When I read m/m, I like the men hard. I like my science fiction hard, too. If it’s offered as romance, I like the relationships developed. So I was...more2.5
When I read m/m, I like the men hard. I like my science fiction hard, too. If it’s offered as romance, I like the relationships developed. So I was not very happy with this story, because one out of three isn’t enough.
From the opening scene, where Rider has been captured and bound under the assumption that he’s an infected spy, come to suck what’s left of unchanged humanity into the “hive,” the sexual come-ons are fast and thick. “The infected are always ready to f***,” because exchange of bodily fluids passes the nano-virus around. An insane AI has created the nanos as a way of subjugating humanity for its own unexplained purposes. Rider is marked as infected but has thrown off the infection, or so he’d have Sutton, his interrogator, believe, although he has the residual need to screw everything standing. Sutton feels the draw but he’s supposed to be immune to the wiles of the infected.
This is one of the few human enclaves left, but the lights are still on, the water’s still running, and the med-techs have enough of a lab inside the Tower of London to be able to run tests. There must be a limit to what they can do, because the humans test-fuck (author’s term) such spies. The humans have fought very hard to survive but perform this sort of suicide mission regularly, which made no sense to me at all. Once Rider convinces everyone he’s really not infected, just a pheromone-shedding, bragging sex machine, they release him into the general population, and draft him for a suicide defense when the compound is about to be overrun by the infected.
Time spent waiting to die is always best spent having sex, so Rider and Sutton do. This provides the answer to the main problem, although now Sutton is now so drawn to Rider that his previous immunity is gone completely, as is his refractory period. In terms of the plot, this is both a good thing and nearly required.
There was very little consistency in the science fiction aspect; while I don’t need to know why exactly the AI embarked on this experiment, I do think its methods needed to be internally consistent. The nano-viruses behaved like viruses at times, but then behaved like programmable devices at other times, and flipped back and forth as convenient, giving the infected some strange abilities and quirks. Frankly, it all seemed like several s/f buzzwords had been cobbled together to provide an excuse for Rider to talk about everyone he’d had sex with, including one of Sutton’s long term lovers, who was used as a test-f***. Rider has no compunction about needling Sutton about Annabel or the others, nor about discussing a long line of willing infected partners. (No onscreen or detailed remembering of lady-bits.) Rider actually has very few lines that are not directly discussing sex he’s had or would like to have.
Once the breakthrough regarding the infected has been achieved, it’s straight to “I love you,” for Sutton, which is the more astounding jump. Nothing Rider has done is remotely loveable, and he’s served to expose all the cracks in Sutton’s existing relationship, which is a little on the kinky side but nothing too outrageous in a stressed environment like the human enclave. Sutton is, BTW, still actively engaged in this relationship when Rider enters the enclave. Sutton’s response to having this pointed out is to declare love for the pointer, who can provide mind-blowing sex.
Unfortunately, in terms of romance, there is no relationship development; in terms of science fiction there is no consistency, though the fast pace tends to obscure this. Read strictly as erotica, it’s okay but heavier on the sex talk than the sex acts. I honestly have no idea what group of readers would find this a wholly satisfactory story.(less)
Woefully underskilled for the task he's taken on in terraforming, Runt is starving in the midst of plenty. Maybe he's streetsmart from his upbringing...moreWoefully underskilled for the task he's taken on in terraforming, Runt is starving in the midst of plenty. Maybe he's streetsmart from his upbringing in spaceport alleys, but when he intercepts a big crab trying to carry off a mealpack, he eats the mealpack, not the crab. He's not TSTL, he just doesn't have the necessary skill set, and the clone wife who didn't survive the landing may or may not have been able to make up the deficiencies in wildlife recognition and machinery repair, but we'll never know. Equally mysterious is why he's out here at all, aside from the lure of riches once he's homesteaded his island. HardCell means business, we are told, but Runt isn't really a good prospect for a grubstake and doesn't have the necessary capital to buy in. If HardCell is so hardcore as to choose colonists only for their willingness to be dumped out in the back-ass of beyond, they don't need to kill off the underperformers; the world will take of that for them. Runt doesn't have the skills to teach the offspring he hopes to have to populate this new world.
Ox, the giant mute man who came with the supply drop, is equally a mystery, and while his backstory is explained elsewhere (a free short on the author's website), he at least comes with some skills that make all the difference between subsistence and prosperity. He also comes with some jacked-up pheromones, creating havoc with Runt's sex drive. Even as Runt and Ox have to come to a working arrangement as farmers, they have to come to some understanding about Runt's physical reactions. Runt's paranoia, fueled by a surprise in the supply shipment, is strictly his problem.
Ox doesn't come through very clearly on the page, with brief mentions of traits that don't get clearly shown. Something like this:
The giant wasn’t quick to adapt, but he had a knack for thoughtful strategy when he stayed calm.
shouldn't be a throwaway line: what happens when he doesn't stay calm? Rubbing calms him, humming or rumbling calms him, but he doesn't get agitated or anxious first. There's another throwaway remark about Ox liking to play practical jokes, but no illustration of a prank.
I enjoyed the evolving relationship between the men; they communicate pretty well despite Ox's muteness, resorting to writing only once in a while. When they take the final plunge into sex, it makes perfect sense. The underlying current of small equals weak, big equals strong, big equals more work than small can do was really aggravating early on, but as the men's teamwork evolves, this irritant resolves.
The worldbuilding, while laid out on the page, doesn't make so much sense. Two suns and three moons are going to create extreme weather and hellacious tides, (plus really screwy shadows) but HardCell has been able to engineer these things away. The tropical climate they have should lend itself to a mostly outdoor life with palapas or ramadas to keep off the sun, but Runt and Ox lead a mostly indoor existence when not actually farming. An evening under the stars is so rare as to merit an entire chapter.
