Saberhagen, Frederick Thomas

Saberhagen, Frederick Thomas (1930–)

(pop culture)

Frederick Thomas Saberhagen is a science fiction writer and author of a series of novels expanding upon the Dracula theme. He became a freelance writer in 1962 and his first novel, The Golden People, was published by Ace Books in 1964. It was followed by The Water of Thought (1965) and a number of short stories. In 1967 Saberhagen took a job as an assistant editor with Encyclopedia Britannica, a position he held for six years before returning to full-time writing.

In 1967, Beserker, a set of short stories and the first book in what was to become the “Beserker” series, began to establish Saberhagen as a leading science fiction writer. The “beserkers” are self-programming and self-replicating robotic spacecraft engineered to kill anything that still lives by their creators, a race long-since dead. The appearance of these mechanical demonic forces drives the divided intelligent life forms to unite against them. In the process, the beserkers become a stimulus to increased progress, which possibly would have not have been made otherwise.

Saberhagen’s work is characterized by the blend of science, in which he shows a solid grounding, with mythic and legendary materials. Integrating the two provides him a base for metaphysical speculation. The “Beserker” series, for example, became the vehicle for a lengthy treatment of the role of evil in human life.

In the mid-1970s, Saberhagen stepped out of his science fiction world to publish the first of seven novels using with the Dracula theme. These novels started with the interesting hypothesis that Dracula was in fact the hero in the events that took place in Bram Stoker‘s novel. In the first volume in the series, The Dracula Tape (1975), Dracula is telling his story into a tape recorder. He takes the reader step-by-step through the story, explaining how he tried not to vampirize Jonathan Harker, but to protect him. He justified his actions regarding Lucy Westenra as a reaction to Abraham Van Helsing who, in his ignorance of blood types, was killing her by his transfusions. In the end, her only hope was to be turned into a vampire. His involvement with Lucy led to his falling in love with Mina Murray, who was, at that point, married to Harker. This theme reappeared in later volumes in the series.

The Dracula Tape received mixed reviews, especially with Saberhagen’s science fiction fans, but gained an audience among vampire/Dracula enthusiasts. It initiated what has become a new approach to the vampire myth. By treating Dracula sympathetically, Saberhagen enlarged the myth in such a way that it could speak to the contemporary need for individuals to develop an understanding of others who are very different. It also opened the possibility of making the vampire a hero, not just an anti-hero.

Dracula as a hero allowed a broad new expanse into which he could be introduced. Saberhagen first developed an obvious theme, the possible encounter of Dracula with his contemporary, Sherlock Holmes. In The Holmes-Dracula File, the two joined forces to prevent the introduction of plague-bearing rats into London during Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations. Continuing the attack upon the heroes of Stoker’s Dracula, Saberhagen introduced John Seward (the character from the original novel) into The Holmes-Dracula File as the villain behind the dastardly plot.

Dracula’s feelings for Mina Murray, who made a brief appearance in the Holmes story to reaffirm her love for Dracula, served as the basis for the third volume, An Old Friend of the Family (1979). Dracula had developed a means by which Mina and her descendants could contact him should they need him. The need arose in the late 1970s in Chicago, Saberhagen’s hometown.

Summoned by Judy Southerland, Dracula, using the pseudonym of Dr. Emile Corday, arrived to find that the incidents experienced by Mina’s descendants merely masked a plot directed against him by Morgan, a redheaded vampiress who resented Dracula’s influence on the vampire community. After defeating Morgan, Dracula settled in the United States.

In the fourth novel, Dracula changed his name to Thorn (1980) and became involved in a conspiracy to steal a painting that turned out to be a portrait of Helen Hundayi. She was, according to the story, Dracula’s first wife. In Dominion (1982) Dracula, now known as Talisman, encountered Nimue, the Lady of the Lake, who was attempting to bring the master magician, Falerin, to the fore as the supreme ruler. Dracula had an ally in Ambrosius (known to the world as Merlin), whose magical power was needed to finally defeat Nimue.

The sixth of Saberhagen’s Dracula novels appeared in 1990. A Matter of Taste returned Dracula, now known as Matthew Maule, to Chicago where he had settled as the Southerland family’s Uncle Matthew. The story concerned an attempt by Dracula’s vampire enemies to kill him. Very early, Dracula was poisoned and lay near death in his bed. The Southerlands protected him against his foes until he could recover and defeat them decisively. This novel also had Dracula recounting the story of his origins—an inventive tale of Prince Dracula becoming a vampire. In A Question of Time (1992), Dracula joined forces with detective Joe Keogh to fight Edgar Tyrell, a menacing vampire who seemed able to affect time itself. And the series has continued.

Saberhagen’s Dracula appeared on the heels of William Edward Daniel Ross‘s Dark Shadows novels, but took Ross’s sympathetic treatment of the vampire one step further. The Dracula Tape was followed by Anne Rice‘s Interview with the Vampire, which also had the vampire telling his story into a tape recorder. Saberhagen’s Dracula differed strongly, however, from both the Dark Shadows and Anne Rice vampires. Unlike Barnabas Collins, Dracula had no problem with his vampire state, no anguish about his uncontrollable drive, and no wish to change. Unlike Rice’s Louis and Lestat de Lioncourt, Saberhagen’s Dracula manifested little ambiguity in his situation. Dracula was a hero whose moral situation was rather clear—he had found the means to handle most of the questions that would be raised about his preying upon the human race.

While producing the Dracula novels, Saberhagen continued to publish science fiction novels at a steady pace, and during the 1970s he also began to write fantasy novels, most prominently the “Swords” and “Lost Swords” series. He edited anthologies on chess, Pawn to Infinity (1982), and archaeology, A Spadeful of Spacetime (1981) as well.

Saberhagen’s Dracula novels brought him to the attention of Francis Ford Coppola, and he was chosen, along with coauthor James V. Hart, to write the novelization of Coppola’s screenplay for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Saberhagen continued his Dracula series through the mid-1990s with Séance for a Vampire (1994) and A Sharpness in the Neck (1996), and into the new century with A Coldness in the Blood (2002). He was the literary guest of honor at Dracula ‘97: A Centennial Celebration at which he was honored by the Transylvanian Society of Dracula for his Dracula series.

Sources:

Saberhagen, Fred. The Dracula Tape. New York: Paperback Library, 1975. 206 pp.
———. The Holmes-Dracula File. New York: Ace Books, 1978. 249 pp.
———. An Old Friend of the Family. New York: Ace Books, 1979. Rept. New York: TOR, 1987. 247 pp.
———. Thorn. New York: Ace Books, 1980. 347 pp.
———. Dominion. New York: TOR, 1982. 320 pp.
———. A Matter of Taste. New York: TOR, 1990. 284 pp.
———. A Question of Time. New York: TOR, 1992. 278 pp.
———. and James V. Hart. Bram Stoker’s Dracula. New York: New American Library, 1992. 298 pp.
———. Séance for a Vampire. New York: TOR, 1994. 285 pp.
———. A Sharpness in the Neck: New York: TOR, 1996. 349 pp.
———. A Coldness in the Blood. New York: TOR, 2002. 383 pp.
Smith, Curtis C., ed. Twentieth-Century Science-Fiction Writers. Chicago: St. James Press, 1986. 933 pp.
Wilgus, Neal. “Saberhagen’s New Dracula: The Vampire as Hero.” In Discovering Modern Horror Fiction. Darrel Schweitzer, ed. San Bernardino, CA: Borgo Press, 1987: 92–8.