it. = .


I disagree with the first statement. As to the second, I do not have a problem with vampire lore. I do not even have a problem with Anne Rice (at least the first handful of her vampire novels). The problem I have is that her books seem to have unleashed a new type of vampire genre, the vampire romance. I don't mind a love interest in a vampire story. I don't mind making vampires moral and thinking creatures who are tormented by their vampiric nature. I do mind the massive quantities of pulp romance novels that have recently flooded the Fantasy and Sci-Fi search results all because the authors slapped the word "vampire" onto the titles.

Anyway, my intention for my story is not to completely demystify the vampire or do away with vampire lore. I do intend there to be an element of magic to my story. But one of my characters is a skeptic, and so attempts to research the source and workings of this magic. So, I need psuedoscientific explanations for most of the magic things. The source can still be magic, but I want the magic to work similarly to the real world, where complex things are made from simple parts. I also want this magic to be a natural part of the life of this world. By which I mean evolution still takes place and, as such, organisms have adapted to take advantage of the magical elements of the world. I have no problem saying, from time to time, "A wizard did it," but I want to use the magic of this world to highlight realities within our own.

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Re: "Natural" Origin of the Vampire (and also magic)

Postby Copper Bezel » Thu Aug 27, 2015 12:15 am UTC

I understand the motivation, but I think it's orthogonal to the method. I think you could have either one and not the other. I've never seen a case where technobabble made a thing less pulpy. If you want to bury Stephanie Meyer under a salted crossroads, handwavey comic book science is neither the shovel nor the stake you need. The very fact that the magic of vampire romance is all so very simple and convenient and ultimately nonthreatening is a part of what makes the genre so vapid, but even that's decorative work compared to the poor character writing and lack of punch and apparent lack of awareness that dark and nasty and foreboding things rather lose their appeal when you package them in Happy-Meal-style boxes.

The epidemic started with people reading Rice wrong. A good place to start to combat it is by reading Rice right.

There are clever ways to science up vampires - for instance, the first season or so of True Blood made a decent showing. It's not a novel concept, but it can be done creatively. I think that at that point, you still need to decide whether you're writing something "supernatural" or something that's more - I'm not even sure that True Blood was "urban fantasy" at all; I think it was a drama wrapped around a core of speculative sociological fiction, in which the central plot device incidentally had a vampirism motif going.

A story that reduces to a delivery mechanism for "hey look at this cool super-sciency pseudo-vampire idea I came up with" isn't good. It's instant pulp. Whether or not the thing that you are doing is that is entirely dependent on execution.

Now, the cannibalism connection and the idea that vampirism was something discovered through that process is really awesome. I would love to see that played out. You're drawing in extra layers of murky cultural resonance that have the potential to enrich the vampire widgets you're playing with. Even nerfing the vampires down to "extraordinary for a human" rather than "superhuman" abilities is a very good thing for giving that setup some resonance and making things feel like a thing rooted in the real world. It basically means that you can have reasonable legends floating around in history (and their exaggerated versions in myth and so on) and fit your vampirism into the actual real world of actual real history without introducing any sudden magic plot devices or handwaves or having to revise or alt-history anything. That's a potentially beautiful thing. Very little fantasy can do that. (And a monster of supernatural proportions will never be a scary as a monstrous and powerful human being when you find yourself locked in a room with one of them on the other side of the door.)

I just wouldn't lean so much on scientific explanation as something that is actually going to help you do any of these things. It's a necessity of setting that someone will want to study this process, and what they find may offer plot device potential. But don't let it drown out the good ideas and good intentions I'm seeing you express here. There is the science that we know in the real world, and there's the magic that you're introducing. Getting too deep into attempting to reconcile them through blocks of expodump is going to kill the authenticity of both.
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Re: "Natural" Origin of the Vampire (and also magic)

Postby Whizbang » Thu Aug 27, 2015 1:33 am UTC

I take your warning and advice to heart. I really do. That is one of my fears that I will get so focused on any one part of my story that it will adversely affect the story telling. I do, however want to work out a fairly consistent and clear idea of the how's and whys and causes and effects, at least to some extent, before I get too far along. I may not include all or even most of of this into the story, depending on flow and plot and whatnot, but I feel it important to have this worked out for reference even if not directly or overtly described in the prose. I want the framework of the characters and setting solid. I find it frustrating when it becomes apparent the author has not thought these things through beforehand and inconsistencies and unclear mechanics affect my enjoyment.