The society building is stronger—HardCell has a prepackaged, predigested way of life to sell to the galaxy, which comes through very strongly. Runt retells an ancient Greek story to Ox, recast in the corporate mold, illustrating the technological grip. The story raises some horrifying questions. What are clone wives, why do they exist in this society and what is their place? Are they human or property? Intelligent? Is there a shortage of desperate, risk-taking women, or why else go for engineered colonists? Cloned men are common, genetic engineering for humans is so routine that Runt bemoans his parents' lack of foresight in the matter, but the clones don't seem to be considered entirely human.
The one big sex scene is definitely a step out of the ordinary, taking account of the differences in size between Runt and Ox, and of Ox's oversize equipment. (Forty centimeters is about sixteen inches, FYI, and eighteen cm around is roughly a medium-sized wrist.) It was different, and it was hot, even if I did have to figure out who was where and how at one point. It was also a technical problem, coming on the heels of a near-death experience for Ox.
The plot twines around in a full circle with a twist, very nice. The writing is smooth and evocative; Runt's voice is very distinctive, and this is almost enough to soothe me past the story problems. The incomplete characterization of Ox, the partially explained society, the partial worldbuilding, and some continuity errors (eg a cleaned floor that is suddenly bloody, then clean again) keep me from being entirely in love with this story. 3.75(less)
The main characters played secondary roles in another novel, Smoke. More spies than warriors, Ji and Rayan, as they are mostly called, specialize in n...moreThe main characters played secondary roles in another novel, Smoke. More spies than warriors, Ji and Rayan, as they are mostly called, specialize in nipping problems in the bud. We get to go along on two missions, which are exquisitely tense in themselves and do not dump an entire Federation's worth of politics on us. The immediate problems are absorbing and well written, and do not rely on hand-wavy technology to solve. Keeping the missions on a local scale rather than threatening to entire planets is a good move from the author – the issues are within the scope of a two-person team but could grow if not caught early.
Ji has been interested in getting closer to Rayan, but Rayan's always insisted on maintaining a professional footing. Not knowing why, Ji torments himself with possible reasons, up to and including his mixed-species heritage. When Rayan does come across, it's not for the reasons Ji could wish for, and the greatly increased tension between them may send them to opposite ends of the galaxy.
The element of "not-human" exists subtly for Rayan – his emotions flicker across his skin, but not in any pattern Ji can read. Normally predictable, Rayan succeeds in stunning Ji both physically and emotionally. The interplay between the two is 'old-married couple' in one way and 'unresolved sexual tension' in another, leaving them whipsawed and out of sorts until Rayan does finally make up his mind.
The structure threw me a little; a creation tale in the beginning didn't feel connected with the events within the story, and seemed more to establish "not-human' characters and a relationship with the other novel than anything else. The end is told from someone else's POV, a main character from the other novel, and while it ties everything together, it creates distance from Ji and Rayan. With a little trimming, this would have been a completely stand alone story instead of an offshoot from another work, even with cameos from the other characters.
Still, the main story is a nice tight read, with well-told adventure and very engaging main characters, and I will be happy to read more from this author. 3.5 (less)
Even a large spaceship can feel too small when your only crewmate keeps getting in your face. Therse Bodan can't get away from Genham Drisjic, isn't s...moreEven a large spaceship can feel too small when your only crewmate keeps getting in your face. Therse Bodan can't get away from Genham Drisjic, isn't sure he wants to, and has a huge desire to smack Gen when they're together. Imposition by Juniper Gray gives us the complicated course of their careers and relationship.
Therse and Gen go back all the way to their first days as new recruits. Even as cadets they had a stormy relationship, where friendship didn't quite apply, nor did competition. Now, when their career paths could diverge considerably, they are still sparring. Each has his secrets and his guilt, piled on in layers with every major step in their careers.
It isn't enough to be saddled with a cranky AI to run the ship; tensions rise further when Meitou comes aboard. He's a master manipulator; neither Therse nor Gen stand a chance. It was never really clear why Meitou wanted to shake them up, because his agenda seemed larger than toying with them just because he could, although he probably wouldn't turn down the chance for some fun in the course of hitching a ride on the larger ship. It just seems too calculated to be only his travel entertainment.
Gray paints the relationships and the manipulations masterfully – with one arch comment her characters send one another into frenzies of lust, doubt, and self examination. This is the meat of the book; watching Meitou practically reach out to punch a button with a word. Age and treachery beat youth and enthusiasm, and take it to bed, too – there is a lot of sex here, but it all drives the plot. By the time Meitou departs, Therse and Gen are so addled they might just forget to lie to one another.
What seems to be missing is a sense of proportion: one of Gen's actions early in their association is so heinous in its effect that it's surprising the other cadets didn't put him out the friendship airlock, and Therse beats himself up for an offense far more than it could deserve. There are hints of larger plans for Gen that make taking the time to administer Meitou's special brand of attitude adjustment worthwhile, but only hints.
If there's a sequel planned, then many of these issues could be resolved, including the open question of how Therse's promotion will affect the pair. The result could be space opera along the line of David Weber or Elizabeth Moon. What's here is a great romance element and a great set-up for the science fiction element that I'd love to read to the end. Imposition gets our two lieutenants out of their ruts, and we can hope Juniper Gray is planning to give them their worthy opponent. (less)
An interesting confusion between intellectual brilliance and maturity, but a fine subversive story all the same. Dink Meeker is one of my favorite min...moreAn interesting confusion between intellectual brilliance and maturity, but a fine subversive story all the same. Dink Meeker is one of my favorite minor characters; I was glad to see him in action here.(less)