2009 first edition hardback cover
|Publication date||June 2, 2009|
|Media type||Print, audio|
|Followed by||The Fall|
Del Toro first envisioned the story line as a television series, but was unable to find a buyer for the series. An agent then suggested turning the story into a series of books with writer Chuck Hogan. A television adaptation is in development and will be broadcast on FX.
- 1 Plot introduction
- 2 Vampire biology
- 3 Characters
- 4 Reception
- 5 Adaptations
- 6 References
- 7 External links
A Boeing 777 arrives at JFK and is on its way across the tarmac, when it suddenly stops dead. All window shades are pulled down. All lights are out. All communication channels have gone quiet. Crews on the ground are lost for answers, but an alert goes out to the CDC. Dr. Ephraim "Eph" Goodweather, head of their Canary project, a rapid-response team that investigates biological threats, gets the call and boards the plane. What he finds makes his blood run cold.
So begins a battle of mammoth proportions as the vampiric virus that has infected New York begins to spill out into the streets. Eph, who is joined by Setrakian and a motley crew of fighters, must now find a way to stop the contagion and save his city - a city that includes his wife and son - before it is too late.
The series places special emphasis on the biology of vampires as parasitic creatures, and the life cycle and physical adaptations of a human-turned-vampire are covered in detail. The vector for vampirism is a capillary worm, which, once introduced into the human host's bloodstream (either through a vampire's feeding or direct invasion by the worm through a wound or orifice), introduces an incurable and fast-acting virus. By manipulating the host's genes, the virus causes a human to undergo numerous radical physical changes.
The first and most distinct vampire adaptation is the development of a long, retractile proboscis beneath the host's tongue, which is able to extend up to six feet from the mouth. This "stinger" is both the vampire's feeding and reproductive mechanism, shooting forth to latch onto human prey's throat or thigh, both draining the victim's blood for nutrition and infecting the human with capillary worms. The vampire's jaw is set at a lower hinge than a human, the mouth gaping like a snake's when the stinger is deployed. As the structure of the stinger is actually modified tissue from the human lungs and throat, vampires are incapable of physical speech.
A vampire's physical appearance is governed mainly by the host body shedding those human traits that are obsolete to its new life cycle. Hair and fingernails are gradually lost, while the external nose and ears atrophy, leaving a fully matured vampire's skin as smooth and featureless as marble. The vampire's complexion is extremely pale between feedings, but appears a flushed red after a recent blood-meal. Eye coloration is a black pupil surrounded by a red sclera, with a white nictitating membrane sliding across for protection. The middle fingers of both hands grow and strengthen, and a thick talon develops in place of the lost fingernail. As vampire reproduction is achieved through viral infection of hosts and not through any sexual mechanism, the human genitalia also atrophy, leaving a mature vampire with no discernible gender.
The digestive and circulatory systems of a vampire are simplified and fused, the vampire's interior organs most resembling a series of connected sacs. Nutrition from a blood feeding is transported throughout this system via a thick, viscous white fluid that forms the vampire equivalent of blood. The capillary worms are present in this fluid, swimming throughout the circulatory system and often visible beneath the vampire's thin skin. Like rodents, a vampire is unable to vomit, its suction-based digestive process functioning only one way. All bodily waste is excreted from a single rectal orifice in the form of a pungent ammonia-based spray; a vampire will excrete for the entire duration of a feeding, purging old food as it consumes new blood.
The vampire's body temperature runs extremely high, at 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and a human is able to feel their ambient heat from several feet away.
Many of the physical changes from human to vampire occur gradually following the initial worm infection, and are accompanied by great pain. A newly "turned" human will lie in a state of suspended animation for an entire day, rising the next night as a nascent vampire. The stinger is present for the vampire's first foray, in order to facilitate feeding, but other traits (hairlessness, talons on the mid-digit, lack of distinct internal organs) will develop within the first seven nights following infection. The vampire's mental state will also be confused at first, and its movements will be clumsy and awkward. As it matures, however, the vampire will become supremely agile, able to leap great distances and climb sheer surfaces with the aid of its talons. Full maturity, physically and mentally, occurs within the first thirty nights.
