I loved this book, which is surprising because it is a book about vampires and I just freaking hate vampires. Vampires, werewolves and aliens are the three most frustratingly lazily written stale garbage nonsense creatures to plague books and movies. I don’t think writers like Bram Stoker and Anne Rice are to blame, I think the human impulse to humanise and rationalise are. Why can’t we just have a good unrepentant monster? Why can’t we just allow these creatures to defy humanity, which is what is supposed to make them horrible to begin with? I don’t think every bad guy needs a sympathetic back story, and I think trying give a monster one totally undermines their monstrosity.
Also- it is billed as a fantasy. It is not fantasy. It is sci-fi. This might get me in trouble a little bit because there is no cutting edge technology. No lasers. No genetically enhanced horses to ride around. No one has implants or anything like that. But it doesn’t have elves or magic or any specifically fantasy tropes either.
What it does have is Tennyson. Tennyson is one of the Masters, one of the 5 vampires that rules over Midfield where the book is set, and before he was a vampire he was a chemist. In his backstory it is explained that when humans were losing the war against the monsters (before they changed the spelling to masters) the government asked him for a cure, but he didn’t want to find one.
“He found a way to sort the wheat from the chaff. He flooded the world with his elixirs and those that died thanked him. Those that rose up thanked him too.”
Tennyson created the method by which humans become vampires, and he deliberately spread it.
Now, no one who reads I am Legend (also known as the omega man) by Richard Matheson concludes that it is fantasy. And why not? It’s exactly the same world setting as Day boy. There was a war, humans lost, the vampires have become organised. Its still post-apocalypse. There’s no advanced technology. There’s just vampires and Robert Neville, a biochemist who is trying to find a philosophical answer to the plague of vampiric zombies but also a cure or vaccine. If it is classed as science fiction, then Day boy should be too.
What was I saying? Ah yes, vampires are boring.
These ones aren’t. And you know why? Because every bastard one of them is different, and they’re complicated, and some of them love what they are, and some of them hate what they have become, but they are all undeniably monsters.
Each of the masters has a different back story and I would happily read a full length novel of each one because there is no one prescribed vampire as if ‘vampire’ itself is a default personality or moral code. It is the beast they have become, the hunger and rage that torments them, but not the mind that is warped by that feral drive. That is what remains of the men they were and that is where the horror comes from. That some of them chose to become monsters because it was the logical progression of their previous life where they had already dehumanised themselves. And then the alternative, those that changed because they didn’t feel they had a choice, that it was a sacrifice required to endure at any cost, where living death was better than death period, only to find that the things that made them want to cling to life so desperately were lost to them anyway.
The humans are no less layered. There is a hierarchy to their lives, circles of safety and danger they must negotiate. The masters keep them alive in order to feed on them, which they resent, and they loathe the human day boys for serving, but at the same time they have to recognise that the masters keep them safe from a greater evil, a more terrifying danger, because at the end of the world, vampires were not the only monsters that rose.
The outback of Australia swarms with enormius and predatory beasts, a kind of perverted reawakening of the dreamtime creatures of creation, where the destruction of the environment has brought about a kind of nightmare, an un-dreaming, destructive and hungrier than the masters.
This is the one place Dayboy falls down for me. Unfortunately it goes to show that, as much as I disliked Peacemakerby Marianne de Pierres and her treatment of Indigeniety, that when you are a white Australian writing speculative fiction it is actually worse to not mention Indigenous people at all, because it is set in the future and you effectively imply that the horrendous ‘dying race’ theory so trumpeted by our colonial predecessors came true. That every Aboriginal person, tribe and culture has died out and been forgotten.
You know what would be incredible and would fix it, in this case? For an Indigenous spec fic author to Stoppard Dayboy, flip it like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead flipped Hamlet, turn it inside out, and write their own book set in the same place and time, from an Indigenous perspective. Look at how when the war against the vampires started, the Indigenous clans escaped somewhere safe and where great and terrible reawakenings of their creation spirits rose up to remake the country and protect them from the city, the masters and the new colonial style white society. Flip the narrative and make it something empowering. What would an Aboriginal Master look like? Would he reject the call of the city and return to use his power to protect his people or would he go mad and rail against both sides of himself? How would an Indigenous clan react to the presence of the cold children who wander the landscape? (Children who are in a state of semi-change and unable to control the hunger and cruelty, yet retain the childs nature)
Oh man. I want that book so badly I can taste it.
Dayboy gets 4 hungry, angry, but very white stars.