When you think of vampires, chances are you think of Anne Rice's Lestat — gothic, beautiful, tortured, romantic, everything that has practically defined the creatures in pop culture since Rice wrote Interview With the Vampire in 1976. But in her new book, the unusually titled Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis (out now), Rice has shockingly redefined her own creation — and she told us why.
As I mentioned last week, I've been dying to talk about Realms of Atlantis because of how mind-boggling it is, but also how daring — even to me, someone who hadn't read a Vampire Chronicles book in more than two decades. Honestly, in terms of how much it up-ends its own mythology, I'm hard-pressed to think of another spoiler that changes its universe more fundamentally. But I have to reveal it in order for the interview to make sense, so consider this an ultimate...
Sorry, I really want to make sure no one who wants to avoid spoilers sees this.
Aliens have arrived in The Vampire Chronicles. Well, more specifically, they arrived thousands of years ago, but they are hugely responsible for the existence of all vampires, as well as Atlantis.
Before Realms of Atlantis, Lestat and his brethren only knew that the vampire's curse came to be when a bloodthirsty spirit named Amel possessed the ancient Egyptian queen Akasha (the titular Queen of the Damned). It is Amel's spirit that can be passed from vampire to vampire, connecting them all, and giving vampires their powers and weaknesses. In Prince Lestat (2014), it's discovered that Amel is still conscious in this neural vampire network, but primarily residing in the spiritual core of the vampires… which Lestat has absorbed after the defeat of Akasha.
But Amel is not a spirit… at least not originally. As Realms reveals, he is also the founder of Atlantis, a coastal city of unbelievably advanced technology, around 10,000 years ago. The reason he's so smart is because he was abducted by aliens named Bravennans, modified and sent to Earth for reasons I won't spoil. When he rebels the aliens destroy Atlantis, and Amel somehow becomes a spirit, but he also fuses with a special Atlantean technology that ends up forming the essence of everything that makes a vampire a vampire — an essence that can be measured and altered scientifically.
I don't expect everyone to like Rice's massive, massive alteration to her mythos, but I genuinely enjoyed the book, and I loved the audacity of it. It was fascinating to see the classic, gothic world of Lestat suddenly, completely upended — but also to see the vampires engaging and embracing the modern world, forming a real community and, most of all, discovering that their existence, which they once thought to be a divine curse, is actually the result of science — otherworldly science, but science all the same. (And guys? There are so many more surprises I didn't spoil.)
But all of this is preamble. Let Rice herself explain why The Realms of Atlantis contains these shocking revelations, why Rice thinks people shouldn't be surprised and what comes next for Lestat. (And check out the first part of our interview here.)
With Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis, I think you may have invented the genre of gothic science-fiction.
Anne Rice: I see what you mean. Well, I [started] all this with a great emphasis on gothic romance. I wanted these vampires to be dressed in black velvet, wearing white lace. I wanted them to be beautiful and seductive. I wanted them to be like the movie I saw as a child, called Dracula's Daughter (1936). It involved this gothic, beautiful, sensitive, wonderful countess who was in fact the daughter of Dracula, and she was an artist living in London and it was a very romantic presentation of the vampire as a tortured soul. And I loved that. And that was where I was at in the beginning; I wanted these beautiful, irresistible tragic characters to appeal to the reader and for the reader to fall in love with them.
But I have never seen science fiction as in any way anathema to this. Very early on, I did a signing in a science fiction bookstore in 1976, and those science fiction readers who came to that store, they took the vampires absolutely seriously. It was amazing. They walked in and they asked metaphysical questions about Louis' quest for meaning. And I just had such respect for them.
I'm very aware of this sci-fi world, [so I know] it dips a lot into — maybe not the gothic, but it tips into poetry. I mean, Robert Heinlein's stories are just filled with poetry. Ray Bradbury is filled with poetic meaning. And it's so — to me, there was always this reverence to science fiction. So I don't have any fear of going there.
My vampires are so real to me, their gothic allure is so well-established that I don't feel in any way threatened by the hard cult science of science fiction. I go for the metaphysical and poetic side of science fiction. So, it's exciting to me to work with both. It really is. And you know, I hope maybe some sci-fi readers will give this book a chance whereas maybe they weren't interested in vampire fiction before.
Are you worried that some fans might be put off on changing the vampires' origin from something supernatural to something extraterrestrial?
Rice: I've always been looking for that bottom line. I'm always going back to where it all started, and discovering more about "how" it started.
This [continues] the process. It's just digging back even further. Like, what was this entity that came to Akasha? What was it before? Where did it come from? And so to me it's all very logical and it's all of a piece.
Someone might be disappointed. They might have been hoping for a more religious or a more purely mysterious explanation, but I've never actually offered that to readers. I've always offered the biological reality for these palpable beings. They occupy space. They are subject to physical rules, just as we are.
