BBC Cult Vampires - Printer Friendly Version
After The Stone Age by Brian Stableford

Mina had tried everything: WeightWatchers, Conley, grapefruit, Atkins, hypnotherapy and pumping iron. When she decided, after three gruelling months, that the Stone Age diet was doing her more harm than good, she felt that she had hit rock bottom in the abyss of despair. She weighed sixteen stone five pounds, just six pounds less than the day she had embarked on the Stone Age with such steely determination. She had been desperate to give up for three weeks, but she had forced herself to hang on until the day of her annual appraisal. She had wanted to look her best - but she didn't have to look in the mirror to know that it had been a hopeless ambition.

"I couldn't even get down to sixteen stone," she complained - aloud, because one of the few advantages of living alone was that she could talk to herself without being thought mad. She had been taught at school to calculate in kilograms but she preferred stones because the numbers were smaller. She had no difficulty dealing with big numbers - working for the National Audit Commission kept her busy with lots of those - but they seemed far less intimidating in the multitudinous bank accounts of the public purse than they did on her hips and thighs. Counting in kilograms also made her think longingly of continental Europe, which she missed sorely now she couldn't bear to travel any more. She couldn't cope with aeroplane seats, let alone Mediterranean heat.

She felt that she couldn't cope with her appraisal either, but there was no way of avoiding that. What made matters worse was that she really ought to have had her line-manager's job herself, and probably would have if Lucy Stanwere hadn't had a figure like Paula Radcliffe as well as an obvious hunger for further success. The fact that Lucy was able to wear four-inch heels, allowing her to tower over those condemned by gravity to flat soles, might conceivably have been irrelevant to her rapid ascent of the status ladder, but Mina didn't think so.

"Well," Mina said to herself, "at least I can have a hearty breakfast, now that I've fallen off the Stone Age wagon." She gorged herself on Welsh rarebit and chocolate milk, reflecting painfully on the roles that anxiety and depression had played in her history of comfort eating.

Lucy Stanwere's office was incredibly neat. The cleaners made more effort there than they did in the open-plan, and Lucy's personal neatness radiated out from her size ten suit to bathe her entire environment with a kind of bloodless perfection. Simply being there made Mina feel even more like a rubbish-heap than usual; from the moment she stepped through the door her one aim was to escape as soon as possible, no matter how much criticism she had to absorb and acknowledge in order to do it.

She didn't dare to entertain the ambition that she might accomplish her escape without some slighting reference being made to her appearance, nor did she. The first thing Lucy said, after "Please sit down, Miss Mint," was "Are you unwell?" That, in health-fascist-ese, meant: "How can you even breathe when you're carrying so much excess baggage, you disgusting calorie-addict?"

"I've had a little tummy-trouble recently," Mina admitted, "but it's clearing up now."

"Coming off the Stone Age?" Lucy asked, in a tone that sounded almost sympathetic.

"Yes, actually," Mina admitted.

"I thought so," Lucy said. "The trouble with theories about the way evolution designed our digestive systems is that humans are so exceedingly adaptable. We grow up on grains and dairy products, and our bodies learn to love them. What separates humans from all the other animals is the ability to learn to love. Don't you agree?"

The chance would be a fine thing, Mina thought. Aloud, she said: "Yes, Miss Stanwere."

"It's Lucy. Look, Mina, I'll understand if you want to confine our discussion to the nerves and sinews of auditing practice and Gordon Brown's latest wrinkles, but there's a better way to lose weight, if you really want to. Perhaps it's time that you were let in on the secret."

Mina had long suspected that there must be a vast conspiracy of the fit and thin whose precious secrets were sternly withheld from people like her, but she had never expected to be admitted to its ranks. She said nothing.

"I know what you're thinking," Lucy Stanwere said, when the pause had passed from pregnant to eggbound. "How would I know? Well, I do." She took up her handbag.

Any normal person would have had to root about for at least thirty seconds to find what she wanted, but Lucy only required a moment to pluck the desired item from its innermost depths. She handed Mina a photograph.

Mina stared at the snapshot in frank disbelief. It wasn't so much the sixteen stone version of Lucy Stanwere that startled and appalled her so much as the expression the teenager was wearing: an expression of profound shame and terror of exposure that Mina had only ever seen at WeightWatchers or in a mirror.

When she looked up again, Mina saw her superior with entirely new eyes. "How?" she said, hoarsely.