In spite of the vampire's morbid biology stripping legend of most of its romance, the most famously admired trait of the undead remains intact: immortality. Unless slain by violence or sunlight, a vampire's parasitic body structure will neither fade nor weaken with the passage of time, giving them an effectively endless "life"-span. Even in those cases where the host body is damaged beyond repair, a vampire of sufficient power can transfer their consciousness (via a torrential capillary worm transfer) from one human host to another.
The sensory apparatus of the vampire is highly adapted for their nocturnal life cycle. Color vision is replaced with the ability to sense heat signatures, and the world is perceived in a monochrome brightened by sources of warmth (such as human prey). Hearing is greatly enhanced, in spite of the loss of external ears.
The vampires' greatest sensory asset, however, is the "hive mind" that all new vampires share with the Ancient that propagated them. Each vampire, through some undefined telepathic link, is able to send and receive thought and sensory information to and from their Ancient progenitor. In this manner, the Ancient vampires direct the actions of their individual spawn through mental communication, regardless of distance. Perhaps akin to its radiation shielding properties, the element lead has the effect of blocking this mental connection.
In spite of their biological inability to speak, vampires can communicate with humans through telepathy, transmitting thoughts directly into a person's internal monologue. Those vampires seeking to pose as human can train themselves to move their lips in a pantomime of speech, but the actual communication is still via thought-transference.
An Ancient vampire is also able to use this telepathic ability as a weapon; known as the "murmur", this mental shock-wave has the ability to completely overwhelm the minds of surrounding human beings, rendering them unconscious.
Vampires also experience an overwhelming compulsion to infect family members and those they cared about as humans (their "dear ones"). They possess a unique ability to locate such targets, this sense being likened to a pigeon's homing instinct.
Many of the traditional vampire "weaknesses" of common folklore remain effective, although their potency is explained in terms of specific effects on vampire biology.
Sunlight is the vampire's ultimate destroyer, specifically ultraviolet light in the UVC range. This is due to the germicidal properties of the wavelength, as it breaks down the virus-laden tissues of the vampire's body. A localized source of UVC light, such as a fluorescent lamp, can be used to repel a vampire, much as a burning torch can repel an animal. Complete exposure, either to direct sunlight or a powerful UVC source, will result in complete desiccation of the vampire's body, leaving behind nothing but ashes.
Silver, whether in the form of a metal weapon or even a fine chemical mist, can also wound or kill a vampire. Much like sunlight, this is due to the disinfecting properties of the element damaging the vampire's viral biology. While conventional weapons (lead bullets, steel blades) can cause physical damage, they will not repel a vampire. Silver causes vampires both debilitating pain and a certain amount of fear, and binding a vampire in silver will completely incapacitate them.
Severing the spinal column through any method is another effective way to destroy a vampire. While the vampire's simplified internal organ structure makes them difficult to harm with attacks to the body, decapitation will result in the vampire's death.
Although there appears to be no biological imperative behind it, vampires cannot cross running water. This is alluded to as having something to do with the origin of the Ancients, but no further explanation is given. This aversion to water can be overcome, however, if the vampire is assisted (or "invited") by a human.
Traditional religious protections against vampires, such as a crucifix or holy water, display no practical effect. The prevalence of this lore is explained as having been the product of Bram Stoker's "fevered Irish imagination".
Garlic, another common folk defense, has no noticeable use in repelling vampires.
Silver-backed mirrors, while they will not harm a vampire, will reveal their presence. While vampires do indeed cast a reflection, it is blurred and distorted, akin to an image vibrating at an impossible speed. Modern chrome-backed mirrors, however, will not have this effect, and the vampire will appear normally in such a looking-glass.
Dr. Ephraim Goodweather
Head of the CDC's rapid-response team, the Canary Project, Eph is a newly divorced father attempting to balance the custody battle over his son Zack with his duties as an epidemiologist. He and his Canary team are first-responders to the Boeing 777 disaster, and are tasked with solving the mystery of the mass casualty. Unable to reconcile the symptoms of the newly infected airline passengers with standard disease pathology, Eph is convinced of the reality of vampires by Abraham Setrakian. Discredited at the CDC by the vampires' human conspirators, Dr. Goodweather finds himself a fugitive from both the human authorities and the undead. The need to protect his son drives Eph's every action.