That said, my main theme is centered around the relationship between the two antagonists. I am willing to forego some infodumps of nifty (to me) world building or pseudoscience thinking. The emotions of the piece are what is most important to me. Don't fear I will neglect the other story elements for overly detailed descriptions of my version of vampirism.

That said, the intent of this thread was to try and hammer out, or at least inspire, those details. I have intentionally avoided discussing other elements such as plot or setting or characters or themes or what have you, except in broad terms, to focus on this one. I am happy to share those other elements should they be requested, however.

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Re: "Natural" Origin of the Vampire (and also magic)

Postby Copper Bezel » Thu Aug 27, 2015 3:23 am UTC

Fair enough. = ) And yeah, I've seen that problem, too, I'd think everyone has, where the world building starts to be really transparently shoved around to enable the plot because the writer didn't plan out a world and take up the challenge of playing out the consequences naturally. That's a totally fair point, too.
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Re: "Natural" Origin of the Vampire (and also magic)

Postby sevenperforce » Thu Aug 27, 2015 1:45 pm UTC

When I write fiction, particularly with magical or supernatural or science fiction elements, I will typically go to great lengths to work out the background processes of the various elements even if I have no intention of including those details in the actual text. I do so because I want to make sure that everything I'm depicting -- especially the preternatural -- is going to be consistent. It's hard enough to maintain regular consistency in ordinary events when we know from constant experience how things go; I (personally) need to make sure my background is hammered out very precisely so I can be certain it will remain consistent as well.

One of the challenges in writing fantasy or science fiction is being able to immerse your readers in a world that is not entirely familiar to them. You strike a balance between over-explaining, where the reader becomes bogged down in detail, and under-explaining, where the reader is unable to suspend disbelief enough to follow along. If your descriptions and background elements aren't consistent, you'll be forced to spend more and more time explaining. Careful world-building, then, is something of an investment in your story's future. The more time you spend explaining it to yourself now, the less you'll have to worry about adding in layers of hasty explanations later.

So coming up with a pseudoscientific explanation can be quite useful. Even if you don't actually use it, it can give you a model to predict behavior and system limitations down the road.

An interesting approach you could take would be to have the vampirism appear entirely explicable by natural processes, and have your protagonists (and, inevitably, readers) follow this route deeper and deeper, when in reality there is magic involved (perhaps of the vitalistic sort mentioned by Copper). The more energy the reader invests in the naturalistic explanation, the bigger the twist will be when it turns out that there's more than meets the eye.

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Re: "Natural" Origin of the Vampire (and also magic)

Postby Copper Bezel » Fri Aug 28, 2015 3:50 am UTC

Yeah, I was thinking about that when I was on that bit about imagining that someone would certainly attempt to study it scientifically. It seems natural that things would make sense up to a point and then just hit a wall where sensible explanations stop working.

I do think you can tackle that consistency problem more directly by simply making a set of rules for yourself that aren't reader-facing, as it were. X will always be treated this way, Y will always be presented in this light except when someone mentions Z. I mean, the thing you're ultimately designing is an experience, not a simulation. But they're means to the same ends.
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Re: "Natural" Origin of the Vampire (and also magic)

Postby sevenperforce » Fri Aug 28, 2015 1:03 pm UTC

"reader-facing" -- yeah, that's the term I was looking for.

Experiences are, I suppose, simulations of a sort. The way my mind works, it's easiest for me to realize a set of consistency rules by actually constructing a complete background or backstory. For example, I worked out a superluminal drag equation for one of my scifi projects, not because I would ever dream of heaping it on the reader, but because it's what I needed to make sure that travel between planets in various vessels would seem consistent.

It would be cool if the "evolution" of vampirism took place relatively organically while the actual mechanism had a supernatural component. For example, vampirism was discovered due to cannibalism and the development of associated rituals but the underlying function is magical/vitalistic.

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Re: "Natural" Origin of the Vampire (and also magic)

Postby Neil_Boekend » Mon Aug 31, 2015 5:01 am UTC

Copper Bezel wrote:It seems natural that things would make sense up to a point and then just hit a wall where sensible explanations stop working.
Just like the real world. All seems nice and logical until you get to the parts where quantum mechanics describe the way the world works.
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