Lucy's perfectly-manicured fingers dipped into the mysterious bag for a second time, and produced another slim item.

It was the size of a business-card but it was glossy and black. It bore an image of two magnificently athletic individuals dancing what appeared to be the tango, above the red-lettered inscription: THE AFTER DARK CLUB. The postcode attached to the address was suggestive of Mayfair.

"Meet me there at ten-thirty," Lucy said. "I'll tell the desk to expect you, and I'll take you in."

"A night club?" Mina said, aghast. "I can't go to a night club."

"Ten-thirty," Lucy Stanwere repeated, insistently. "Be on time."

Mina had nothing suitable to wear, but the situation was so surreal that it didn't seem to matter. She went to catch a Central Line tube at Ealing Broadway at nine forty-five with the queasy feeling that changes in a familiar routine always brought on.

She had never realised that the urban wilderness between Piccadilly and Oxford Street had so many hidden trails and discreet coverts but her pocket A-to-Z eventually guided her to an unmarked door with a discreet intercom and bell-push. Mina almost turned round and went home right then, but she eventually plucked up courage to press the button.

When a fuzzy voice said "Yes?" she blurted out

"Is-that-the-After-Dark-Club-Lucy-Stanwere-asked-me-to-meet-her-here?" without the slightest pause for breath.

There was an eerie buzzing sound - more like a swarm of angry wasps than placid bees - punctuated by a click.

Mina pushed the door open, and entered a gloomy corridor which led to a flight of stairs. At the top of the stairs was a desk, manned by a teenage boy in an absurdly old-fashioned suit. "Miss Mint?" he said, before she could gather her breath. "We've been expecting you. It's a pleasure to meet you."

Mina had not had time to frame a reply when the burgundy-coloured door to the left of the desk opened and Lucy Stanwere came out, accompanied by two other men, each as callow as the receptionist. They had dark complexions remisinscent of the eastern Mediterranean or the Black Sea. They too were wearing black suits, cut to standards of formality that had surely gone out with the last King George - or maybe Queen Victoria.

Lucy, by contrast, was dressed in a very now manner that was far more relaxed - louche, even - than her everyday office-wear. "Mina, darling!" she said, with a brazen bonhomie that contrasted sharply with the flinty face of public finance. "Meet Marcian and Szandor. You'll have to forgive Szandor - I'm afraid his English is a trifle primitive - but Marcian will translate for him. Come through, won't you?"

Mina was unable to respond to this invitation immediately because Marcian and Szandor were busy kissing her hands, so enthusiastically that they hadn't waited to take turns. Nor did they let go when they had finished, arranging themselves to either side of her with an affectionate politeness that she had never encountered before. She had avoided making eye-contact, her embarrassment being so intense that she had all-but-closed her eyes, but she stole sidelong glances to her left and right, observing that their expressions betrayed not the slightest hint of disgust, contempt, scorn or disapproval.

If she had dared, Mina might have felt a surge of joy, but she had could not shake the suspicion that she was about to suffer some humiliating reversal of fortune.

Marcian and Szandor escorted her through the doorway, although it didn't seem humanly possible that there was room for them to pass through it beside her. She was swept along a purple-carpeted corridor lined with darkly-varnished doors. One of the doors was half-open, and Mina couldn't help glancing in, accidentally meeting the eyes of the slim woman who was just about to close it. She recognised the face, having seen it more than once on the ten o'clock news.

"Isn't that...?" she began, turning to look at Lucy - who already had a finger to her lips. "No names!" Lucy said. "Absolute discretion."

The image on the card had given Mina the impression that there might be a ballroom swirling with exotic couples, all engaged in a furious tango, but the whole building seemed silent, wholly insulated from the unceasing noise of the capital. The room into which Mina was ushered was actually a bedroom.

"My God!" Mina thought, as she contemplated the king-sized four-poster with the red velvet curtains. "It's not a night club at all. It's a knocking-shop for chubby-chasers!" So far as she was concerned, chubby-chasers were creatures of legend, one of whom she had always longed to meet. Like unicorns, they were exceedingly thin on the ground in Ealing. Then Mina remembered Lucy, who was only half the woman now that she had been as a teenager, and realised that there must be more to this than had yet met her eye.

"It's all right, Mina," Lucy said. "There's nothing to be afraid of. No one's going to do anything that you don't want them to do. But the time has come for you to ask yourself the question: Do I sincerely want to be thin?"

