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Chasing the Dragon
Nicholas Kaufmann
ChiZine Publications, 134 pages

Chasing the Dragon
Nicholas Kaufmann
Nicholas Kaufmann is the author of the Bram Stoker Award-nominated General Slocum's Gold (Burning Effigy Press), Hunt at World's End (as Gabriel Hunt, Leisure Books), Chasing the Dragon (ChiZine Publications) and the collection Walk in Shadows (Prime Books). His fiction has appeared in Cemetery Dance, The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica 3, City Slab, The Best American Erotica 2007, Playboy and others. In addition to writing the monthly "Dead Air" column for The Internet Review of Science Fiction, his non-fiction has appeared in On Writing Horror (Writers Digest Books), Dark Scribe Magazine, and others. He has also served on the Board of Trustees for the Horror Writers Association and is a member of the International Thriller Writers.

Nicholas Kaufmann Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Seamus Sweeney

Horror fiction has resorted to the familiar monsters of myth and legend many times. Most notoriously, and notably, the vampire, but also the other familiar weird and/or undead creatures of the horror canon. One exception is the dragon. The dragon is the creature of fantasy, from the story of the Hobbit who lived in a hole to the Dragonriders of Pern. Dragons have not featured much in contemporary horror writing.

Perhaps because it is harder to integrate dragons into an otherwise plausible here-and-now setting. Perhaps it is because dragons are inextricably linked with foundation myths and medieval epics. Our consciousness of vampires, on the other hand, even though the vampire myths are probably as old as those of dragons, is primarily shaped by Stoker's creation of a Transylvanian gentleman hiring lawyers from Victorian London, which at the time was as contemporary as you could get. Need more evidence? There never was a X-Files "Monster of the Week" episode involving dragons, and after all Chris Carter and friends raided every other trope of horror, fantasy and speculative fiction generally.

Nicholas Kaufmann sets this novella in a definite present. We begin with Georgia Quincey, dragonslayer, fighting the dragon in the ruins of an isolated New Mexico diner. This dragon does not, at this stage, fight directly, but through the reanimated corpses of her victims -- "meat puppets." Mutilated, eviscerated corpses pursue Georgia through the story as she follows her family business. For Georgia is a born dragonslayer, and not only that but a direct descendant of George of Cappadocia -- patron saint of England and of Moscow, portrayed on innumerable Orthodox icons and English pub signs expertly lancing a scaly dragon through the mouth.

Except things didn't quite work out that way. George of Cappadocia didn't kill the dragon. His descendants are bound to try, but have so far all failed. Through the generations, the lore of the dragon is handed down, as well as the ability to sense by means of bloody visions in what, apparently random, location the dragon is wreaking bloody havoc. The visions become bloodier, and the locations of these massacres gradually is revealed to be less random than they had seemed.

One of the themes of modern horror fiction is the disconnect between special powers of any kind and the ability to live even the semblance of a normal life. The dragon butchers her parents, and her knowledge of what her destiny is destroys Georgia's only shot at a loving relationship. She turns to heroin in despair. The pun of the books title is only one of the many ironies relating to Georgia's addiction to an opiate, as well as the unwelcome compulsion to try and slay the dragon. Suffice it to say that this habit, that shames her, that leads her to question her worth as a person and a dragonslayer, also keeps her alive and plays a crucial role in the climax.

Kaufmann provides a coherent, culturally credible mythos drawing on a eclectic range of traditions for this dragon story. He does not engage in too much explanation of technicalities as to how the dragon gets around the place, for instance, and this is all to the good. This is an intense little novella that packs quite a punch. Poe wrote on the superiority of the short story to the novel, despite the tremendous cultural bias towards the novel, because the short story could be read in one sitting and could thereby deliver a more powerful effect. In an age of literary elephantiasis, it is good to encounter a rich imagination that does believe in indulgent prolixity. The book could be read in a short flight or long bus ride, and possesses the essential quality of page-turnability.

There is a satisfying amount of gore, and the later appearance of the dragon in quasi-human form makes one's flesh creep. Perhaps it is too obviously "cinematic" in structure -- with an action-packed beginning, numerous emotional flashback scenes, and an appropriately gargantuan climax. At times it reads too much like a novelisation of a somewhat more stark than usual blockbuster.

There is also a feminist thread, lightly worn, to the story -- Georgia is the first female dragonslayer, her birth bringing to an end an era of male-preference primogeniture dating back to George of Cappadocia. Georgia's father appears to her periodically, as she wallows in the shame of heroin addiction, somewhat in the fashion of Hamlet's father. No man really lives up to her father, and what male characters she encounters -- with one exception -- are creeps, lowlifes, or lack belief in her. Then again, the one female character she encounters is a vacuous junkie who seems to be a meat puppet even before the dragon appears on the scene.

Chasing The Dragon is a novel take on one of the oldest monster stories we tell ourselves. It is refreshing to read of a dragonslayer that belongs more in a Tarantino movie than in some kind of quasi-medieval epic. Perhaps the dragon won't take over from the vampire as the favoured monster of best-selling horror fiction, but it is good to think that it is rejoining the horror menagerie.

Copyright © 2010 Seamus Sweeney

Seamus Sweeney is a freelance writer and medical graduate from Ireland. He has written stories and other pieces for the website and other publications. He is the winner of the 2010 Molly Keane Prize. He has also written academic articles as Seamus Mac Suibhne.

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