Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 632, August 14, 2011

"Planned and controlled genocide"—
She wants you dead!

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Review of L. Neil Smith's new novel Sweeter Than Wine
by Rex F. May

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Special to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

I don't like vampire novels. I don't even like vampire stories. Never did. They lack verisimilitude if vampires have to bite people frequently, and the people they bite turn into vampires, why aren't we all vampires by now? And what's the deal with sunlight? And the garlic and the wooden stake? That all sounds like superstition. So to me, vampires belong in the realm of fantasy, not in science fiction at all, and, for the most part, I don't enjoy fantasy very much. Now, there are some exceptions I like Terry Pratchett's Discworld vampires, because the story is humorous, like all his stuff. But most vampire stories are dead serious, with all kinds of gothic, fifteen-year-old-girl orientation. Twilight is nothing new, just a continuation of the old pattern. Same old same old rape fantasies porn for teeny-boppers.

But I digress. Having established myself as a vampire-hater, I can say that L. Neil Smith's Sweeter than Wine is one heck of a great read. I like his vampire. It's definite science fiction, not fantasy, and is of the hidden history variety, where vampires are among us, and we don't know about it. Usually, this sort of thing is really a strain on your skeptical bump, but the world Smith creates is downright believable, making you nod you head and say, sure, this could very well be happening.

All of Smith's stuff has, as it very well should, a Heinlein flavor, but this book more than most. The protagonist has the air of Heinlein's competent man, who knows how the world works, and has developed an ethical code to cope with—it more of a challenge than most of us have, given his special peculiarity. He's like Lazarus Long, but with a personality. And in keeping with both the vampire tradition and the Smith tradition, there are some shootouts, interesting information about weaponry, a lost love story worthy of Japanese anime, and a villain. Whoa, this is a real villain he makes Voldemort look like Heinz Doofenshmirtz. This guy will give you the willies.

The why aren't we all vampires by now problem is solved, neatly and not at all in a contrived way, and we are treated to some education on police procedure, biology, history, and paleontology. Not bad for a short novel.

One more thing: I read it in one sitting. I haven't done that since Mother Night, about half a century ago. So it also qualifies as a top-notch page-turner. It s a vampire story, sure, but Crime and Punishment was a detective story.

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