The coming vampire apocalypse is a lot less exciting than you’d expect . . .

By Guillermo Del Toro & Chuck Hogan, HarperCollins

As is so often the case in sci-fi, fantasy and horror publishing nowadays, Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s 2009 novel The Strain is the first installment in a trilogy. It was followed by The Fall in 2010 and, most recently, by The Night Eternal in October of 2011.

The first question when faced with the first book in a series such as this is: “will I bother checking out the other books in the series?” Sadly the question with The Strain is more “Am I even going to finish this book?” The Strain didn’t exactly have us scurrying to our PC to download the next book in the series via Amazon to our Kindle to see what happens next.

The title might lead you to believe that it is super-virus story in the, er, vein of Andromeda Strain or perhaps the recent cinematic Contagion. Turns out that The Strain is instead a revisionist vampire story. When an reviewer called it “a mixture between NCIS and Blade II” he had it right. It starts off promisingly. Shortly after landing at JFK airport all the passengers and crew aboard a Boeing 777 mysteriously dies right there on the runway. What caused their deaths? is the question facing our hero Eph, a scientist at the Center for Disease Control. Eph is as one-dimensional as best-seller heroes come. His back-story includes a divorce and his only distinguishing mark is a penchant for milk seeing as he is a recovering alcoholic.  The rest of the book’s characters are even more flat and don’t even get us started on Eph’s current girlfriend who has nothing else to do except stand around a lot.

Turns out that all the doomed airliner’s passengers have been killed by a super-vampire of sorts called “the Master” (groan). Soon they too will become vampires and then turn others into vampires. Seems the Master wants to build an army to fight some other super-vampires. Eph is quickly brought up to speed by an old geezer named Abraham Setrakian who has previously encountered the Master when he was an inmate at a Nazi death camp. Setrakian has been trying to track down the Master his entire life and might as well have “Basil Exposition” stamped across his forehead in how quickly he helps bringing our heroes up to speed.

The Strain is apparently “co-written” by Guillermo Del Toro, known to movie fans as the director of Blade II, the Hellboy movies and Pan’s Labyrinth. How much Del Toro, who is one of Hollywood’s busiest film directors, actually contributed is anyone’s guess. (We’re always skeptical when celebrities lend their names to projects such as this.) However, The Strain does feel like Del Toro – even if it is watered down Del Toro. The vampires for instance don’t have any fangs. Instead they have elongated jaws and “stingers” – long malformed tongues.

The plot and characters feel like something out of a Hollywood movie (there were talk once of it being made into a movie). But that is The Strain’s biggest weakness: like many Hollywood movies it is predictable to the bone. One-dimensional characters and a cheesily named villain don’t help matters either. Haven’t they seen any old Doctor Who episodes?

In short
The Strain would have been an okay as B-movie video rental. Besides, it wouldn’t have taken up so much of one’s time. As a novel one can’t help but feel that life is better spent on reading something more engaging and less predictable.


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Category: Books, Reviews

About the Author

James has been running The Sci-Fi Movie Page since Before the Beginning of Time Itself (TM), i.e. since the site's inception in 1997. In addition to sci-fi James also likes 1970s motorbikes and chili dogs although he doesn't own the former and no longer eats the latter. He currently resides in Kiev, Ukraine for reasons best left unexplained.

  • Nautolan Jedi

    After reading this SFMH news article, my first instinct was to post a negative fan reaction comment…
    At first, I thought Del Torro was making a crappy rip-off of BLADE II, however, after thinking about it, I have changed my opinion.

    I now think that Del Torro may be making a vampire movie inspired by the legends of the Chupacabra…

    The chupacabras (Spanish pronunciation: [tʃupaˈkaβɾas], from chupar “to suck” and cabra “goat”, literally “goat sucker”) is a legendary cryptid rumored to inhabit parts of the Americas. It is associated more recently with sightings of an allegedly unknown animal in Puerto Rico (where these sightings were first reported), Mexico, and the United States, especially in the latter’s Latin American communities. The name comes from the animal’s reported habit of attacking and drinking the blood of livestock, especially goats.

    Physical descriptions of the creature vary. Eyewitness sightings have
    been claimed as early as 1995 in Puerto Rico, and have since been
    reported as far north as Maine, and as far south as Chile, and even being spotted outside the Americas in countries like Russia and The Philippines.
    It is supposedly a heavy creature, the size of a small bear, with a row
    of spines reaching from the neck to the base of the tail.

    The first reported attacks occurred in March 1995 in Puerto Rico. In this attack, eight sheep were discovered dead, each with three puncture wounds in the chest area and completely drained of blood. A few months later, in August, an eyewitness, Madelyne Tolentino, reported seeing the creature in the Puerto Rican town of Canóvanas, when as many as 150 farm animals and pets were reportedly killed. In 1975, similar killings in the small town of Moca, were attributed to El Vampiro de Moca (The Vampire of Moca). Initially it was suspected that the killings were committed by a Satanic cult;
    later more killings were reported around the island, and many farms
    reported loss of animal life. Each of the animals were reported to have
    had their bodies bled dry through a series of small circular incisions.

    The most common description of chupacabras is a reptile-like being, appearing to have leathery or scaly greenish-gray skin and sharp spines or quills running down its back. This form stands approximately 3 to 4 feet (1 to 1.2 m) high, and stands and hops in a similar fashion to a kangaroo. In at least one sighting, the creature was reported to hop 20 feet (6 m). This variety is said to have a dog or panther-like nose and face, a forked tongue, and large fangs. It is said to hiss and screech when alarmed, as well as leave behind a sulfuric stench. When it screeches, some reports assert that the chupacabras’ eyes glow an unusual red which gives the witnesses nausea.

    Another description of chupacabras, although not as common, describes a strange breed of wild dog.
    This form is mostly hairless and has a pronounced spinal ridge,
    unusually pronounced eye sockets, fangs, and claws. It is claimed that
    this breed might be an example of a dog-like reptile. Unlike
    conventional predators, the chupacabras is said to drain all of the
    animal’s blood (and sometimes organs) usually through three holes in the
    shape of an upside-down triangle or through one or two holes.



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