Mina swallowed a hysterical laugh. The consequent frog in her throat made it impossible to do anything but croak: "Yes".

It seemed a pitifully feeble expression of her desire, but Lucy was satisfied. "Good," she said. "No point in beating about the bush, then. Marcian and Szandor are vampires. In a few months they can drink your superfluous flesh away. You'll need to take iron tablets to help you make new blood, but their enzymes will do the rest- reorientate your metabolism to hasten conversion your adipose deposits, blah-de-blah. It won't make you feel bad. In fact, you'll feel better than you've ever felt before: full of energy, in more ways than one. Remember what I said this morning about the marvellous ability of human beings to adapt themselves?"

"Yes," Mina whispered, "but...."

"You'll have to forget all that superstitious nonsense about the undead, coffins and crosses. Vampires are just another human species - dependent relatives who followed us to the brink of extinction more than once. The're on the increase again now, though. They're not quite ready to come out of hiding, but they're making discreet diplomatic moves at every level. In the meantime... well, you'll find that the secrecy works to our advantage as well as theirs."

There was a lot to take in, but Lucy explained while Marcian and Szandor waited politely.

Mina wasn't going to be required to dance the tango; she was simply going to lie down on the bed while Marcian and Szandor drank her blood. They would remove about forty fluid ounces of blood between them, but the immediate loss of weight was insignificant by comparison with what the enzymes they would pump into her would do to her metabolism. She would immediately begin to mobilize her fat reserves, putting her blood-production into overdrive. The vampires would drain off the excess as fast as she could produce it, thus setting her on the road to paradise, or at least size twelve.

All in all, it was difficult to see a downside.

Mina found herself staring at Lucy's neck, looking for tell-tale holes.

Lucy smiled. "The fangs are just Hammer horror," she said. "It's more sucking than biting. It doesn't even leave a lovebite - there aren't any leftovers. You'll feel a slight numbness for a few hours, and your complexion might be a trifle pale, but you'll feel a lot better in yourself."

"Will I turn into a vampire too?" Mina asked, surprised at the lack of faintness in her own voice.

"No, silly," Lucy replied. "They're another human species; you can't turn into one of them any more than they can turn into bats. It's a simple matter of symbiosis. They get sustenance from us, we get fitness and an amazing sense of well-being in return. It's free-market economics at its finest - everybody profits. If you need time to think about it, that's okay. All we ask is a little discretion."

"Discretion?" Mina echoed, with a confidence she had never felt before. "To hell with discretion. Let's get on with it!"

In the next two hours Mina discovered why the After Dark Club's card depicted two dancing figures. The movement was internal and emotional, but it was rhythmic as well as hectic, measured as well as sensual.

The vampires were polite drinkers. They took their time and showed as much delicacy as anyone could reasonably expect. Marcian even found time for a little small talk, although it was mostly devoted to technical matters and mild warnings.

Mina felt that Marcian hadn't really warmed to her, but Szandor - who was silent apart from a few incomprehensible mumblings - was so good at tactile expression that Mina and he were already building a nice rapport. Although she was besotted with them both, Mina couldn't help feeling a little fonder of Szandor. They seemed such nice young men, so expert in their arcane art, that she would have been more than happy to meet up with them again even if the pounds didn't start to melt away.

Mina didn't see Lucy Stanwere before she left, presumably because that wonderful woman and perfect friend was engaged in a languorous horizontal tarantella of her own. It was Marcian who saw her to the door and bid her a fond goodnight, after making another date with her for the following Tuesday. On the way out Mina caught sight of three more of the club's female clients, one of whom she recognised as the youngest minister in the cabinet. They all glanced at her, not with pity but with respect - almost with envy. Not one of them, she guessed, had enough spare capacity left to satisfy two vampires at once.

The old Mina would have asked Marcian, anxiously, whether she'd be ready for another session by Tuesday, but the new Mina took it for granted that she could raise her blood to the required pressure with time to spare. She was right, and the session went so well that she even plucked up the nerve to make a feeble joke about Dracula.

"Old Vlad!" Marcian said, with a delighted chuckle. "I remember him. Not one of us, of course - just a... how do you say... groupie. Thought he might become immortal if we'd only teach him the trick. Poor sap!"

