OUT OF the House of Life (Tor, $19.95), may be the finest vampire tale since 1983. That's when its author, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, last brought out one of her eloquent romances of the long-lived Comte de Saint-Germain, whose adventures have been chronicled in Hotel Transylvania, Blood Games and several other books.

The main character in Out of the House of Life is not, however, the infamous count, but his lover Madelaine de Montalia, a vampire aristocrat of skill and wit herself. Obsessed as she is with ancient Egypt (in part because Saint-Germain lived for centuries there as a demon and a god), Madelaine uses her wealth to pay for a position on an early archaeological dig in Thebes. As she uncovers ancient inscriptions and faces unforeseen evil, Madelaine receives letters from Saint-Germain describing his earlier life at the same site.

Yarbro uses correspondence to great effect throughout the novel. Her prose remains invisible while the voices of the various letter-writers remain remarkably distinct; each of the five sections in the book returns us to Saint-Germain's parallel narrative. His true history sometimes mirrors but more often denies the beliefs and theories of the 19th-century historians.

Madelaine's Theban discoveries bring her both danger and passion. The story compels in the way the best romantic adventures do; moroever, it displays none of the shortcomings plaguing most series -- no flat, lifeless characters here and no padding to fill these pages. Instead, Out of the House of Life offers a richly detailed look at a period in history when scholars and adventurers had just begun to uncover the unimaginable temples and statues of ancient Egypt. Ghost Train

WHAT DO Bram Stoker, the death of the dinosaurs, coffins in Utah, time travel and Libya have in common? The answer is that they are all woven into the wild plot of Brian W. Aldiss's Dracula Unbound (HarperCollins, $18.95). The book serves as a companion volume to Aldiss's Frankenstein Unbound (1973), with which its shares a few of the same characters. In the earlier book, time and reality fragmented to send a scientist named Joe Bodenland back into a mythic 1816 where Mary Shelley and Dr. Frankenstein co-existed. It was a moody narrative, and nothing at all in tone like the plot-driven adventure of Dracula Unbound.

This time out an employee of Joe Bodenland's, on a dig in Utah, has discovered a coffin 65.5 million years old, containing a quite modern human skeleton. Bodenland visits the amazing find in Utah, and witnesses a bizarre and even more inexplicable phenomenon. His first night there, a ghostly light appears out of the desert like a rolling comet and silently passes by. Strange, ethereal creatures seem to leap from it near the gravesite. The following night Bodenland manages to board the apparition, only to find that he's imprisoned himself in a ghost-train and is voyaging through time with vampires. Specifically, with the infamous Count Dracula. Aldiss's Dracula is a monstrous creature, more hideous even than anything envisioned by Bram Stoker.

The story races along like a ghost train itself, but in many ways it pales against the earlier Frankenstein volume. For one thing, the dialogue seems confused. Characters shift from colloquial American English (they're supposed to be Texans) into elevated verbiage, often in a single sentence. Likewise, their relationships are in constant flux -- Bodenland's son and daughter-in-law, for instance, seem to have no idea why they're together, and often behave as if previous scenes between them have not been played out, giving the reader the impression that the book was written inattentively over a long span of years. Because the pace rips along, these remain minor annoyances. It's not Aldiss's best (nowhere near as rewarding as his "Helliconia" books) but still remains an original view of vampires. I just wish someone had pushed for some minor editing of the book. Strangers from Paradise

SPEAKING of editing, Ace/Putnam has just released the original, unedited version of Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land (Ace/Putnam, $24.95). This has been done previously, with Heinlein's classic The Puppet Masters, and as with that earlier re-release, serves only to show what a good editor Heinlein had at Berkley Books back in the '60s and how flabby his prose could get when he was left to wander unattended. Heinlein's widow, in the introduction, claims that the editors originally ordered cuts made because the "book was so different from what was being sold to the general public . . . in 1961." Specifically, Heinlein had included sexual material unacceptable to the '61 audience. However, given the evidence of the previous reissue, and after making my own page-by-page comparative reading of the first few chapters, what's clear is that most of the editing was done to trim the fat. Whatever the truth regarding Heinlein's sex scenes, the original, edited version was a better book. Tilting at Windmills

HORROR FICTION in general seems to have taken itself down a few pegs of late. Between writers who think they're singlehandedly bestowing literary greatness upon an otherwise troglodytic genre (I gather that names like Bowen, Hawthorne, Kipling and Jackson get overlooked in their reckoning) and semi-literate writers whose sole concern seems to be describing dismemberment through a microscope, it's getting tougher to find someone who is simply writing a solid, satisfying, hair-raising entertainment. Dean R. Koontz is one of them.

For years Koontz has been doggedly plying his trade, honing his craft and stretching his talents within the genre of supernatural fiction. In fact, he's invented something of a subcategory all his own: science-fiction horror. How else can one describe a book like Midnight, in which people have been injected with a substance to alter their chemistries, their bodies -- ostensibly to generate a super-race, but instead in accordance with their darkest fears? How else can one label a book like his latest, Cold Fire (Putnam, $21.95)?

What has always impressed me about Koontz is his ability to craft a story so that it barely lets the reader come up for air between terrors. His pace leaves you dizzy even when you're sitting down. Like its predecessors, Cold Fire will keep you up all through the night, but on this outing Koontz strives for greater depth of character. In fact the whole book is built on just two people . . . and one hidden horror in a windmill.

A man appears in Portland, Ore., one day at the scene of an accident -- only he shows up before it occurs and fantastically saves a child from a drunk driver. A reporter finds this savior so unique that she can't get him out of her mind. He dazzles her. She soon learns that this isn't the only amazing rescue the man has performed, and that he's in the grip of an incredible power that steers him to these scenes of chaos. The plot comes to involve a pond, a book and a film production (the only flawed element; its time frame seems off). Why has the power, which he calls "The Friend," chosen him? Whom is he saving? And is The Friend really all that friendly? Is it an entity from beyond the grave? Beyond our world? Or something closer to home and far more frightening? Before you get all the answers, The Friend will have slithered into your dreams, too. To say more would be to steal Koontz's cold fire. African Game Trails

SCIENCE-FICTION author Mike Resnick offers an alternative historical look at Theodore Roosevelt after he'd quit the presidency, in Bully!, a novella from Axolotl Press (Axolotl Press, Pulphouse Publishing, Box 1227, Eugene, Ore. 97440, paperback, $10). Teddy, on a sojourn to hunt big game in Africa, falls in love with the Congo and decides that he can Americanize it. He uses his political connections, his wit and his sheer, unmitigated bravado to launch a campaign to drive out the Belgians and bring in railroads, hospitals, schools and politics. What he ends up with is nothing like his expectations, and ultimately futile. For instance, after he explains his concept of democracy to various tribes, he discovers that the chiefs have their own view of the subject: For them, democracy must be a thing, not an abstraction. The chiefs commandeer railroad cars and set up house in them. These, a chief explains, are their democracies.

When he attempts a system of trial by jury, Roosevelt finds that this concept, too, is tangled in tribal roots too ancient to combat. Admitting that the defendant in the case had stolen cattle as accused, one of the jurors explains why he nevertheless found the man innocent. "{I}f I had found him guilty, he would never be able to pay me what he owes me . . . That is not justice."

The writing is crisp and matter-of-fact, a style appropriate to the character of Roosevelt. "Bully!" could serve both as a title and as a comment on the story itself.

Gregory Frost is a writer of fantasy, science fiction and horror fiction. One of his recent stories is collected in "Best New Horror," edited by Stephen Jones and Ramsey Campbell.