Books: Neil Gaiman reads Down Among the Dead Men
Our own James spotted this on YouTube – Constable and Robinson, who have published a number of very fine and successful genre anthologies covering science fiction, fantasy, horror and more over the years, have a new collection edited by genre anthology stalwart Stephen Jones, Zombie Apocalypse: Fightback. One of the short stories in the collection is Down Among the Dead Men by Neil Gaiman, and the publishers have this great wee animated video with Neil reading the story out – always nice to listen to Neil reading on of his stories and a bonus to have some good art to go with it, in this case by another well-known name to SF&F fans, Les Edwards.
I recognised the title – I remember reading a short horror tale in another anthology a long number of years ago with the same title. It’s one which stuck in my head all these years because of the subject matter – a vampiric being condemned to the death camps of the Holocaust, trying to survive just like every other inmate. I recall it caused a minor controversy in genre circles at the time with some declaring it bad taste or even offensive. I thought it was a suitably dark, morally convoluted story contrasting the vampire’s attempts to survive the concentration camps with what other inmates had to do (some having to work for the guards, run the ovens, clear the bodies and much worse) in order to try and survive in a sea of endless death. The story is by Gardner Dozois – a name anyone in the fantastic genres will be more than familiar with – and the Nebula, Aurealis and more award winning author Jack Dann, and their Down Among the Dead Men was first published in Oui magazine in 1981. Knowing how extensive Neil’s voracious reading habit is I’m guessing he knows this story and has selected the title for his short story as a tribute to Dann and Dozois’ earlier story.
Since Neil’s use of the title had reminded me of the original I did a little digging and found that, by the magic of the new-fangled interwebs that original story, complete with introduction, is available online and you can read the entire tale here. I’ll warn you now that it is a grim work, a hard read, as you might expect given the setting, but it is a very interesting read and, having read a ton of vampire fiction over the years, I have to say it remains in my memory after several decades as one of the more inventive and unusual uses of the ancient vampire mythos and a clever way of exploring a difficult part of history and the dark demons which can live inside the human soul, far more awful than any mythological blood-drinking monster.
How about that? You start out with a trailer for a new book and end up finding a much older tale and re-reading that too, then passing it on to others. The magic of reading; any book or story always sparks off other ideas in your head and with the web sometimes you get to share those around, how terrific is that?