Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Types of vampires

I bet you immediately think of “types of vampires” such as those who drink blood vs psychic vampires who drink something intangible such as “life force,” whatever that is. So did I, when I first thought about this topic! But you know what? That is not an interesting distinction from the perspective of worldbuilding or plotting a story.

It’s also possibly to just categorize vampires as supernatural vs “scientific” — that could be an important difference, since for example your “scientific” vampire may be ridiculously non-science-based, but probably can’t turn into a bat or otherwise contravene the the conservation of mass. But actually, from the standpoint of telling the story, as long as you can tolerate Silly Science Gobbledygook, this doesn’t matter very much either.

If you’re writing a story with vampires, then it’s not what the vampires drink that matters, nor whether they’re envisioned as purely supernatural. It’s what happens to their victims, and also how psychologically similar to an ordinary person the vampires are.

So, forthwith, a selection of Vampire Types in SFF:

Type I Vampire: This vampire only needs to take a little bit of blood. It doesn’t harm his victim, and in fact animal blood is just as good for sustenance as human blood. Psychologically, this vampire has just the same personality after he’s turned as he had before he died. Moreover, there’s no gang or seethe or nest of vampires that he has to deal with. He is, in fact, a Guy With Superpowers, in a sort of vampire shape. It’s easy to cast this kind of vampire as a good guy, but difficult to cast him as a Tormented Hero, because he’s facing no special moral challenges and has no particular reason to feel tormented.

Best example I can think of for this kind of vampire : PN Elrod’s Vampire Files series, first started back in 1990.

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This series features Jack, a newspaperman turned vampire in 1930’s Chicago. Jack can turn into a wisp of mist, and he’s superstrong, and of course he’s very difficult to kill. He’s helpless during the day, and he has to drink blood, but just a tiny bit and it can be animal blood.

I rather liked this series, which I suppose today would be seen as falling smack dab in the middle of UF. It isn’t a super-fast-paced or exciting series . . . I would kind of tag it as pleasant and undemanding . . . but I liked it. I see there are actually about a dozen books in the series. I am positive I don’t have that many on my shelves. Maybe I will check into the volumes I missed, now that I’m reminded about this series.

Another example of a Type I vampire is Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s vampire, the Comte de Saint-Germain.

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First published in 1978, today the St Germain books — there are about 20 books in the series — would surely be seen as belonging to Paranormal Romance. Romance, or at least sex, is important in practically all of them. The stories are set in many varied historical periods and places, from Classical Rome to 13th century China, Venice to Russia to San Francisco. I like the character of St Germain, and I like some of the supporting characters, but these books can seem tortuously slow even to me. Also, nearly always the good guys are contending against the forces of political tyranny, and it’s frankly sometimes hard to take. So I can’t say I’ve kept up with the series. Still, I really liked the first several books.

Type II Vampire: These vampires are quite different from the above, because they do generally kill people, sometimes lots of people. Psychologically, they are always going to be affected by this, and they may also be just *different* from ordinary people. They’re likely to be pretty dangerous and hard to cast as good guys, but some few vampires are not SO evil and kill fewer people and therefore can be seen as good guys. Those particular individuals may seem much more “relateable” than other vampires in the same world, who seem super-creepy. Or at least they do if you’re talking about Patricia Briggs’ vampires, which I am.

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I must say, I don’t like that cover as much as the original cover, but whatever, I guess it’s all right. Anyway, Stefan. He’s the good guy vampire who has values that we can relate to, but still. He’s pretty ruthless, and given how creepy the other vampires are, you have to wonder how much creepiness Stefan is concealing beneath his fondness for bad movies and his friendship for Mercy.

Type III Vampire: These vampires MUST kill people every day or so. To be a successful vampire, someone must either be a sociopath before being turned or else learn to deal with survival through mass murder. Pretty tricky making these vampires into good guys! Of course we have one excellent example: Simon Ysidro in Barbara Hambly’s vampire series.

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First published in 1990, before the vampire craze, Those Who Hunt the Night is still my single favorite vampire story and the first book in my favorite vampire series. Hambly is so good at handling the historical settings, and I love her main characters — including Ysidro, who has killed something like, what? 30,000 people? Quite a trick to make him a good guy. Though Hambly emphasizes how different vampire psychology is from normal human psychology, she makes Simon Ysidro into a character you can root for by giving him more human motivations than she implies vampires ought to have. By now in this series, it’s clear that for some vampires at least, human feelings of love and loyalty can remain strong. I’ve got the latest one in this series downstairs on my TBR shelves right now.

Type IV Vampire: The old-fashioned vampires, not much in style today — the evil demons that possess the corpses of contaminated dead people and owe nothing, nothing at all, to the people they used to be. I can certainly think of one excellent example of a Type IV vampire:

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What can I say? I was dead tired of nice vampires, sexy vampires, and most particularly sparkly vampires. Thus, demonic vampires who are not only completely evil, but also all dead. Or, well, at least nearly all.

Which vampires out there are your favorites? Do they fit into one of the above categories?

