Amish Vampires in Space by Kerry Nietz

At our podcast live recording at the RT Convention, someone stated that there is a book called Amish Vampires in Space. Clearly, one of us was going to have to read this, and that someone was me. I was fully prepared to mock it to the heavens, but it turned out to be good – in a serious way, not as a parody. I’m very confused by this. My world is rocked.

According to the introduction, Amish Vampires in Space started as a joke. Jeff Gerke was working for a Christian publishing house that was inundated with Amish novels. Just for fun, Jeff came up with a pretend title and cover for a non-existent novel. Much later, the author Kerry Nietz asked for permission to write a book to go with the cover. Instead of using the concept for parody or over-the-top madness, he managed to figure out a premise that would allow for there to be Amish vampires in space – as science fiction/horror. The book has humor, but it’s not silly overall.

Here’s the premise: in the far future, Amish colonists settle a terraformed planet. Amish communities make great colonists because they like the isolation from other cultures and they don’t rely on technology that is difficult or expensive to replace. One colony needs to be evacuated due to problems with their sun. A ship that is basically just a giant UPS truck picks them up. The ship itself is large, with huge cargo bays, a large crew, cafeterias, etc, but the ship’s function is to make routine deliveries. Space travel is so routine for this crew that it’s boring.

En route to pick up the colonists, the ship picks up an injured scientist who has been cryogenically frozen until she reaches a destination with more medical care and the wreckage from her lab. It’s all very routine until one crew member, Greels, becomes obsessed with the frozen scientist, and another crew member, Congi, starts poking around the shipment of wreckage to see if there’s anything he can steal or resell. When the Amish colony is picked up, they are housed in the cargo bay right next to the one with the frozen scientist and the wreckage. What could go wrong?

Of course what goes wrong is that Congi gets bitten by something that infects him with vampirism. He starts feeding, first on the Amish colonists’ farm animals, and then on the Amish and the crew. Victims experience a coma-like state and high fever, after which they wake up with more energy than ever before, but also with strange behavior. By the time anyone realizes what’s happening, most of the passengers and crew are infected, leading to some seriously creepy horror scenes as the survivors attempt to escape.

This story consists of multiple genres coming together, all with their own plausible conflicts. The story kicks off when Jebediah (the protagonist) uses a beacon to summon help (this is a simplification). The community is upset that he kept the existence of the beacon from him (it was passed down in his family in secret). They are also upset because both staying and leaving present different threats to the community (this is before the vampire problem kicks in). The book doesn’t have much romance, but the relationship between Jebediah and his pregnant wife, Sarah, is lovely (Sarah is often anxious because of her pregnancy but as soon as she has something to do she has nerves of steel).

I don’t know much about the Amish, nor have I read any Amish romances. I have to wonder how accurate the portrayal of the Amish is in this book (even granting allowances for the fact that some of them become vampires on a spaceship, which disrupts their worship considerably). As far as I can tell, the portrayal seems respectful of the community. There is a stereotypical older leader who is rigid to the point of stupidity, but parallel characters can be found in the secular spaceship crew as well. The fears of the Amish make sense and largely turn out to be justified, even as certain flexibility in following rules leads to survival. The Amish are neither naïve nor foolish – at least, no more so than the crew.

Plotlines involving the crew are more one-dimensional. Greels is a creepy dude. Congi is a greedy materialist who doesn’t give a shit about anyone else,and the captain is a more mobile version of the captain in Wall-E in the sense that he realizes that he’s never actually been a leader or done anything heroic. The strongest element of the ship plot line is how it conveys the colossal boredom of space travel when the route is established and there’s nothing to do between picking up cargo and unloading cargo.

The horror aspect of the story doesn’t quite come together but various scenes are absolutely chilling. One of the first things that happens to the infected is that they begin losing their inhibitions and acting out. The leader of the Amish community didn’t want to leave the planet for fear of moral contamination from the non-Amish crew – and when his congregation starts flaunting their infidelity and drunkenness, there’s nothing liberating about it. It’s horrifying. There are terrifying scenes with the infected taunting survivors (“We found you!”) and there are nightmarish passages of survivors running through endless corridors.

Readers should know that among the infected and killed are animals. This leads to such rather delightful elements as a vampire goat but also to a lot of animal death. While children are not killed on the page, their deaths are implied. There is some discussion of Christianity (one of the crew members is a non-Amish Christian and there’s a lot of discussion about the differences between the Amish beliefs and more mainstream Christian beliefs) but the book isn’t terribly preachy. In one of may favorite moments it starts to cross the preachy line just as another crew member interrupts to ask if they can get back to vampire fighting.

This book earns a C+ for a couple of reasons. One is that the author has an odd tick in which a full sentence is frequently followed by a sentence fragment. This happens constantly and it’s awkward and irritating. Also, most of the characters, especially the crew members, could have used more nuance and development. As the story progresses, it runs off the rails (literally and figuratively) to a certain extent. Overall though, I have to hand the author my respect for patching all the motifs together in a way that pretty much works and that sincerely scared me. If nothing else, it’s fun to read something different, and something in which you can really see an author tackling a challenge.

An anecdote – I read this while flying home from RT and we hit some serious turbulence and I thought, “Oh God, I’m going to die. I’m going to die while reading Amish Vampires in Space.” Luckily I lived, and finished the book just as my luggage rolled of the baggage carousel – perfect timing. And yes, there’s a sequel, with zombies, to entertain me on my next flight.

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Amish Vampires in Space by Kerry Nietz

January 3, 2014

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