It took Mina ten minutes to realise that she too must be a groupie: someone who hung around vampires, avidly offering blood. After a further twenty minutes of relaxed conversation she also figured out that "poor sap" wasn't an Americanism. "Sap" was a vampire colloquialism for Homo Sapiens. Marcian referred to his own kind as "ultras" - that being a contraction of Homo Ultrasapiens, which, loosely translated, meant "man the extremely wise".

It wasn't until it was nearly time to go home that it occurred to Mina to wonder how old Marcian actually was, given that he had obviously been around for centuries, but it didn't seem polite to ask forthrightly. After all, he'd been polite enough not to ask her age. They made a third date for the following Sunday.

As she said good night to Lucy Stanwere on Friday evening, Mina gloried in the conspiratorial glance that they exchanged - a pleasure in which she had never indulged with any other colleague during her entire career. At work they both behaved with strict formality, never making the slightest mention of their secret, but as they stepped over the threshold at the end of every day they made their silent acknowledgements.

Mina went straight from work to the gym, where she spent half an hour on the rowing machine and forty minutes on the cycling machine. She caught other people staring at her once or twice, but that didn't make her feel self-conscious any more. Once, they would have been appalled by her bulk; now she was content to assume that they were amazed at her capacity for exercise.

Regenerating the blood she required to feed Marcian and Szandor was no mere matter of stuffing herself with calories and iron tablets; she had to crank up her retuned metabolism, rebalancing the energy-economy of her physical and spiritual being. Rowing and cycling on the spot now gave her a sense of furious speed and steadfast endurance that was remarkably satisfying - though not as satisfying as lying on the curtained four-poster while Marcian and Szandor sucked their sustenance from her flesh with such obvious appreciation.

On Sunday, she observed to Marcian that it must have been hard for vampires living through times of plague, famine and religious persecution.

"The Black Death was inconvenient," Marcian admitted, "and there's no nourishment in the under-nourished - but civilization has been a great help. Life was much harder before there were cities."

"You must have very good memories to recall a time when there weren't," Mina suggested, delicately.

"It's more tradition than memory," Marcian admitted. "We make up stories to remind ourselves of the things we're bound to forget. We all feel nostalgic about the good old days before you saps wiped out the Neanderthals, but it's legend-based. Nobody really remembers anything much before the last few hundred years."

"The price of living forever, I suppose," Mina said, pensively. Marcian actually raised his head then, to look her in the eye - as fondly as Szandor, but also a trifle darkly.

"Nobody lives forever, Mina," he said. "We don't age or suffer from disease, but we die eventually: drowned or decapitated, burned or blown up. We survivors know how lucky we are - but things are a lot better nowadays, thanks to people like you. You don't know how grateful we are."

"I know how grateful I am," Mina told him, "and I'm not sure you could be any more grateful than that."

In the early hours of Monday morning Mina stepped on the scales to find that she had broken fifteen-seven for the first time in three years, going in the right direction.

She knew that she couldn't expect to continue to shed weight at more than a pound a day for very long, but she calculated that she could reasonably expect to be below fourteen stone by the end of April and below twelve by the end of June. Come Hallowe'en, she might be the woman of her dreams: not an ounce over nine stone and fit as a flea.

Mina had never contemplated the future in any frame of mind but abject horror, but now she found herself wondering about various matters. When would she no longer be big enough to feed two hungry vampires? Would she have to choose between Marcian and Szandor, or would they settle her fate between themselves? How long could a sap continue to feed a single vampire, if she made every possible effort to maximize her blood-production?

One Friday when she wasn't due at the After Dark, Mina asked Lucy Stanwere if they could meet up for a drink. Lucy looked her up and down, as if trying to decide whether Mina had lost sufficient weight to be fit company in a sap-filled wine-bar, but eventually nodded.

"Let's have dinner," she said. "Do you know the Arlequino Andante in Marylebone High Street?"

Mina promised to find it, and to meet Lucy there at eight.

"I've been meaning to have a chat to find out you were getting along," Lucy said, when they'd ordered, "but you know how it is. It's obviously working. Happy?"

"Never happier," Mina assured her. "I've been wondering about a few things, though. I don't like to trouble Marcian with too much chat while he's drinking."

"Oh, Marcy wouldn't mind. He's a real chatterbox by comparison with my Otto. What is it? The not-going-out-in-daylight business?"

"That too," Mina admitted, although it had not been among the items preying on her mind.

"They don't catch fire and shrivel up or anything Hammery like that," Lucy told her. "It's just a matter of habit. Evolution designed them as nocturnal hunters, like most other vampiric species - bats, bedbugs, etc - but they're adaptable. They could give it up if they wanted to, but they don't."

