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Literature / The Strain

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The Strain is the first book in a horror trilogy by crime novelist Chuck Hogan and acclaimed director Guillermo del Toro.

The first book chronicles the arrival of an airplane at JFK airport filled with dead bodies drained of their blood. Dr. Ephraim Goodweather of the CDC is called in to investigate, but is baffled by the virus that seems to have killed these people. That is, until an old man provides him with information that this is not a virus, but another V-Word: Vampire.

Followed by two sequels: The Fall released in 2010 and The Night Eternal in 2011. The book has been adapted into a TV show by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan, The Strain (TV series), and also an (extremely faithful) comic book adaption.

The book includes examples of:

  • Action Survivor: Ephram Goodweather
  • After the End: The Night Eternal is set after the nations nuked each other, plunging the world into nuclear winter, allowing the Master and his legions to take over the world.
  • Arch-Enemy: Setrakian to the Master.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Palmer insists that the Master will honor his promise to make Palmer immortal, since the Master's plan could never have worked without him. Eph replies that the Master has already turned thousands of "ordinary" people into vampires "for free", and asks simply, "Then why is he making you wait in line?"
  • Artifact of Doom: The Occido Lumen. It's a book that details the origins of the vampire race, and wherever it goes, death and destruction follow.
  • Artistic License Religion: A variant. The book tries to present the idea that what eventually wound up in scripture was a diluted version of the truth, but some of the more unique ideas presented include the idea that Azriel, the Archangel of Death who is viewed as a very kind entity in Islam and certain other variations of the Abrahamic faiths, went mad and murdered another Archangel.
  • Barbie Doll Anatomy: The vampires are shown to be missing genitalia. This crosses over with Body Horror when you realize that their genitals have literally rotted off.
  • Blind Seer: A group of blind children are turned to create good trackers.
  • Big Applesauce: When evil heads to the New World, which city will he land at? The book explains this to some extent - although New York is an island, inconvenient if you can't cross flowing water without being invited, it has a vast underground system perfect for hiding in. It's also implied that the Master, a spirit of evil and destruction, is attracted to the site of the World Trade Center where so many died.
  • Bittersweet Ending: At the end of the third and final book, the Master and his minions are destroyed, but Eph and many other characters are also dead. Plus, human civilization is utterly devastated.
  • Body Horror: The transformation from human to vampire is quite detailed, including how the lungs are turned inside out to form the stinger.
  • But What About the Astronauts?: Global Vampire attacks prevent NASA from retrieving the three astronauts on ISS. The American astronaut provides commentary on the state of the world from above while Ground Control provides exposition on the state of the rest of the world.
  • Captain's Log: Eph's Diary and Fet's Blog provide a bit of emotional insight and additional exposition.
  • The Chessmaster: Eldritch Palmer.
  • Collector of the Strange: As a pawnbreaker Setrakian has many strange things, but then you get down to his basement and see that he has kept a vampire heart alive in a jar by pricking his finger every day among many other things.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Setrakian's armory of anti-vampire weapons. Explained in that he's had nearly sixty years to amass and collect them.
  • Darker and Edgier: The vampires in this trilogy are probably some of the nastiest ever put to paper. They're bloodthirsty monsters that are shells of who they once were, with absolutely no attractive traits whatsoever. The Fall is this to The Strain, with its extremely pessimistic view of The Power of Love, the rapid downfall of the human race at the hands of the Master, and a Downer Ending that paves the way for an even bleaker setting in the final book.
  • Deadly Book: All who have possessed the cursed book The Occido Lumen (or Silver Codex) have met with corruption or death, and it leaves a wake of destruction.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: After re-killing her husband, Hermann — who had been described as a "rapist" one of the worms slips into her through her anus.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Setrakian goes down the way he lived, kicking vampire ass.
    • Former Luchadore the Silver Angel gets a similar moment in the same scene; he dons his old mask, charges into the fight between Setrakian and the Master, and effectively slaps the latter across the face with his old signature move, which is amazing given the Master's speed.
  • Enemy Mine: Near the end of The Fall, Setrakian and the hunters team up with the Ancients to use their acquired wealth to obtain the Occido Lumen at an auction. The Ancients are hoping Setrakian will hand it to them so they can destroy it, but he has other plans.
  • Expy:
    • The Goth rock star, Gabriel Bolivar, seems to be based on Marilyn Manson, with the exception that Bolivar is described as being very handsome.
    • Center for Disease Control Director Everett Barnes' resemblance to Colonel Sanders is likely based on former Surgeon General Everett Koop.
