I recently had the pleasure of reading what is widely regarded as one of the greatest vampire novels ever written: The Delicate Dependency. First published in 1982, though sadly never reprinted despite its obvious brilliance and the fact that it attracted a huge cult following, for decades second-hand copies of the novel were as rare as hen’s teeth and extremely expensive. Now, thanks to Valancourt Books—a small independent American publisher that specializes in reviving works of Gothic, horror, and supernatural fiction—The Delicate Dependency is back in print and features an attractive new cover.
Michael Talbot, who died of leukemia in 1992 at the tragic young age of 38, is best remembered not for The Delicate Dependency and his two other horror novels but for his non-fiction books on science and spirituality. Easily his most popular book–which continues to sell strongly even today—is The Holographic Universe (1991). In it, he describes the nature of reality as holographic and therefore intrinsically immaterial, in the process shedding light on telepathy, out-of-body experiences, lucid dreaming, synchronicity, time-slips, and other anomalous phenomena.
But back to The Delicate Dependency. Set in Victorian London, an era when people traveled about in horse-drawn carriages and fashionable ladies wore French bonnets, the story centers around Dr. John Gladstone, a physician-scientist with an obsessive interest in the epidemic and potentially fatal influenza virus—the same virus that cruelly took his wife from him.
One evening, upon crossing paths with an intelligent and peculiar young man named Niccolo, Dr. Gladstone’s life takes a very strange turn. His new friend, he notices, has no need of food or water, is averse to sunlight, has the speed and agility of a panther, and—you guessed it—sports a pair of pointy fangs. Thus Dr. Gladstone is thrust into the mysterious and secretive world of the vampire.
The Delicate Dependency is an impressive, elegantly-written, and unique work of vampire fiction that succeeds in turning the genre on its head and keeps the reader guessing till the very last page. This is a thinking-person’s vampire tale, in which the vampires aren’t brutal, blood-crazed maniacs but refined and intelligent beings whose interests include art, philosophy, and spiritual matters.
And yet, despite all their grace, intelligence and sophistication, there is much about the vampire race that arouses within Dr. Gladstone a strong feeling of suspicion and distrust. In particular, why have they kidnapped his autistic savant daughter and what do they plan to do with her? Why, too, are they so keenly interested in his research concerning influenza? Are they benevolent overseers of humankind, beings who’ve reached a high level of spiritual development and wish to protect us from our foolishness? Or do they regard us merely as pawns to be exploited and manipulated as they see fit?