That prompted Mina to think of another question. "If natural selection gave them such long lives," she said, "why did we poor saps get stuck with seventy years?"

"An accident of mutation - we poor saps never got the one that freed the ultras from the burden of ageing. One side-effect is that they reproduce very slowly."

"That's convenient, though," Mina pointed out. "Necessary, even. If they multiplied too rapidly, they'd run out of food - unless, of course...."

"No," Lucy said, "it has to be human blood; no other species will do. That's okay by me; I wouldn't want my Otto looking lovingly at a sheep or a horse. The Parma ham's good, isn't it? Nice texture."

Mina found the ham a trifle too chewy, but she didn't say so. "Have you ever met any vampire women?" she asked.

"No. Marcy says that ultra females are far rarer than males, and very precious. I think they're kept in seclusion - not in harems, because there aren't enough of them, but carefully protected. If there aren't many of them, and they can only give birth once a century or so, I suppose it makes sense."

It wasn't until she was tucking into her veal Marsala that Mina raised the question of where her new relationship might be headed, medium-term-wise.

"Hasn't Marcy told you?" Lucy asked. "Szandor will take you on. His English should be improving - he's doing night-classes as the City Lit. Marcy's the fixer for the entire London community, but he'll drop in occasionally to see how things are going when Szandor starts home visits. I'm glad we no longer live in an era when lifelong spinsters who entertain mysterious strangers by night were automatically assumed to be consorting with the devil, aren't you?"

"Yes," Mina agreed. "When you say lifelong...?"

"Don't worry about that," Lucy said. "If you're worried about it, just think about the alternative!"

Mina was still the right side of thirty; that didn't seem too high a price to pay for years of slenderness. She summoned up the courage to ask whether Lucy had sap boyfriends as well as Otto.

"I had a few, when I still wanted to catch up on all the stuff I thought I'd missed out on," Lucy admitted, frankly. "It didn't take long to realise that I hadn't missed anything worth having. Once you've got a vampire, you've got everything you need."

Everything worked out as Lucy had predicted. Szandor's English improved enough for him to ask her whether he might visit her at home, once a week or so, and Mina readily agreed. Marcian dropped in too, about once a month, as much for a chat as a feed. In August he mentioned to her that the club had moved, but he didn't give her a card with the new address.

Soon after that, Lucy announced that she was moving to a senior position in the Treasury where, as she blithely put it, she could "really get a grip on the nation's purse-strings".

Mina breezed through the interview panel for Lucy's job, so the farewell party was a double celebration. She told Szandor all about it when he visited her the following Sunday. "It'll be a big hike in salary," she said. "I've been meaning to buy a house for ages, and even with all the expense of buying a whole new wardrobe every few weeks I've got enough for a tidy deposit. You could move in if you wanted to - it might be more convenient."

The vampire bowed politely. "Sank you very much," he said, "but I sink not."

Mina had no idea where Szandor lived, or whether he had a job of any kind. She thought she knew him well enough by now to ask.

Szandor's gaze, though still exceedingly fond, became slightly troubled. "I cannot tell you vere I liff," he said. "Ve do not in jops belieff. Ve are communists - true communists, not like the old Soffiets. Effer since... " He broke off.

"Ever since what?" Mina prompted, assuming he was thinking about something that had happened after the collapse of communism, in Bosnia or Chechenya or wherever he had recently come from.

"Effer since the Stone Age," he said. "Ciffilisation vos a ferry good idea, but ve vere neffer a part of it. The vorld of cities, of housses, of jops... is not ours."

Mina was on the point of asking him what "true communist" vampires did for money when she realised that she didn't have to. It was obvious. They obtained their money as they obtained their blood, from their sapient groupies - not in weekly handouts, obviously, but at intervals nevertheless adequate to their peculiar needs. Perhaps they were content to wait until their groupies were used up - who else, after all, was a vampire-lover likely to appoint as her heir? - but it was just as likely that they simply bided their time until they had groomed their pets sufficiently to win them jobs appropriate to their lovely appearance, inexhaustible energy and mental acuity. After all, the other women she had glimpsed at the After Dark had not been page-three models; they had been superwomen. Now she, too, was on her way to being a superwoman. With Lucy in the Treasury, and the cabinet filling up with young women for whom the glass ceiling was mere cellophane... well, vampires could afford to be patient, and had certainly had abundant opportunity to acquire the habit.

