I dimly recall, a long time ago, a friend telling me about this fan-fiction parody version of Final Fantasy VII he’d once read. According to him, it was a hilarious read. The only downside was that the author apparently only got into that “zone” where he could write with such comedic and literary skill when he was high as a kite.
Somehow, as I was reading Bill the Vampire, by Rick Gualtieri, I couldn’t help but wonder if something similar was going on here. I hope Mr. Gualtieri won’t take that personally, though, based on his sense of humor in this book, I don’t think I need to worry. 😉
The story is about Bill, a nerd who falls prey to a pretty face and gets lured into a vampire’s lair. With a little bit of defiant cunning and a whole lot of luck, he survives the experience… well, ok, he dies, but he survives after he’s turned into a vampire, instead of being turned into a pile of dust. Right from the get-go, he’s unique among vampires for 1) not being absolutely sexy, 2) successfully retaining some semblance of normalcy in his undead life, and 3) being impossible to compel.
That last makes him a legendary Freewill, capable not only of defying any mental compulsion any other vampire tries to lay on him, and, as it turns out, he can bite and feed on other vampires. Also very unusual!
That second point goes more into a Bill as a person. He works for a living, he has nerdy friends who take his change in status in competent stride even as he, himself, adapts to his new situation. For all that he’s a blood-sucking fiend of the night, he’s still human in a way that other vampires seem to have forgotten how to be.
Mind you, he’s no saint and no hero as of yet, as evidenced by how he still has less care for the lives of others than he does for his own. He’s also not suddenly some master manipulator or combat expert. No, the manipulation is done by the beautiful female lead, Sally, who is partially responsible for his new vampire condition. She’s a bombshell, crafty, scary as hell, and far more dangerous than she might seem to be.
On which note, that first point, about Bill being the only un-sexy vampire we meet, the book is constantly making fun of the usual tropes and stereotypes found in most vampire-based stories. Things are not often as they appear to be, and certainly not what one might expect. Vampires are terrifying, but they can also be terrified in return, the moment they learn they’re not an undisputed apex predator, and they lack most mystical abilities credited to them in popular culture. There are also zombies, and they are good for desk work. Bill gets by mostly by being unique and playing it up, courtesy of his past experience with RPGs. And, to get information, Bill is somewhat disappointed when Sally slips someone a fifty instead of… ah, we shall say paying with the utility of her physical assets.
Which is my first actual complaint: the gutter.
Bill’s mind and attention often wander in that direction, as does the language and sometimes the humor, and though they never show it (because Bill is completely deprived of it), there are numerous references to sexual activity. I get that they’re dealing with vampires, which have been pretty sexualized these days, but we don’t need to be beaten over the head with it, ya know?
And then, in the next breath, we get another nerd’s faith in his new Optimus Prime figure turning it into an anti-vampire talisman. I admit, the line, “The power of Prime compels you!” is pretty hilarious. So, I learned to roll with it, or at least tolerate it, and it actually felt like a small accomplishment when I finished the book.
That is the sort of duality which made me wonder if Gualtieri was on something. One moment, blood, gore, violence, sex, and the next, a toy burns vampires. A nerd vampire who has trouble surviving, even with help, against one alpha-dog vampire who doesn’t like nerds, is apparently at the center of a great amount of intrigue rising up almost overnight. Bill’s trying to fight for his life, and he’s a strange, alternating combination of helpless and terrifying in his own right. The way Bill manages to get by, including with the assistance of his nerdy friends, kind of boggles the mind, especially since… well, he’s actually pretty passive, getting steered around by the will of others all the time. His own goals pretty much begin and end with “don’t die again.”
I certainly did appreciate some of the humor and geeky references, though. I liked how Bill kept finding himself chomping down on guys instead of girls and getting weirded out by the experience. And the debates, which everyone on our side of the geek/nerd line absolutely has, felt realistic, if also a bit creepy, though I’m not sure how much they actually added to the story. And, while the final confrontation felt a bit drawn out and convoluted, it was probably pretty realistic, complete with all of the antagonist’s mistakes, of which – he being a great, big, stupid douche – there were many.
Bill the Vampire leaves me in a rather unique position I don’t recall ever having been in before. On the other hand, I like it, and on the other hand, I don’t. It’s odd. I enjoy the characters, but I don’t really care about them that much. Same for the plot, which felt driven, but driven on cruise control. There’s times when it’s hilarious, times when it’s annoying, and lots of times when I was left wondering about this twisted imagination I’d wandered into.
So, I recommend the book… sort of? It might be nice as a literary version of a popcorn movie, maybe, not looking for something too deep, just something to kill time and have a few laughs.
It’s the first in a series called The Tome of Bill, which apparently does all sorts of things I couldn’t guess just from this book. I might read it someday, but I don’t feel especially compelled to do so, ya know?
Rating: 6 stars out of 10.