A skilled epidemiologist, Nora is second in command of the Canary Project. She and Eph have been attempting an office romance with mixed success, complicated by their high-stress medical careers and Goodweather's lingering melancholy over his looming divorce. Nora quickly dedicates herself to uncovering the vampire conspiracy, and is determined not to be relegated to doing the "woman's work".
Professor Abraham Setrakian
A Romanian Jew who escaped the Treblinka extermination camp during the Second World War, Professor Setrakian has been a dedicated (and perhaps fanatic) vampire hunter for over six decades. Wielding a silver sword with hands nearly crippled from his first encounter with the Master, Setrakian is an expert on vampire biology and destruction, and recruits Eph and Nora to his cause. His determination and will are strong, but his weak heart has become an obstacle to his lifelong quest.
The Master / Jusef Sardu
One of the Ancients, the seven original vampires, the Master now inhabits the body of Jusef Sardu, a 19th-century Armenian nobleman afflicted with gigantism. While Sardu was a gentle giant in life, and greatly infirmed by his condition, the Master has imbued his form with unnatural power and ferocity. Breaking the territorial truce between himself and the other Ancients, the Master sets into motion a series of events to remake the world in his own dark image. Through the cooperation of Eldritch Palmer, a dying billionaire who craves vampire immortality, the Master has gained unlimited financial and political power to ensure the commencement of his "night eternal". The Master's undead acolytes include Thomas Eichhorst, former Nazi commandant of the Treblinka extermination camp, and Gabriel Bolivar, a handsome and charismatic shock rocker.
An exterminator of Ukrainian ancestry working for the New York City Bureau of Pest Control, Fet's occupation soon leads to his discovering the truth about vampires in a derelict building. Reaching Eph through a professional connection at the CDC, the exterminator lends both his skills as a vermin hunter and his powerful physique to Setrakian and Goodweather's cause. Loyal and unwaveringly brave, he becomes a surrogate son to the old professor.
A Mexican gang member fresh out of juvenile hall, Gus is attacked by a newly turned vampire on the streets of Times Square, and is arrested by the police after throwing the creature under a truck. Learning the truth about vampires from a temporarily incarcerated Setrakian, Gus escapes confinement and finds himself to be a natural vampire slayer on the streets of his tenement neighborhood. Recruited by the other Ancients as a "day hunter" against the Master's exponentially spreading hordes, Gus assembles a rag-tag band of fighters, including aged luchador Angel and silver-toothed gangster Alfonso Creem.
One of the richest men in the world, Eldritch Palmer craves the one thing that all his money cannot buy: immortality. The elderly tycoon's fear of death leads him to make a pact with the Master, trading his vast fortune, political influence, and the fate of the human race in exchange for an undead place at the vampire king's side. (His name is an in-joke reference to the 1965 novel The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick).
Dr. Everett Barnes
As the Director of the Centers for Disease Control, Barnes is Eph and Nora's direct superior. Skilled in the politics and media aspects of the medical industry, he is a shrewd bureaucrat who carefully maintains a quaint, "country doctor" image. His insistence upon wearing a Navy style Public Health Service uniform, combined with his white goatee, make him resemble a combat-decorated Colonel Sanders.
Eph's estranged wife and current opponent in a drawn-out custody battle over their only son. Kelly is a public school teacher and fiercely protective mother, pulling no punches in her attempt to paint her husband as the less suitable parent. Eph constantly worries about the growing influence of her milquetoast live-in boyfriend, Matt, on Zack.
The Times Literary Supplement carried a review by Peter Millar dated 23 May 2009. The review praises the novel's "arresting start" and frequently alludes to Guillermo del Toro's career as a film director by comparing the novel to a Hollywood movie. The implication may be that del Toro intends to direct the film version of the novel. The review closes by calling The Strain a "rattling piece of escapism" with a "predictable" blockbuster ending. Xan Brooks of The Guardian calls the novel "a pulpy, apocalyptic fable" and a "fast-paced, high-concept outing that seems tailor-made for either a big-screen adaptation or - as Hogan has enthused - 'a long-form, cable-type TV series'. And yet at the same time this opening salvo also looks to the past; doffing its cap to an illustrious ancestor." He calls the vampires "mindless, undead leeches."
