I raved last year about Christopher Pike and the Last Vampire series, and how one benefit of the Twilight phenomenon is that stories I read as a teen are being re-released. Now, as I make my way towards the end of Pike’s second compilation, Thirst: No. 2, I have mixed emotions.
First, reading as an adult, I’m beginning to remember why I dropped out before the series ended. These last three novels, Phantom, Evil Thirst and Creatures of Forever — go off the rails. Kalika, ancient Egypt, reptilian aliens…it’s all very “Who with the what now?” The straightforward tale of a five-thousand-year-old Indian vampire gets muddied with irrelevant off-the-wall plots. And therein lies the second problem I have with the books.
As much as I love Alisa Perne, a.k.a Sita, and think her internal voice is beautifully authentic — she feels Indian and Hindu — I can’t help but wonder if her being white is a cop-out. And she’s not just white, she’s the idealized epitome of white female beauty: the svelte, blue-eyed blonde. Sure, there’s the built-in Aryan explanation — though I’m sure it’s debatable as to how fair-skinned Aryans really were, given the geography and climate — and one could also point out that the entire series hinges upon Alisa being able to wander around the United States without sticking out like a sore thumb. But she sticks out anyway by being incredibly beautiful. What’s a tan and black hair going to take away from that? So why? Why does such a gorgeous story about faith and identity have to be pegged not just around her passing as human but also passing as a white Westerner?
I don’t want to diminish that she’s still very much Indian for being Aryan/blonde/white; however when we have a bitter history in this world of minority tales being told and retold — effectively legitimized — by white voices, I can’t help but be bugged by it. It’s as though the story of Sita, the last vampire, devotee of Krishna, wasn’t good enough with her just being a regular brown Indian. To sell it to an audience, to market it to teens, she had to be something better. “Your culture is cool enough to write a book about,” this says to teen readers of South Asian origin, “but not if you look like you.” And the new covers reinforce that…showcasing this ghostly pale, blonde girl with red lips. You don’t know that it’s a story about India by looking at it.
You’re effectively “fooled” into reading about a different culture. Ha-ha! Gotcha! Frankly, that marketing ploy pisses me off to no end. Like, “Hey, see Valentine’s Day because Bradley Cooper and Julia Roberts flirt…oh, by the way, we won’t tell you until you see it that he’s gay.” That doesn’t make you edgy or win you cool diversity points. It makes you a coward.
So how brave is it, really, to tell a story about an Indian, Hindu vampire that has all the glamorous parts of the experience — the culture, the spirituality, the bad-assness — but none of the annoyingly difficult stuff like being a racial minority?
I mean, that…bites.