Now she understood the cost - not merely to herself, but to the world. But what, after all, had the world ever done for her?

How many groupies, Mina wondered, had Szandor had before her? Far more, she guessed, than she had had hot dinners of her own... that being, at the end of the day, what she was.

It wouldn't be appropriate for him to move in with her, she realised, for exactly the same reasons that it wouldn't be appropriate for her to move into a battery cage or a veal crate.

"Szandor," she said, as he wiped his mouth aftter finishing his meal, "do you love me? Do you really love me?"

"Yes, my darlink," the ultrasapient said. "I loff you ferry, ferry much."

Mina knew that it was true. He loved her, not as a human child loved the mother at whose teat he sucked, nor as a farmer loved his prize cattle, nor as saps were obliged by their carefully-selected hormones to love one another, but freely. He loved her in his own unique way, as only a vampire could love a member of his sister species, who provided the substance of his life in a miraculous stream.

When her lover had gone, after kissing her hand as any overpolite European might have done in saying au revoir, Mina went to the full-length mirror that she had brought only the previous day, and stood naked before it to make a critical study of the skin that sagged loosely about her ten stone two pound frame.

There was still a way to go, but she was getting there.

Her skin would tighten up in time; it still had enough adaptability to continue tightening its grip on her compacted flesh. She would never reach perfection, but every day, in every way, she was getting better and better. How many saps could honestly say that?

Mina realised that she had come a long way in a few short months. She was an entirely different person, not merely a great deal better-looking but a lot wiser. She understood what the relationship between the two human species was.

She understood that human history, ever since the end of the Stone Age, had been engineered and managed by the patient ultras, even though they had never shown themselves, being content to remain in the shadows, the substance of myth and mystery and threat. She understood that the grand plan was entering into its final phase, because civilization had now achieved its goal: it had enabled humans to become numerous, and it had enabled them to grow fat. The time had come for the ultras to harvest the crop that they had sown.

When Lucy had first told her that the vampires weren't quite ready to come out of hiding, although they were making discreet diplomatic moves at every level, Mina had actually felt sorry for them, as if they had somehow been reduced from the status of proud predators to mere parasites, feeding on the miserable, ugly women that human men didn't want - but it wasn't like that at all, really.

The green revolution that had changed the fortunes of humankind was a red revolution for vampirekind: a deluge of rich blood, drawn from self-renewing wells who already had a firm grip on public purses and walked the corridors of power in four-inch stilettos.

She, Mina Mint, was exactly the kind of woman that ten thousand years of careful husbandry had been intended to produce; there was a new world in birth and she was at the heart of it: a prize cow, whose welfare and productivity was all-important to her vampire lover.

The old Mina had yearned for the love of a handsome man, and had tried with all her might to shed weight in the hope of winning it; the new Mina knew what true love really was, and exactly what it was worth. It was symbiosis: free-market economics at its finest.

She closed her eyes, and thought of Szandor's wonderful, youthful, soulful eyes.

"Master!" she whispered - not worshipfully, but admiringly, as if in awesome contemplation of a fabulous work of art.

Author's Notes
Brian Stableford is a part-time Lecturer in Creative Writing at King Alfred's College Winchester. He lives in Reading with his wife Jane, a holistic therapist.

He has been a professional writer since 1965, publishing more than 50 novels and 200 short stories as well as various non-fiction books, thousands of articles for periodicals and reference-books, several volumes of translations from the French and a number of anthologies.

Brian's novels include three that feature vampires: The Empire of Fear (1988), Young Blood (1992) and The Hunger and Ecstasy of Vampires (1996). He recently completed a six-volume future history series comprising Inherit the Earth , Architects of Emortality , The Fountains of Youth , The Cassandra Complex , Dark Ararat and The Omega Expedition (1998-2002).

His translations from the French for the Black Coat Press include three classic 19th-century vampire novels by Paul Fe[a]val - The Vampire Countess, Knightshade and Vampire City.

Works by Brian currently scheduled for publication in 2004 include Kiss the Goat: A Twenty-first Century Ghost Story, Designer Genes: Tales of the Biotech Revolution, the sf novel Asgard's Secret, a Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction Literature and a volume of translations of stories by the Comte de Villiers de l'Isle Adam, Claire Lenoir and Other Stories. He is currently compiling a Historical Dictionary of Fantasy Literature for Scarecrow Press.

