In the pink hills of Novo Mars, while the wolves howled, Sabella lay in the arms of men. And the transparent crystal at her throat turned scarlet as she took their blood.
They really, really should have filmed this book around 1983 – I can just see it, everyone with huge eighties hair and reflective sunglasses, acting in front of painted backdrops representing the desert, and of course, a David Bowie soundtrack. It would have been awesome.
Set on a future Mars-like planet colonised by humans, this is the story of Sabella, a vampire stricken with a guilty conscience about all the strapping young men she despatched during her teens and much existential angst concerning her vampire nature. Sabella eschews the company of humans and feeds on animals. Then she meets a man called Sand who pursues her until she gives in to temptation and allows him into her bed, with the inevitable conclusion. But shoving his body in the incinerator doesn’t solve her problems because his dangerous, charismatic brother, Jace, is on her track and Sabella is in for a reckoning when he catches up with her.
I wish I’d read this book when I was 19 because I would have loved it then. I’m a little too old for Sabella and her bloodstone now, but I still found it an enjoyable science fiction vampire tale, with the superior quality of writing that you can expect from Tanith Lee. I liked the twist towards the end which pulls it above your standard vampire tale.
You could probably say a lot about Sabella from feminist and psychoanalytic perspectives – dead mothers, doubles, sex equated with death, womb imagery, eroticised relations of domination and submission are all featured –but I’m not going to try and talk about any of that.
It’s vampires on Mars; it’s fun. Give it a go if you liked Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, or C.L Moore’s ‘Shambleau’