    • As an evil old rich guy with failing health who has spent years searching for the secret to vampiric immortality, Eldritch Palmer has a lot in common with Dieter de la Guardia, the villain from del Toro's debut film Cronos.
    • The Silver Angel is one to El Santo, legendary Masked Luchador Big Good of Lucha Libre and cult film series fame.
    • Quinlan is more or less Blade, due to his backstory in which his mother was fed upon and infected by the Master, transforming Quinlan while he was still in the womb. He also shares some similarities with Jared Nomak, considering his quest for vengeance against his "father" for turning him into a monster.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Augustin "Gus" Elizalde. He's a Mexican gangbanger, but he cares very deeply for his stay-at-home mother.
  • Fantastic Racism: The Ancients see humans as mere cattle, and the Master is even worse.
  • Fate Worse than Death: The fate of the Nazi vampire, Dr. Dreverhaven. Setrakian dismembers him, places him in a coffin, and drops him in the sea, forever cut off from the Master. And given the horrific implications of his crimes, there couldn't have been anyone in this series more deserving of it than him.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: Several of the vampires that escape from the morgue have their clothes removed. One of them is a fat guy who gets in a fight with Gus.
  • Fingore: While he was in a concentration camp, Setrakian had the fingers on both of his hands broken by the Master, with the intention that this would lead to his death in the way that he most feared (being killed by the Nazis and thrown into a mass crematorium). While it failed to attain the intended goal thanks to a last minute prisoner revolt, it resulted in his hands being permanently disfigured.
  • First Father Wins: Played painfully straight with Matt in The Strain. Matt is painted as a milquetoast coward, works to divide Kelly and Eph and his thinking Eph's crazy and trying to get attention leads to both he and Kelly staying in New York and dying. His ultimate turning and destruction by Eph was probably the closest you can get to outright murdering of a "substitute father" without actually feeling guilt.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Eph dies detonating the nuke that destroys the Master.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Palmer uses his connections to paint Ephram in very unfavorable light in the media.
  • Homage: To Dracula; the famous scene in Bram Stoker's novel when the Demeter, a Russian ship, runs aground crew-less in England is updated in this novel to a Boeing 777 which inexplicably shuts down completely shortly after landing. The Master's going to New York parallels Dracula going to London.
  • Horror Hunger: Ansel Barbour's arc. His thirst for blood steadily growing, he tries eating and drinking everything out of the fridge... only to be aroused by the bloody meat. This all culminates in him feeding on the family dogs.
  • I Have Your Wife: It doesn't end well. She is infected by the Master and turned against her family.
  • Jar of the Bizarre: Abraham Setrakian keeps the still-beating heart of his vampirized wife in a jar, because he can't bear to fully destroy her.
  • Justified Trope: Every single break from traditional conceptions of vampires is explained. Religious artifacts have no effect, but when vampires were first known to the world in the middle ages, the church used them as an opportunity to increase their own power by saying only God could kill them. Garlic is ineffective, but its usefulness in folk remedies and its unpleasant smell gave rise to the belief. Their stinger leaves only a small, thin slit, but Head Hunters are shown to execute humans with long, vaguely fang-like iron spikes, making two wounds to the neck appear as a bite. They don't turn into bats and wolves, but before houses had basements and cellars, they would hid in caves near towns, driving the animals in them out into the town. A similar effect happens in New York, but with rats.
  • Large and in Charge:
    • The Master's initial body comes from Sardu, a 19th century German aristocrat suffering from gigantism who is two and half meters tall. After his body is damaged he takes Bolivar's.
    • "Mr. Quinlan", the Ancients' head... headhunter, is described as being very large.
      • To be fair, Quinlan is a half-breed created by The Master feeding on but not killing a pregnant woman in ancient Rome.
    • Vasily Fett is described as "filling the doorway."
    • Angel Hurtado, a former wrestler is also very large.
  • Looks Like Orlok: The Master bears a resemblance — in particular, his face is described as particularly vile, capable of inciting terror all by itself.
  • Magical Jew: Professor Abraham Setrakian, a Romanian Jewish academic, Holocaust survivor and vampire hunter. He initially serves to provide ignored warnings about the impending vampire pandemic before taking a leading role in combatting The Master, providing guidance and leadership to other characters in fighting him up until his own death.
  • Mama Bear: Kelly - though that's not necessarily a good thing.
  • Married to the Job: Type 2 for Goodweather.
  • The Mirror Shows Your True Self: A vampire's reflection will appear blurred in a silver-backed mirror.
  • Mentor Occupational Hazard: Setrakian.
  • Money Is Not Power: Eldritch Palmer was incensed when the European "Ancients" refused to turn him into a vampire, since they had already done so to other men who didn't have nearly as much money as him; after he uses his wealth and influence to arrange the Master's nuclear winter, he demands that the Master fulfill his half of their bargain. The Master responds by ripping his head off.
