29. Colin Wilson – Space Vampires (1978)

Burroughs was a big fan of Colin Wilson’s work. Although, apparently, when Wilson was told about this, he did not return the compliment. Rather, he said he couldn’t understand why such a pervert would like his work and he would prefer if he didn’t.

I doubt this put Burroughs off. He probably found it funny.

Space Vampires, later made into a B-movie called Life Force (thus my book’s cover), is in some ways a classic sci-fi tale of alien encounter.

An unknown object is spotted at the edge of the solar system. Humanity sends out a ship to explore and discovers that it’s an alien ship. They wake the alien from cryosleep only to discover that its intentions aren’t quite so innocent as first hoped.

The ship in this case is a giant Gothic tomb-ship. Some of its descriptions are reminiscent of the Alien franchise, if taken seriously, or a wacky Dracula-in-space vibe if not.

The book is not a parody, but its deployment of vampire clichés can often border on the tongue-in-cheek. Wilson’s get-around is that such vampiric creatures did exist historically on Earth – perhaps the survivors of a previous tomb-ship crashing – but humans defeated them and now remember them only as myths and legends.

The space vampires use sex and mind control, creating “thralls” in the classic sense. Appearing first to the astronauts as beautiful women, the astronauts fall in love at first sight and immediately take their new friends back to Earth on their ship.

Thankfully, they didn’t take the strange octopus-looking creatures that they find floating in vats back with them too. These are the true forms of the vampires, we discover, and the women are merely artificial bodies, used to make the first introduction, at which point the vampires hop into a new host.

Rather than drink blood directly, the space vampires suck vitality. This was clearly Burroughs’ main interest in the novel. His own interest in vitality – associated with Reich’s orgones – led him to fear vitality-sapping forces which, to him, resembled vampires. He reviews the book alongside The Methuselah Enzyme, a novel about old rich people absorbing the energies of the young; the metaphorical draining of youthful freedom by the forces of Control being, for him, a subject shared by The Wild Boys and Port of Saints.

There are a couple of clearly quotable points here, in terms of direct lifts Burroughs might have chosen to make.

Firstly, the space vampires try and convince the Earthlings that they invested humans with the ability to dream in order to drag us up to our current level of intelligence against our will. This turns out to be a lie, but the notion of aliens implanting us with intelligence in order to return and farm our minds, is in keeping with his views of language as an intergalactic virus.

Secondly, the stunning power of the space vampires bears a relation to the many telepathic tricks of psychic warfare Burroughs learned and practiced. The vampires activate “the death trance” in the brain the same way as “a rabbit faced by a tiger”. The victim blisses out while the predator consumes them. Control, using the junk virus, uses the same tactics.

Wilsons’ intergalactic alien vampires manage to walk that fine line between B-movie schlock and genuine scientific speculation. The role of parasitism in evolutionary development is an interesting question, even if the majority of the novel is about hunting, fleeing, killing, and doing psychic battle with black octopuses in women’s bodies.

Thankfully it’s well-written, which is unusual for a sci-fi book recommended by Burroughs.