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AICN HORROR: Lyzard asks Kim Newman some biting questions about his new vampire book JOHNNY ALUCARD! Plus a review!

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What the &#$% is ZOMBIES & SHARKS?

Q’s by Lyzard!

@’s by JOHNNY ALUCARD Writer
Kim Newman!!!

Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Lyzard has an interview/review focusing on Kim Neuman’s new book JOHNNY ALUCARD. Lyz will be back after the interview for a review of the book, but first here’s what Lyz was able to get from the writer of ANNO DRACULA’s new book JOHNNY ALUCARD!

LYZARD: Unlike the rest of the ANNO DRACULA series, which were originally published in 1990s, JOHNNY ALUCARD is a completely new publication. What is the story there? Why did it take so long to bring the story to a close?

KIM NEWMAN (KN): Mostly boring publishing reasons – I had a draft of the book (very different from the way it is now) over ten years ago, but it took a while to claw back the rights to the whole series so a new publisher could issue the previous novels leading up to the new one. Several sections have appeared as novellas before this publication (the chapter entitled ‘Coppola’s Dracula’ was actually written and published before DRACULA CHA CHA CHA), though everything has been rewritten to a greater or lesser extent to fit in. As to whether the story’s at a close … that’s another question.

LYZARD: All of novels have had their own form and style. The first book of the series is a Victorian thriller, BLOODY RED BARON is an expansive war drama, DRACULA CHA CHA CHA returns to a smaller focus (this time exchanging London for Rome), and now you’ve got JOHNNY ALUCARD with not only the largest coverage of geography, but time as well, breaking down the story year by year. Why change not just content and tone, but writing style as well?

KN: Mostly because I didn’t want simply to write the same book over and over – though there are instances when I’ve deliberately gone back and played variations on themes from the earlier stories in a new style to fit a different time and place. Given that the series has a whole alternative century to play with, I wanted to explore the changing times – both in real history and in the modes of popular fiction that reflect it. JOHNNY ALUCARD takes place over decades and in far-flung corners of the world – Transylvania, New York, Hollywood, London – because the three other books (and the two novellas) are all more narrowly-focused, taking place over a few weeks in a fairly limited area. There are things I’ve done in each of the books – there’s a miniserial featuring famous mad scientists that begins with the ‘Dr Jekyll and Dr Moreau’ chapter in ANNO DRACULA and winds through to the ‘Dr Pretorius and Mr Hyde’ chapter in JOHNNY ALUCARD, and I’ve included different first person narratives inset into the novels every time. Because vampires are long-lived, some of my viewpoint characters have stuck around for a century or more, which has also given me a through-line.

LYZARD: Now that all of the books have been released, looking back is there anything you wish you did differently, maybe with a particular character or subplots you would have rather cut or expanded?

KN: There are a few tiny things – I did an anachronistic joke about Carl Kolchak (from THE NIGHT STALKER) in ANNO DRACULA that meant I couldn’t use the character in JOHNNY ALUCARD, which I might have done. The new editions have given me the chance to make a few tiny amendments and restorations, but I’ve not tinkered that much. I suppose I might have made Kate Reed a viewpoint character in ANNO DRACULA since she’s come to be central to the series from the second book on – but I’m not unhappy with the way she’s presented as hanging around on the fringes of ANNO DRACULA before moving to prominence in the later books.

LYZARD: Twenty years since the first publication of ANNO DRACULA and the series remains popular (thanks of course to this re-publication). Why do you think it still attracts readers and have you noticed anything different with new readers? Do their reactions differ from the 90s fans?

KN: I think the main difference is that with the series coming out as a series, with a regular schedule and announcements of when the next book would be out, new readers have tended to see the whole saga as one long book in installments rather than as a standalone novel and its sequels. Because the books all have period settings – even JOHNNY ALUCARD – they don’t seem to have dated much. It may be that the approach seems less unusual now … the concept of alternate timelines and what-if fictional worlds was relatively fresh in 1992 and had to be explained, but folks today are up to speed on the rules of the game.

LYZARD: The last time we talked, August 2012, you mentioned the new NBC DRACULA series, along with MOTH DIARIES and BYZANTIUM, but hadn’t seen them yet. Did you get a chance to see those vampire adaptations and what did you think of them?

KN: I’ve not seen DRACULA yet, but will take a look at it … I try to keep up with vampire movies/TV shows, though there are so many about that it’s not easy to see everything. I saw both BYZANTIUM and THE MOTH DIARIES – I enjoyed BYZANTIUM quite a bit, and thought THE MOTH DIARIES at least had a great vampire in Lily Cole. In different ways, I liked HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, LIVIDE and WE ARE THE NIGHT.

LYZARD: If we’ve learned anything from reading your series, it is that Dracula is hard to kill. Can we expect more from the ANNO DRACULA series? Off-shoot novellas, maybe? A film adaptation finally?

KN: There will be another novel, but I’m not sure about the setting/period … it won’t be a straight sequel to JOHNNY ALUCARD. I’d like to pick up on some of the things from the novellas ‘Vampire Romance’ and ‘Aquarius’. I’m vaguely thinking of an Asian tone - hopping Chinese vampires, manga schoolgirl vampires, Bollywood vampires. But I might change my mind and go in a completely different direction. The adaptation rights are held by a UK company who are thinking of ANNO DRACULA as a TV series; with luck, the proliferation of vampire shows that tread a little into the same territory will not have spoiled the possibility of getting it made.

LYZARD: Thanks Mr. Neuman. Below is my review of JOHNNY ALUCARD!