  • No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You to Dine: Eph's meal with Eldritch Palmer in The Fall. Later, Nora's dinner with Dr. Barnes in The Night Eternal.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast:
    • Eldritch Palmer. Seriously, Eldritch?
    • As an extra bonus, the company Palmer owns is called the Stoneheart Group. Not quite as blatant, but you'd think an image consultant would suggested changing it to something that makes them sound less like The Heartless.
  • Our Vampires Are Different:
    • The vampires are creatures called strigoi, who have pale, hairless bodies and a stinger, a long tentacle-like organ inside their mouth and throat tipped with a needle-like barb that they shoot into a victim's throat to feed. Strigoi are created by a human becoming infested with blood worms; even a single worm getting into someone's body will cause the transformation. The worms pass into a strigoi's victim through its stinger as it drains their blood, and if a strigoi bleeds, the exposed worms will seek out the nearest living person to infest. While they are disposed by sunlight and silver, religious artifacts have no effect. Setrakian notes how many vampire myths are based on common misconceptions. Their stingers are misconstrued as fangs. They can't turn into animals like bats and rodents, but drive such animals from their dwellings. They aren't invisible in mirrors, but—on silver-backed mirrored surfaces—appear to be shaking, allowing them to be instantly identified.
    • In-universe, Mr. Quinlan. He lacks the blood worms, and is identified as unique by his masters. His backstory is explained in The Night Eternal: The Master was a quasi-adviser to Caligula, and as such had anything he desired, including a below-ground chamber where he fed on virgins. When Caligula was deposed, The Master was in the process of feeding off a pregnant woman, who subsequently escaped. Quinlan was born as a half breed, known as The Born. The Lumen mentions other Borns, who would have been destroyed when The Master set off the nukes of the other six Ancient Ones at the end of "The Fall".
    • The original seven vampires were all born from the blood of Azriel, the Archangel of Death.
  • Off with His Head!: This is a common way to dispose of a vampire.
  • Papa Wolf: Ephram
  • Pride: The Master has this to a fault. One could say that aside from silver and sunlight this is his biggest weakness.
  • The Power of Love: Is actually not a good thing in this series. Love for another in human terms is perverted into Vampire Need, which means they will never stop hunting the ones they loved.
  • Red Shirt: In the middle of the story, several characters get introduced in fairly great detail only to get turned into vampires.
  • Right Man in the Wrong Place: Dr. Ephraim Goodweather.
  • Sexual Extortion: Dr. Barnes offers Nora a job at his mansion to get her and her mother out of the concentration camp; however, he makes it pretty obvious what kind of 'service' he expects from her.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Shown Their Work: Chuck Hogan certainly did his research about rat trapping, the distribution of fuel tanks in the Boeing 777, cutting tool brands and types, and the intricacies of getting into a biohazard suit. At times borders on Technology Porn.
    • Then leans into the outright comical when he decides the audience needs to be told what tort law and solar eclipses are.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: while holding Eph captive, Palmer delivers a long speech, explaining that humanity's subjugation by the Master and his vampire strain is just natural evolution, and Palmer, by helping the process along, has just realized this ahead of everyone else. Eph, completely unimpressed, replies:
    You know, Mr. Palmer, you're not insane. You're not even truly evil. What you are, Mr. Palmer, is desperate.
  • Smug Snake: The Master who despises humans and even the other Ancients. His arrogance causes occasional setbacks for his master plan.
  • The Professor: Setrakian.
  • The Renfield: Eldritch Palmer. He allied himself with The Master because he wants to live forever.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: In The Fall we meet a few vampire Nazis.
  • Undead Child: One of the original victims from the aircraft is a child. After that, given the nature of the pandemic, it's pretty much inevitable that there are quite a few.
  • Untranslated Catchphrase: Abraham Setrakian spouts a phrase (which is not printed) in his native Romanian before dispatching vampires. He later says it means "My sword sings of silver", but it sounds better in the old language. Eph later says it in English when he tries to kill The Master.
  • Vampire Hunter: Setrakian again and almost the entire core cast by the end of the novel - those who haven't been turned into vampires, anyway.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Eldritch Palmer.
  • The Virus: Vampires are viruses incarnate as Eph puts it.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye: Angel doesn't do or say much during his appearance in "The Fall" until his Heroic Sacrifice at the end.
  • You Have Failed Me: The Master kills Palmer, though Eichhorst later suggests to Setrakian that the Master always planned to do so.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: After confirming that all the arrangements Palmer has made to create a global nuclear winter are ready to go, The Master kills Palmer.