About this story, Brian writes:
I was always fascinated by classic vampire stories, especially by the sharp contrast between the sternly disapproving tone of such Anglo-Irish fantasies as J. Sheridan le Fanu's Carmilla and Bram Stoker's Dracula and the more appreciative feverishness of such French images as The[a]ophile Gautier's Clarimonde and Charles Baudelaire's Metamorphoses of the Vampire.

I also loved the "revisionist" vampire stories of the 1970s, in which vampires became perversely heroic and sadly misunderstood victims of circumstance.

It had always seemed obvious to me that if the idea of vampirism were to be taken seriously seriously, as a state of being attainable by some kind of natural process rather than something essentially demonic, then the attraction of potential immortality would far outweigh such disadvantages as a specialist diet and an allergy to sunlight. It was in following that train of thought that I began to write vampire stories of my own.

If natural vampirism were really possible, I thought, then vampires would not be lone fugitives ruthlessly hunted by legions of stake-wielding persecutors, but the logical inheritors of the Earth. This was the idea underlying my first vampire story: an alternative history story set in the 17th century, in which vampirism - first brought to Europe by Attila the Hun (whom Dracula claims as his ancestor in Stoker's novel) - has become the greatest privilege of the aristocracy.

For a thousand years and more there has been no significant rebellion against their rule, because the secret of making vampires has been carefully conserved and its magical nature has been taken for granted. As the scientific method begins to catch on, however, with new technological devices such as the microscope to assist it, ordinary men begin to wonder whether the secret might, after all, be penetrable.

After developing the idea in a novelette called The Man Who Loved the Vampire Lady I expanded that story into the first part of an episodic novel, The Empire of Fear , which became (and remains) my most commercially-successful book.

In the novel, the heroes travel into the heart of Africa to discover the origin of the infection that causes the kind of vampirism featured in the novel, and then return home to spread the news, provoking rebellions throughout Europe. The climax of the conflict comes when an armada of ships sets out to invade the heroes' base on Malta, landing an army jointly commanded by Vlad the Impaler and Richard the Lionheart.

My other vampire novels offer very different 'explanations' of variant kinds of vampirism, but they share the same conviction that once superstition can be set aside, there ought to be nothing very alarming about the prospect of vampires taking over the world.

In Young Blood the takeover begins in the present day, when a genetically-engineered virus escapes from a university laboratory. In The Hunger and Ecstasy of Vampires a Victorian time-traveller visits a future in which the degenerate descendants of our own species have been reduced to the status of domestic animals by a closely-related vampire species; this news horrifies most of the people to whom he tells his story, but not the narrator, an Eastern European Count with an unfortunate reputation.

Since publishing The Empire of Fear I've acquired a reputation as a writer of ironically offbeat vampire stories, which brings a steady trickle of requests to do more. I've tried hard to vary the stories as much as I possibly can, but certain basic themes inevitably recur.

Young Blood was written just as one sector of Goth subculture was becoming passionately interested in vampire fiction, and I was fascinated by the impact that vampire imagery had on the content of Goth rock music during the 1990s - a link that I've explored in articles as well as stories like the novella Sheena (in Marvin Kaye's anthology The Vampire Sextette).

Young Blood also features a hypothesis advanced by the American scholar Lloyd Worley, who suggests that our interest in vampires drives from the fact that we all begin life as vampiric embryos, drawing our sustenance from our mothers' blood. I've extrapolated the basic frisson of that idea in a couple of horror stories featuring vampire babies: Rent (in Weird Tales) and Emptiness (in the vampire magazine Dreams of Darkness).

All these stories lurk in the background of After the Stone Age, which is yet another tale in which vampires seem to be well on their way to taking over the world, this time by cleverly exploiting an opportunity to set themselves up as a valuable service industry, answering an obvious pattern of demand.

The names attributed to the two heroines are a small homage to Bram Stoker's Dracula, which also features victims of vampiric predation named Lucy and Mina. Marcian and Szandor are named for the two vampires whose legend is recounted in Paul Fe[a]val's The Vampire Countess.

The comedy is broader than most of my works in this vein, but it remains conscientiously dark. Like Mephistopheles in Dr Faustus , I tend to the opinion that Hell isn't a fiery pit that requires portals through which to send demons to afflict us; it remains where it has always been, in the worst of the desires and impulses that direct our lives.