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9 Comments Types of vampires

  1. Mike S.

    The ones in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” were originally Type IV. It’s laid out explicitly in the first episode that vampires are demons inhabiting corpses, and any resemblance to the dead person is deliberate deception. (Illustrated with Xander and Willow’s ill-fated friend Jesse.) The only good vampire, Angel, was given a soul via a curse, and when the soul was lost the demon took over and became that season’s Big Bad.

    Then the waters got seriously muddied (beginning with Spike becoming a fan-favorite character, demanding a reason to put off his well-deserved staking). “Demon” went from inherently evil (or at least inimical) to much more morally ambiguous and potentially redeemable. (Even more so on the “Angel” series.) And the vampire personality was determined to have more roots in the original after all, when a tossed-off one-liner about an alternate-universe vampire Willow became the basis for a major transformation of the character.

    But even after all that, non-main-character vamps were still mostly treated as corpse-monsters rather than people.

  2. Mike S.

    Oh, and somewhere between Type I and II is the reformed-alcoholic vampire: they can survive on animal blood, but it doesn’t sate their real hunger, and every day it’s a constant struggle not to give in to the jones for their true prey. (Generally exhorted to give in by the large population of unreformed vampires, who think it’s a stupid affectation.) Nick Knight from “Forever Knight”, Pratchett’s Black Ribboners, etc.

  3. James Pailly

    One of my favorites was the TV show Forever Knight. The protagonist was a vampire police officer who stole blood donation bags to survive. I’m guessing he’d be a type 2 vampire.

  4. Craig

    After reading the comments, I would propose to redefine the Type II as the vampire with a strong, but controllable, urge to murder people. It’s probably the default type, these days.

    That would mean if you don’t have a demonic urge but think some people need killin’, you’re a darker Type I. (This does categorize them by mechanics, as it were, instead of the reader’s expected feelings.)

    In principle you could have vampires totally detached from the life and memories of their bodies who aren’t demonic: aliens with a weird lifecycle, essentially, who could take different moral stances after being “born.” I can’t offhand think of any actual examples, though, and it would defeat much of the reason people like vampires in their fiction.

  5. Rachel

    Mike, that’s true, the Buffy vampires were demonic at first. Although I had a reluctant liking for Spike and could not complain too much about the direction he went in the show, I also would have been fine if they’d stuck to their guns and told the fans, No, Really, Vampires Are Demonic.

    I really liked “Forever Knight” back in the day! I wonder if I should pick up the first season and see if I still like it? Tempting, tempting . . . I wonder if I would actually watch it or just put the dvd’s on a shelf for the next decade.

    Craig, I don’t remember exactly how the vampirism worked, but CS Friedman did have vampires along with aliens in The Madness Season. The vampire was the good-guy protagonist, as I recall, but it’s been so long since I read it that I can’t remember if the vampires were also aliens or not.

    I don’t object to defining Type II as “strong urge to kill people.” There’s lots to do with that type of character, though I don’t know if it’s default as such.

  6. Elaine T

    I was going to ask if anyone remembered the details about the vampire in Friedman’s MADNESS SEASON. And there’s her Hunter/Tarrant who is a vampire of sorts in the sci-fantasy trilogy.

    Where do the blood drinkers in Anne Bishop’s trilogy fit? IIRC type 1?

    I appreciated your vampires, and those in CHARMING, as well (catch phrase”vampires only sparkle when they burn”). That one also had new varieties developing out of the zeitgeist, so now there were sparklies Meyeris, or some such name. Mainly I get pretty disgusted with the blood-drinking corpses as romantic interest tropes.

    Chancy’s NET OF DAWN & BONES has them of either type 3 or 4. I don’t recall how much they had to kill, but in hell the vampire demons look like giant mosquitoes. On earth, to most people they seem like glamorous humans; to those who can see walking corpses.

    And Ryk E. Spoor in PARADIGMS LOST has both nasty vampires and a good one. The good one being the last Earth priest of his (Atlantean more or less) civilization. The nasties being the traditional killing blood thirsty types.

  7. pete mack

    Type III is my favorite. It leaves enough room for deals with the devil, but still leaves the vampire as a monster. And Those Who Hunt the Night is wonderful, though the latest books haven’t done so much. Other notables: Sunshine (Type IV with rare type IIs, who are utterly different.) Andrea Host’s Pyramids of London: type II. They get by on a bit of blood and ka, but have occasional accidents. Except with the type III thrown in. I assume he goes around sucking bad guys dry, and she will eventually too.

  8. SarahZ

    Scott Westerfeld’s book Peeps has science-y vampires, where it’s caused by a parasitic infection. He makes his fake science sound more plausible by including a lot of really weird true science. The odd chapters are all brief explanations of real parasites that produce all sorts of bizarre host behavior. I’ve actually heard of teachers using it as a high school biology read.

  9. Rachel

    I like every type of vampire, as long as the book is well done in other ways. I agree it’s hard to beat Those Who Hunt the Night. That and Sunshine are maybe my favorite two vampire stories of all time. Sunshine really is different in having such different types of vampires.

    I’m tempted to look up Peeps now, just to see what kind of weird science Westerfield puts into his story. I’m familiar with some of the more peculiar parasite life cycles — snail flukes! — and that would be really interesting to include in a biology class.

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