That, to me, is the great dramatic tension. They have to deal with physical limitations even though they appear to be supernatural. They aren't. They're preternatural. What we think of as the supernatural maybe isn't supernatural at all. It's not the abolition of everything we believe in the material world — it's another dimension of the material world that we have yet to really fathom.
Even beyond the big reveal about Atlantis and the aliens, the book doesn't come close to answering all the mysteries in the series. Correct me if I'm wrong, but there are still ghosts, and there are spirits besides them, and their origin is still unknown.
Rice: Where did the spirits come from? And the story of Amel — do we know the full truth? Or is there yet more to be discovered? Is Amel wrong about some of the things he thinks about himself and where he came from? Was Amel the victim of lies about himself?
I'm always dealing with that idea of where the soul comes from. Can a droid have a soul, simply because of awareness? Can it generate a soul? Is a soul made of nanoparticles? All of that I think is important.
But do you already know the answers to these mysteries? The origins of ghosts and spirits in your world?
Rice: I have questions. My questions bump up against the reality that humans just don't know. I mean, that's something I live with at my age now, that I do not know what happens after death, if anything happens after death. I do not know and I can't know and frankly I don't believe people that tell me they know. So I don't know that I can ever offer to the readers an absolute explanation for something as the real reason for why we're here and where we came from — I don't think that's possible.
But I can certainly ask a lot of really interesting questions. And I can imagine a lot of very interesting beings based on what we know of ghosts, apparitions, possession and so forth.
Are there any other details you can tell us about Lestat's future, and/or the next book?
Rice: He'll still be the prince and he'll still be at the chateau and he will still have his closest confidants there. He will have Marius and Armand and Louis and Fareed and Gregory and he will confront yet another huge threat. And the threats that they're confronting are coming out of the internet age. They're confronting the fact that the internet age is enabling immortals and occult beings to come together as never before. It's enabling them to find each other, it's enabling them to talk to each other — so they're confronting — the crises they're confronting are modern crises. And I think that's a thrilling idea.
I like the idea of bringing all that charm and beauty and enchantment into the present time and fusing it with the modern challenges. And think of what the internet must mean to ghosts and spirits, my god. They can find each other. They can find other entities like themselves for whom they may have been divided for centuries.
That's very much a theme in Prince Lestat, too. How is the internet impacting all of this? Little vampire Benjy is one of my favourite characters. He's 12 years old when he's made a vampire, and he's a Bedouin from the nation of Israel. And he has a sense of tribe and a sense of tribal loyalties and he starts using the internet to reach other vampires and to talk to the whole world of vampires — and in a sense, he helps bring them together as a worldwide tribe. And that's very much behind these books.
Before the Atlantis reveal, I was shocked to see not just how much vampires had embraced the modern age, and how positively, but also how they'd formed an actual community together. It's so different from the original books, but it's also clearly a part of the original Vampire Chronicles.
Rice: That's true. There was a story unfolding about the past and now it's the present, it goes even deeper into the past to find answers, but also to better live in the present. To better define themselves in the present. You know, in the past they sometimes got answers and they're just left with despair, you know? The next Prince Lestat book, as I call them — the next one will also be named "Prince Lestat and..." — will also be a book where the past is seen entirely in the terms of the vigorous and vital existence of the present.
Do you anticipate the next book or books containing a bombshell as world-changing as Realms of Atlantis has?
Rice: I don't know. I'm not sure. If other things open up as I'm writing, maybe so. The thing with me is to surrender. To surrender to where it goes. To establish the reality for myself — these characters exist, they're really there, they're talking to me — and to see where they're taking me. And it's possible there would be another bombshell.
You know, until you said that word "bombshell", I didn't really see it that way. So I don't know. I think the next one could perhaps be as radical. Would that be the word? Is it possible? It's possible. What I don't want to lose right now — and I never want to lose — is the court and Lestat as the prince as the community. I don't want to lose that again. And I'm not going to risk it. I've done that in the past. I've risked it. I've thrown it away at the end of books. Because I had to! It didn't sustain for me. It just didn't. And I was so beaten up on by what happened in the book that I crawled out of the book and didn't take anything positive with me. But that's not the way it is now.
Last question. I originally meant this to be a little silly, based on the unexpectedness of Atlantis, but after our discussion... could you envision a story in which Lestat went to the moon?
Rice: I wouldn't rule it out. I might go in that direction. I wouldn't say he's going to the moon, necessarily, but… it could happen. This book has opened up the possibilities of extraterrestrial life. I wouldn't rule it out. I want to see what happens.
If there's going to be an explanation of what happens to a vampire's physiology in space, given that days and nights simply don't exist, there's no one better to answer that question than you.
Rice: Well that's great. That's wonderful. I appreciate that very much. If I'll have an answer, I don't know... but I am very excited about getting into this [next] book. It's too early to know for sure which way it's going to go. I've got some ideas, I've got a map... but I don't know where I'll land.