Zack Handlen, writing for The A.V. Club, was less enthusiastic, concluding that
"the result is a predictable but generally engaging thriller. The chapters come in short bursts, mimicking the editing of a big-budget epic. It makes for a fast read, but the rapid-fire parade of characters means that few make an impact. The world-building works best when it's distracting from cliché, instead of trying to inspire honest emotion. Del Toro fans will recognize certain familiar tropes — the quest for immortality, the vampiric physiognomy, and the ever-popular things in jars — but those motifs are muted on the page."
Similarly, Deirdre Crimmins described the novel as "an imperfect vampire book" marred by "some very awkwardly worded phrases and poorly described scenarios scattered throughout the book" and some "terribly clichéd" characters. Jeff Jensen, reviewing The Strain for Entertainment Weekly, wished for more evidence of del Toro's participation, saying, "It's hard to believe he found time for such an ambitious project — and after reading the book, it seems clear he didn't. ... The Strain is a competently constructed piece of entertainment, and I'll give it bonus points for shaking up some vampire clichés. ... The novel could have used a little less Hogan and little more del Toro."
In 2011 production began on a comic book adaptation of the book trilogy with Dark Horse Comics. Writer David Lapham and artist Mike Huddleston were announced as working on the project, with the series as a whole spanning an estimated 24 issues. The first issue of The Strain was released in November 2011 to mostly positive reviews.
In 2012 it was announced that FX had ordered a pilot episode of The Strain with the intention of creating a limited television series based on the books. Before writing the book trilogy, del Toro had initially planned the books as a television series and stated that if picked up, the series would span three to five seasons. He also commented that he and Hogan would co-write the script for the pilot episode and that as of November 2012 he had already begun casting. Del Toro further commented that he planned to also direct the pilot episode, with a full season airing in 2014 if the show was picked up.
- "‘The Strain’ Drama From Guillermo Del Toro And Carlton Cuse Gets Pilot Order At FX". Deadline. Retrieved 19 February 2013.
- Millar, Peter (23/05/09). "Thriller: The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan". Times Literary Supplement. United Kingdom: The Times. Retrieved 05/08/09.
- Brooks, Xan (12 June 2009). "Fangs ain't what they used to be: Dracula gets a modern makeover in a filmic chiller". The Guardian. United Kingdom: The Guardian. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
- Handlen, Zack (June 18, 2009). "The Strain". The A.V. Club. The Onion, Inc. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
- Crimmins, Deirdre (2009). "The New, Improved Undead". Open Letters Monthly. Boston, MA: Open Letters LLC. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
- Jensen, Jeff (May 27, 2009). "The Strain (2009)". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
- "New Dark Horse Comics by Guillermo del Toro, Tom Morello, P.C. Cast Comic-Con". Comics Alliance. Retrieved 19 February 2013.
- "Comic-Con 2011: Guillermo del Toro, Tom Morello, P.C. Cast Doing Dark Horse Comics This Fall". Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 19 February 2013.
- "Guillermo del Toro Takes on Comic Book Adaption of Vampire Sci-Fi Trilogy". Reelz. Retrieved 19 February 2013.
- "Review: ‘The Strain’ #1 – 4". Bloody Disgusting. Retrieved 19 February 2013.
- "Review: The Strain #1". Crave Online. Retrieved 19 February 2013.
- "FX’s ‘The Bridge’ Picked Up To Series". Deadline. Retrieved 19 February 2013.
- "'Hobbit' Director Guillermo Del Toro Talks Vampire Novel 'The Strain'". MTV. Retrieved 19 February 2013.
- "Guillermo del Toro Talks FX Series THE STRAIN; Says Casting Has Begun for the Pilot, Which They’ll Shoot Next Year". Collider. Retrieved 19 February 2013.