What is it like to be a vampire? To live for hundreds of years, far beyond the mortal span of your family and friends, children or lovers; to feel your heart stop beating, to no longer breathe. Does it make you less than human or simply other? To know what blood tastes, while forgetting the flavors of bread or soup or a bite of apple, to live forever without feeling the warmth of the sun. To spend the rest of eternity in shadows. But what if it were possible to be warm again? To see a sun, to bask in its heat, to recapture — even if for a moment — that feeling of humanity?
Deep in the reaches of space, The Lightning Girl has found a red star that is no threat to vampires. For Trev, it’s a miracle. It’s something that, for over seven hundred years, he thought impossible: to see the sun again. But at what cost? The crew of The Lightning Girl is dead due to a single, small screw and the only other person left alive is Ash. Not for long, though, with oxygen in short supply and no guarantee of finding a way home.
Knowing what it’s like to live as a vampire, can Trev bring himself to turn Ash? His only companion and his only love? And if he does, while neither of them will need oxygen, there’s a limited amount of synthetic blood on board. Maybe Trev could stretch it out to thirty years, but with two of them — and one a newly turned vampire, if Ash agrees — how long will the blood last? Long enough to get them home? Maybe. But how sane will they be if, no when they find Earth again?
I love the idea of this box set so much. Vampires in space — as opposed to space vampires — is just such a neat concept. The lack of sunlight and the fact that vampires don’t need as much sleep or food makes them almost ideal to crew a ship. It saves on oxygen, food and water, all of it. Trev existed before airplanes and now he’s on a space ship going through hyperdrive. It’s an almost mind-boggling and exciting life, and the people he meets along the way help keep everything fresh. When the handsome Ash invites Trev to share a shower, and then a bunk, he’s certainly not going to say no. And when the disaster happens that kills off the rest of the crew, leaving the two of them alone together, Trev clings to Ash so tightly he doesn’t know how to let go.
Ash is barely given a chance to have a choice. With the crew dead and life support dying, Ash has hours to decide if he is going to let the vampire he took to bed turn him. There is no time to think, less to internalize and rationalize. It is either do it, or die, and Ash isn’t ready to die. And for the next twenty five years as the ship drifts in space, Ash — living on less blood than he needs and all of it synthetic — is hardly given a chance to thrive. The experience has broken a part of him and he’s not sure if he can put himself back together, or if the sharp edges will end up causing him to bleed to death … and take Trev with him.
The two of them are helped in their recovery and reconciliation by Cal, a human reporter captivated by the story. Not the drama and death count every other news agency is pushing, but by the human story of the two survivors, their pain and suffering and their chance to heal. It’s his sympathy for them, his kindness, and simple humanity that help Ash and Trev start their slow healing process, and when Trev decides he has to find the red star again, Cal is eager to go and record the event.
It’s there on The Lightning Girl II that Cal meets Tris, a vampire lured like so many others by the prospect of a sun that won’t kill them, a vampire that catches his attention because he can’t quite get a fix on Tris. Is Tris male, female? And why does it matter? Though he loved his wife and thought himself straight, his nights with Ash made Cal realize he might be bisexual, and Tris is lovely and captivating and frustratingly charming. And Tris has his sights set on Cal, in turn.
Tris is an Ydrassi, and more ancient than even Trev might believe. He is also, maybe, the last of his kind — neither biologically male or female, but a combination of both. His body (Tris uses the masculine pronoun when referring to himself) can take on female or male sexual characteristics depending on the needs and wants of his partner, and sometimes both at the same time. He’s also eager for this adventure.
For some vampires, it becomes hard to continue living. To continue putting forth the effort to survive, to adapt, and so they simply … stop. Tris, too, has felt the weight of it as he watches the cycles of civilization, culture, and humanity progress in its endless spiral. The rise of the powerful and their downfall, the plight of the poor, the horrors of war through every generation … but for someone who once worshiped and sang to the stars, the chance to fly among them is a delight. There are so many surprises yet to be had, from aliens to dangers and discoveries. And a red sun that, for the first time in perhaps a thousand years or more, he could feel on his skin.
This is a well-written and beautifully characterized collection of short stories that I strongly suggest you give a try. The science feels grounded, the pacing is tight with a focus on the emotional weight of events rather than the explosions, and the premise and thought behind the vampires of this world is intriguing. I appreciated that Ash’s trauma — and Trev’s own psychological issues — weren’t just waved away, but given a chance to be seen. And their healing didn’t take place overnight. Even as the story progresses from Ash and Trev to Cal and Tris, I got the feeling that the two of them were still working on themselves, working through Trev’s obsession with the red sun and Ash’s fear of space and hyperdrive.
All in all this is a fun and thoughtful collection of short stories that I think can be enjoyed by sci-fi fans, as well as paranormal readers. Especially if you like heat, because there’s a fair share of that in here, too.