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(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Fevre Dream seems to be a work at variance with its origins. George R. R. Martin is a writer of what is called “hard” science fiction. Vampires hardly seem like his bill of fare. His vampires are simply another race that preys upon ordinary mortals as if they were cattle. Unlike the traditional vampire described by Bram Stoker in the classic gothic novel Dracula (1897), Martin’s vampires are a separate race that lives alongside humankind. York and his people of the night are not the twisted and often soulless descendants of ancient vampires; they are a generally dangerous and superior race limited by their inability to withstand direct sunlight and by a need to drink human blood. The books that come closest to Martin’s vision are the Vampire Chronicles of Anne Rice (1976-1995). Rices vampires are every bit as physical as York and Julian, but her tradition is still spiritual, and her vampires were once human.

Martin rejected the traditional spiritual notion of vampires in favor of asking the question, If there were vampires, how would they live? His answer produces a vampire with conscience, the outlook of humanity, and the ability to produce an antidote to the red thirst that drives his kind to hunt and kill. These creatures of the night can have as much variation as ordinary humans.

Much of Martin’s other work deals with vampires of the spirit. “Override” (1973) provides a view of a man dealing with his own corpse. A young woman becomes part of an alien life form in “A Song for Lya” (1974). “Manna from Heaven” (1985) sterilizes starving colonists.

Fevre Dream moves in synchrony with the great Mississippi River system from the height of the steamboat era through the Civil War and Reconstruction to reach its conclusion. York and Marsh proudly build their great steamboat in a northern shipyard and are soundly defeated by traditional forces in the South. When Marsh counterattacks, he is defeated; when York counterattacks, his spirit appears to be stolen from him. Throughout the period of the Civil War and early Reconstruction, the existence of the Fevre Dream appears to be in doubt. As hope is fading, the shadow of strength reappears, and through superhuman efforts, York and Marsh defeat the forces of Julian and the red thirst. This unity of environment, times, and theme provides the energy and depth behind Fevre Dream.