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  • TITLE: Fangland
  • AUTHOR: John Marks
  • AWARDS: shortlisted World Fantasy Award


    Given the title and fantastic cover art, I expected a quasi-comic vampire riot with sarcastic stompings on the network broadcast news business. I put off reading it for almost a year until I recently needed something to break through the melancholy of serious literature that was giving me a headache and rationalization to kick inanimate objects. What I got was a pseudo-serious novel trying its best to hold down the ridiculousness of its situation while attempting to illustrate how modern news media sucks the life out of its subjects as well as its documenters. You see, "Fangland" is not referred to as vampire territory, but to the backbiting, idea stealing, petty ego politics of the news business. To succeed, as one character puts it, you need “the capacity to suffer in vain all things” (Penguin Press, ISBN 9781594201172, c. 2007 p.323).

    Fangland brazenly borrows its storyline and expository style from Bram Stoker's Dracula of 1897. You know this on your first outing, as the Chapter One narrator is named Evangeline Harker—read the Avenging Angel of Jonathan Harker—who is an associate producer for a TV newshow called The Hour —read 60 Minutes —and is on her way to Transylvania to open up the ultra-badass and enigmatic crime boss of Eastern Europe and see if he'll play to American TV audiences. The major deal breaker is if he doesn't speak English, because subtitles are an instant channel changer.

    As expected, things go promptly purple for our self-described “soft news samurai” (p.11). Ion Torgu, the diabolical gangster who's supposedly draining the community's lifeblood faster than a dialysis machine, apparently is doing just that. He cuts a far more slovenly figure than the Count. With a massive, bulging head highlighted by red eyes and black, crumbling teeth—no biting power here!—he's shambling around in a white leisure suit reeking as if “made of the living skin of humans under interrogation” (p.342). And, like Anton Chigurh with his captive bolt pistol, Torgu drags a bucket and a throat-cutting blade to exsanguinate a blood malted when he feels the need. Turns out Torgu is not so much a traditional vampire as an ambassador of the 200 million or so deaders of the 20th century put down by war, genocide, or just garden-variety murder. He requires an invitation to The Hour to broadcast their stories—and hypnotize the audience into joining them. He's “two million years of murder in the form of a man” (p.202).

    The rest of the novel takes place at The Hour's office on the twentieth floor across from the Twin Towers crater in The Apple. Author Marks did time as a producer for 60 Minutes, so he's a solid tour guide through the workaday, inner world of TV newscasting. But after the intense first-person tribulations of Ms. Harker at Torgu's burnt-out hotel—no, it's not named the Hyperion Hotel, for all you Angel fans out there—the account fragments among the employees into e-mails, diary and therapy journals, other 1P point-of-views, and good ol' third-person omniscient. Torgu's coming influence is premiered in received blank tapes that pervert the IT databases so that the chanted whispers of atrocity sites—“Thessalonika, Treblinka, Golgotha, Solferino, Lepanto, Kalawao, Kukush” (p.96)—can percolate through the workspace. Austen Trotta, the Prof. Van Helsing stand-in, is close when he thinks “the September [11th] disaster lies at the root of this entire thing”, but he foists it off as “a delayed collective hallucination” (p.293). Things start to get serious when large crates from Romania arrive.

    Fangland flirts around with the pomposities and paranoia of fame, and the ineffectiveness of condensing complex new stories to inadequately-quick, editorialized blurbs, as well as humanity's short attention span and apparent callousness toward suffering and slaughter. These are deep subjects, but not necessarily new ones, and author Marks adds no further revelations. Facing our own barbarity, “the one blessed thing we have,” an already-dead character says, is “our animal capacity to forget” (P. 328). The most damning sketch of those who peddle insight and truth over the airwaves is seen in Ed Prince—“a ham-fisted wheedler . . . the face of [The Hour's] broadcast for millions” (P.238-9)—as he nakedly sits in front of a TV and camera, hysterical that he's now immortal but cannot see himself on screen.

    This is not the re-imagining of a cultural icon for the entertainment-addicted 21st Century. In fact, it is probably the downfall of the novel that author Marks chose to so mulishly follow not only Stoker's plotline, but its format as well. The singular and forceful narrative at the beginning serves to point out how diffused the read becomes once it's handed off to other, lesser-drawn characters. That carefully-established vicegrip of impending malignancy diminishes with the same imputation that hovers over a big-screen actioneer when burdened with too much CGI in the hopes of making it appear more realistic. Any notions, reveries, or asides seem to similarly go grainy under this technique, leaving a fun read, albeit an over-ambitious one.


    © copyright 11/23/2008 by Larry Crawford

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