Writer: Kim Newman
Publisher: Titan Books
Reviewer: Lyzard

The ANNO DRACULA series started just over twenty years ago in 1992 with the original publication of the titular book. Now the fourth, and only new (non-republication) book of the series has been released. Despite the fifteen year gap between the publication of DRACULA CHA CHA CHA and JOHNNY ALUCARD, this book still feels congruent and part of the world Newman was writing in prior to our current cultural vampire fetish. It is a refreshing take and yet, at the same time, bittersweet.

The series is too expansive for me to give a “quick” rundown, but I will say this: I found the BLOODY RED BARON readable without a thorough read through of ANNO DRACULA and DRACULA CHA CHA CHA (my least favorite of the series) unnecessary leading into JOHNNY ALUCARD. I am not saying that any of the books should be skipped completely, they each influence the other and only add to the overall enjoyment. But if you wanna get to JOHNNY ALUCARD as soon as possible, don't feel the nagging need to refresh yourself. Newman has always provided plenty of exposition that is helpful for the new or forgetful minded, but incessant for those of us that have kept well track of the stories and its dozens of reappearing characters.

I would compare JOHNNY ALUCARD (my opinion of) the DARK KNIGHT RISES. It is big, expansive, with higher risks than ever before, but functions better when viewed as part of the series compared to reviewing it as a standalone piece of media. Now that being said, I far prefer JOHHNY ALUCARD to the Nolan film. It isn't the worst of the ANNO DRACULA series (nor the best) but, like DARK KNIGHT RISES, it works on most levels as a satisfying conclusion…or as conclusive as Newman ever gets.

JOHNNY ALUCARD's conclusion is all too similar to the rest of the series. Like a vamp in the deep throngs of the red thirst, I am never satiated come the end of any ANNO DRACULA book. This ending more so than the others as a continuation of the series is up in the air. Though I'm not sure I want them to continue. I have no doubt Newman can take these characters in new directions, find a plot that isn’t overdone, but my worry is that the upcoming years to be covered, our modern era portrayed in this alternate timeline, wouldn’t have that charm or appeal the older, historical references have had.

This starts to become evident in JOHNNY ALUCARD. It isn’t that the majority of references fall flat, I particularly enjoyed Newman’s take on Buffy Summers, but it is the omissions that begin to stand out. Newman even goes so far to apologize to “those whose work in the real world has had to be wiped out to make room for the alternate history of JOHNNY ALUCARD.” The book begins with Coppola filming his off-kilter Dracula, only this time in the 1970s and starring Brando instead of Oldman. Alright, I’m on board, can’t be any worse than the real film he made. But the more Newman revises more recent pop history, turning celebrities we still know and follow into vamps, mutating Hollywood blockbusters into vampire flicks, the more cracks begin to appear in the fourth wall.

Changing fictional characters like Buffy or Spinal Tap, or even historical ones like Poe, is different than altering modern reality. I would say there are more successes than failures here. A young Tarantino slips into the story with ease, while Francis Ford Coppola’s portrayal comes off more pathetic than tragic. Then there is the name dropping of celebrity musician and actors, featuring quantity over quality. I really could care less what famous 80s guitarist is a vamp or what teen heartthrob is a dhamphir when it adds nothing to the plot besides being a part of a long list of names that reminds me more of the overly-detailed and innocuous writing in Bret Easton Ellis’ AMERICAN PSYCHO than the fun winks to the reader earlier in the ANNO DRACULA series. Newman is at his best when dealing with characters a few degrees away from reality, like Josie & the Pussycats or his take on Bonnie and Clyde.

The formatting of each book has changed, especially the number of years covered. JOHNNY ALUCARD is a tale that takes place from 1976 to 1991. At first the story moves along, advancing year from year. But as soon as the sections start hovering over a single point in time, the book’s pacing comes to a standstill. Though there is plenty of action, the momentum is lost. The set piece for the climax is arranged almost halfway through the book exactly, which just means you wait two hundred pages for the inevitable.

Despite the sluggish feel of the second half, I think what keeps the reader’s attention held are the characters, specifically Charlie (Beauregard)’s Angels. When I finished the first ANNO DRACULA I never expected Penelope Churchward to play such a key role in the latter books and though disappointed in DRACULA CHA CHA CHA I could not help but be excited by the return of Geneviève Dieudonné. There are dozens of other characters that have come and gone through the series, but Dieudonné, Churchward, and Kate Reed are the truest survivors. Not necessarily “good” characters. After all they are monsters and Churchward especially has no quibbles over picking a winning side over the right side, but I cannot imagine an ANNO DRACULA book without them.

As for the new big, bad of this novel, the titular Johnny Alucard… he’s big… bad… and that is kind of the problem. When you have a villain this formidable, seemingly unstoppable, I begin to fear only a deus ex machina possible conclusion. But looking back at the series, you never really got a sense of Dracula. All you knew of him was second-hand information. This time Newman shows us how the devil is made. All powerful, all knowing, but not absent of personality. Despite knowing that there isn’t a chance in hell for anyone to beat him, you do still cheer for those who stand up against is reign of terror.

Despite all its flaws, ANNO DRACULA stills stands above the rest of most of the vampire literature out on the shelves right now and for recent years. For the two and a half years I've been covering Kim Newman’s tetralogy, it has taught me one, very important, and hopeful lesson: that there are always new avenues of vampire mythos to explore.

Lyzard is Lyz Reblin, a graduate student at the University of Texas pursuing a master's degree in Media Studies... which is just a fancy way of saying she plays a lot video games, watches far too many horror films, and then tries to pass it all off as "research."

Editing, compiling, imaging, coding, logos & cat-wrangling by Ambush Bug
Proofs, co-edits & common sense provided by Sleazy G

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