Two hundred pages. I have to say, I find that a rather odd length for fiction. It’s more than a novella, less than a novel, and in this case becomes rather like a ten-year-old trying to figure out what they want to be when they grow up and changing their mind every day. Despite many positive attributes, my greatest impression of the story is one of what-might-have-been.
This is a bigger and a subtler problem than it seemed at first. How could I go wrong, I thought, with a genuine science fiction romance? Don’t see a lot of that, these days. And from Zoe Archer, whose buzz has been more or less off the charts, and whom I still haven’t read (droops in abject shame)? And a story with solid characterization, good plotting, and interesting world-building? Dude, it’s not just a trifecta – it’s a multifecta!
Not really, as it turns out. Because the weird page count results in some scenes and bits of information that get passed over in favor of less interesting, tried-but-not-always-true devices. For example, the reader gets thrown into the story from page one when Mara Skiren, a galactic scavenger, gets blackmailed by the 8th Wing into finding their lost pilot and her ship. Mara doesn’t really care about the 8th Wing’s fight with Evil PRAXIS – she just wants to scavenge in peace. But having Commander Kell Frayne coming along as a partner is an unwanted complication. Now, point in Ms. Archer’s favor: No info-dumps. Point against: A really dense couple of pages that get superseded by paragraphs of totally cheesy mental lusting.
Once Mara and Kell finally get the sex out of their system, the story hops along nicely, with a scene in a seedy dive and interesting revelations about our couple’s backgrounds. But just when the going gets good, the info stops coming, and the sex keeps rolling. Here’s what’s interesting: That in the past, Mara was a blah-di-blah, and Kell had to yah-di-dah, but they both survived and came out stronger for it. Here’s what’s not interesting: Sex and mental lusting. Good character development is rare; hot sex is not. Guess which one I’d prefer in greater quantities.
And then there’s the big rescue scene that alternates between blood-pounding action and total frustration because their super-cool, techno-filled, intricate planning occurred off-page, and all I could think was, “He can do that?! I want to know more!”
You get the drift. I liked Collision Course, for its strong characterization and vision. I really liked it for its world-building. And I really curse it for being such an incredible tease. All I can hope is that Ms. Archer will decide to return to the world of the 8th Wing and super-mega-ultra-evil PRAXIS, and that maybe, just maybe, Mara and Kell will have the page count they deserve.