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Review: Dead Collections by Isaac Fellman

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I loved The Breath of the Sun and its prose so much the author landed on my auto-buy list. How could I not try Dead Collections as soon as I could get my hands on it? Especially with this gorgeous cover, especially when the premise is “trans archivist vampire”? Luckily, it was very much not another highly anticipated disappointment, but delivered exactly what I wanted – quiet, messily queer literary fantasy with excellent prose.

Sol is an archivist suffering from vampirism – which is much like a chronic illness in this setting, requiring regular blood transfusions. When Elsie comes to donate the papers her wife, a well known tv writer for a show that Sol used to be a fan of, left after her death, the two instantly connect.

What follows is a quiet, very very queer romance with a melancholy litfic tone, though not without humour (that joke about Elsie being willing to “fuck a vampire, but not a trumpeter” was top notch). The take on vampires is perhaps the most low-key and downplayed I’ve ever seen – the common traits are there, from a need for blood to being susceptible to sunlight, but nobody really treats it as a big deal, least of all the narrative. I can see this disappointing those who come to SFF for a certain sense of wonder, but I rather liked it. As I did intertwining the talk of the fictional tv show with ones that really do exist, it made the setting feel much more real and lived in than if every media mentioned was fictional.

The queer kids a few years ago liked to talk about trash, like Oscar the Grouch might talk about trash—I’m trash, I’m a heap, a pile, in a Dumpster, cartoon banana peels, a soft carpet of dead salad. […] But archives really are trash. Everything in the archives is something that somebody thought about throwing away and didn’t. To play in the garbage chute, to find out about all these old traumas and dramas—that’s where the glee comes in, glee like having someone scoop up the papers behind you and let them flutter down on your hand.

Thematically, it was also very up my alley. There’s a lot of discussion of gender in all its messy complexity, with Elsie slowly realising she might not be as cis as she thought. Some very timely discussion of fandom and fanfic (although though bulletin boards and AOL newsgroups – god that made me feel young), touching upon ableism through Sol’s chronic illness about which so many characters talk with great concern then absolutely refuse to do anything to help him not die from sun exposure and call him selfish for just trying to survive, the way other people’s discomfort with him being disabled and/or trans is prioritised over his life…but the overarching theme for me was navigating the messy reality of being queer. Given that the author is also a transmasc archivist himself I can’t help but wonder (even though it’s, ultimately, none of my business) how much of himself did he put into it – for one, the knowledge of archive work definitely shines through, and I love when authors put something they’re clearly passionate about in their writing.

I hope that getting noticed by the big publishers (this and The Two Doctors Górski novella coming later this year) means Fellman’s work will finally get the attention and talk it deserves. I’m certainly looking forward to more.

Enjoyment: 5/5
Execution: 5/5

Recommended to: prose enthusiasts, vampire fans, those looking for something beautiful and slice of life adjacent and extremely queer, those who like a survivor (rather than action-seeking) kind of protagonist
Not recommended to: anyone expecting a flashier, more wondrous take on vampires, those who don’t like what I call a melancholy litfic tone

Content warnings: casual transphobia and ableism

 

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