I avoid reading headnotes to stories. I don’t mind when they tell me about the author. I appreciate the warning if it’s the twelfth installment of a long-running series. But I hate it when they say anything about the story. They either say too much and drop a spoiler, or they tell me something that prejudices me against it. Like saying there’s vampires. So when I failed to avoid the headnote for “Miguel and the Viatura” by Eric Gregory, and read that the story has a new take on the urban vampire, I had a sinking feeling.
In a gritty future São Paulo (which is portrayed vividly, if you like that sort of thing), Miguel is a street kid who somehow remains naïve and sweet. His older brother Joaõ is running around with a bad crowd. Their father, once Joseph Simão, is dead but reanimated with someone else’s mind. He is the “viatura”, which means vehicle in Portuguese. Or the “horse” of a loa. The mind riding his body isn’t working too well, rendering him or them into a homeless man who shuffles around apologizing. I rather liked the viatura, as an effort to cheat death has become something sad and pitiable.
Meanwhile, Joaõ’s friends are in varying stages of turning themselves into vampires. Mostly they strike me as kids playing a stupid game, which tallies with how I feel about vampire stories, and it doesn’t make me like this one any better. I put it aside at this point, but since this is Installment Seven in the Torque Control short story club, I made do with skimming.
Maybe I missed some clues or unstated assumptions, but it’s not entirely clear to me why Joaõ asks Miguel to help him find their father. Joaõ is so vague about the situation that he manages to hurt Miguel deeply without even touching him. Miguel is almost entirely on the receiving end of the action, but the powers that be leap to the conclusion that he is to blame. Mostly things happen to Miguel, and all he can do is protest. Sure he’s a kid, and he grows up a little, but I was left with no idea what he was going to do in the end. There’s also a “torture is pointless and cruel” scene that goes on way too long, but I suppose it wouldn’t be torture if it stopped when you got tired of it.
As for the technology, this comes off as one of those nano-can-do-anything stories. I was also jarred by the term “nanite”, which I mostly associate with Star Trek. Finally, what we see of nanotech seems to be confined to making people into monsters. What’s the point? These people sure as hell don’t need technology to act monstrously.
So the headnote was accurate after all. It set me up for not liking this story, and even after I tried to give it a chance, I didn’t like it.