Book Review – “Stagestruck Vampires and Other Phantasms”

Do you like vampires, werewolves, shamans, and reptilian aliens? Well, they’re all in here.

General Information

Title: Stagestruck Vampires and Other Phantasms

Author: Suzy McKee Charnas

Original Publication Date: This collection published in 2004 includes material dating back to 1980, material created for this book, and a few from times in between.

ISBN: 1-892391-21-X

Cover Price: $24.95 US, $34.95 Canadian

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This collection includes:

  • “Beauty and the Opera or The Phantom Beast,” retelling the latter portion of “Phantom of the Opera” from the perspective of the captive female.
  • “Unicorn Tapestry,” about a vampire and his psychiatrist.
  • “Boobs,” about a young girl whose experiences in puberty are very different from anything we might call typical.
  • “Evil Thoughts,” about a woman who doesn’t get along with her neighbours.
  • “Preface to Advocates,” a short set of comments which set up the collaboration (with Chelsea Quinn Yarbro) which follows it.
  • “Advocates,” about two different types of vampires trying to coexist. This is the second appearance of Weyland, from “The Unicorn Tapestry,” within this particular collection.
  • “A Musical Interlude,” the third and final appearance of Weyland within these pages, in which he tries to feed while at an opera.
  • “Peregrines,” about a couple of orphans who find shelter with a Tarot card reader.
  • “Listening to Brahms,” the sci-fi entry about the remnants of humanity in an alien culture.
  • “Stagestruck Vampires,” an essay about bringing “Unicorn Tapestry” to the theatre stage.
  • “They’re Right, Art Is Long,” an essay about the experience of writing a quadrilogy (The Holdfast Chronicles) set in a post-apocalyptic future.

High Point

While “Beaty and the Opera,” “Unicorn Tapestry,” and “Listening to Brahms” are all quite good, I’d have to pick “Unicorn Tapestry” as the best of the set. This seems to be the most independent entry, while the others depend upon a certain amount of familiarity with other (well known) materials.

Low Point

“A Musical Interlude,” like some of those mentioned in the high point, is most enjoyable when the reader has a certain knowledge of outside material. In this case, the outside material is an opera titled Tosca, with which I am wholly unfamiliar. I still understood and enjoyed the story, but it contained a considerable amount of explanation about what was happening on stage at the time. While I can see the interesting artistic coincidences in the comparisons and contrasts between the action on and off the stage, I felt that the sheer amount of exposition required to make sure readers unfamiliar with Tosca would catch on slowed the story down. Personally, I believe it would be a little easier to read if the referenced to stage action had been cut back to just enough information for those already familiar with the opera to catch on, thus spending more time on the narrative that the unfamiliar reader is here for.

The Scores

This is a fairly original collection. While some use existing material for juxtaposition, or as a springboard for a new story, other entries are entirely new, often with new ideas. I’d give the complete package a 5 out of 6.

The imagery in most stories is good. You can picture the characters and settings, but we usually don’t get slogged down by detail. My only complaint in this area was the amount of time spent describing the opera in “A Musical Interlude.” I give it 4 out of 6.

The stories told usually move well, and are complete. The final essay ends somewhat abruptly, but that’s by design. I give it 5 out of 6.

The characterization is usually good. Weyland is very well defined in his appearances. The fiction includes strong characters at the focus, and those characters get defined with depth and subtlety. The secondary characters don’t generally acheive those depths, though, which makes it clear to the reader which characters will be important in the course of the tale. While there is a limit to how much time you want to spend developing the secondary characters, particularly in short stories, a little more time would have been nice. I give it 4 out of 6.

The emotional response varies. Some of the entries here (both fiction and non-fiction) really held my interest and kept me moving along. “Boobs” and “Evil Thoughts” were interesting, but not engrossing. “A Musical Interlude” ended up detaching me with all of the time spent describing the opera. I give it 4 out of 6.

The editing category usually covers two aspects of the material being reviewed. The most important one is the coherence of ideas and pace of the narrative. I’ve already mentioned that the dependence on familiarity with other material may be a sticking point for some readers in various stories, but that most stories still move along anyway. (“The Beauty and the Opera” takes some time to get started, but it does move along once it’s going.) The other aspect to this category is a general impression of typographical errors and other publisher-type complications to the material. In this case, I’ve been given the Advance Reader Copy, which means that this edition hasn’t been rechecked for such errors, and that the published versions will likely be in much better shape. As such, I’m going to ignore this aspect of the category in this review, and grade it solely on the artistic coherence, in which case it earns a 4 out of 6.

Overall, it’s a good collection of genre material with a bias towards fantasy in general and vampires in particular. I give it 4 out of 6.

In total, Stagestruck Vampires and Other Phantasms receives 30 out of 42.

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