Dracula Unbound Analysis
Within the highly regarded canon of Brian W. Aldiss’ works, Dracula Unbound occupies a very specific slot—that of sequel to his well-received Frankenstein Unbound (1973). In the frequent manner of sequels, Dracula Unbound mirrors Frankenstein Unbound in a number of ways. Both books feature scientists who travel to the 1800’s to encounter famous writers of speculative fiction and characters from those authors’ works. Most readers will probably agree with the majority of critics that the earlier work is the better of the two.
As Frankenstein Unbound takes Mary Shelley’s theme of the ethical and unethical uses of science, Dracula Unbound borrows Bram Stoker’s theme of good versus evil. The concept of absolute evil in a science-fiction framework poses some problems. Whereas many readers can readily accept Dracula as the personification of absolute evil in Stoker’s Victorian horror novel, they may have problems with Aldiss’ rationale for the utter evil of Dracula and his minions: their reptilian brains. Bodenland finds that the vampires’ vileness is predi-cated on their lack of a neocortex. In short, the creatures are biologically predisposed to unmitigated evil. The ethical implications of such a discovery are vast: Are “good” and “evil” then universally based on genetics? As repulsive as the Fleet Ones are, are they responsible for their actions? Few of Aldiss’ characters ponder these issues for very long. Furthermore, how the absence of a neocortex affects morality is never clearly explained.
The novel gives dubious scientific explanations for other bits of vampiriana. Vampires’ fear of sunlight is given its genesis in the great bomb blast that killed the dinosaurs. Is this inherited racial memory, as the gardener Spinks suggests? The explanation for the bloodsuckers’ fear of Christian symbolism is especially murky: The Fleet Ones seem to view the cross as some sort of emblem of human individuality, which they, with their more primitive brains, cannot understand. These explanations are nebulous.
The novel provides some real pleasures. Aldiss depicts instances of the ironies of time travel that fans of this subgenre savor. In Libya, Bodenland, seeing the time train overhead, realizes that he is inside it, at some other point in his adventure. The novel opens with the discovery of Bella’s grave, which Bodenland digs at novel’s end. Also, Aldiss devises a new extension of the vampire as metaphor. The Fleet Ones are incapable of scientific inquiry and invention; therefore, they must tap into the inventiveness of other species and siphon away their creative vitality. Because the novel opens with Bodenland and Clift worrying about the reaction to their research in academia, government, and business, it is easy to see the novel as a wry satire of the way in which industry and government appropriate and make use of the discoveries and inventions of men and women of science, work that others cannot accomplish on their own and cannot fully appreciate beyond their potential for exploitation. Finally, perhaps the novel’s greatest feat of imagination is the Fleet Ones themselves. In them, Aldiss has interwoven three subjects that have been dear to writers and readers of fantasy and science fiction for decades: dinosaurs, vampires, and time travel.