Desert Isle Keeper
First Channel part of the Sime/Gen series, one of the pioneering SF romance series. It’s not the first in the series, but it’s set before any of the other books published in this series, so some readers might prefer to start with this book. Because it’s SF first, First Channel has complex worldbuilding – something many fans appreciate.
In the Sime/Gen books, humanity has been divided into two races. The Gens are much like us, except that they generate a force called selyn. The Simes, who have tentacles on their forearms, must get selyn by taking it from a Gen once a month or they will die. At the time First Channel takes place, that always results in the death of the Gen. Simes raise Gens both as slaves and as a source of selyn. But until puberty, no one knows if a person will establish as either Sime or Gen. You could be a person one day and property the next, and might even be forced to live under a new name (if you live that long).
Sime Rimon Farris is unusual among his people because he has grown to hate the monthly kill. One bright spot in his life is Kadi, who hasn’t established yet. Rimon plans to marry her once she establishes as Sime, but their lives are torn asunder when Kadi establishes as Gen. Kadi is sold, and Rimon defies everyone to buy her. He plans to sneak her across the border into Gen territory, where she can find freedom among other Gens. Everything changes when, in his time of need, Kadi is able to give Rimon selyn without dying.
They realize that if the Gen isn’t in a state of fear, then the transfer doesn’t have to kill. This could change everything in their society. Rimon and Kadi can’t go home again, so breaking all the rules, they set up a household together near the border. This is where they meet the people of Fort Freedom, a community of Simes who hate killing. Rimon and Kadi give them new hope, only to see that hope dashed when some people try to live as they do, only to encounter tragedy. Will Rimon and Kadi learn what’s different about them in time to save the people of Fort Freedom?
Reading First Channel is like stepping into the far future. In this book, the differences between Sime and Gen influence everything. Because they take selyn, the Sime don’t have to eat as often – the typical Sime will eat just a few times a week. As a result, Sime are thinner, while the Gen are more muscular. Yet the Sime are stronger, and they have other abilities, such as the ability to zlin, or see people by their fields. It’s easy for them to see Gen as lesser, even soulless beings – especially as Simes have their own language. Fort Freedom gives us yet another view of Simes, for it was founded by follows of the Church of the Purity, people who grew up in Gen territory before establishing as Simes. To them, establishing as a Sime is a punishment from God.
Yet all the worldbuilding in the world won’t help if the world isn’t populated with interesting people. First Channel is. While Rimon isn’t like other Simes, he’s still a part of their world. He hates the kill, but when you’re a part of a race that kills members of another race for their energy, you see the world through different eyes. Kadi has been a part of both worlds, Sime and Gen, and when she establishes as Gen, she hates herself for what she perceives as her weakness and fear. She also has to re-learn what foods are safe to eat and which are deadly, for her biology has changed.
The supporting cast also reflects the diverse world Lichtenberg and Lorrah have created. Rimon and Kadi encounter many people, but I had no troubles keeping them straight. They range from Rimon’s father, a Gen breeder, to his Sime friend Del to Abel Veritt, the religious leader of the people of Fort Freedom. Some see hope in what Rimon and Kadi have found, some blame them for the tragedies, while others are threatened by it.
While First Channel is not a romance, the story is propelled by Rimon and Kadi’s feelings for each other. Other characters fall in love as well, some with tragic consequences. Events unfold over several years, giving it a more realistic feeling than in so many stories where everything is resolved in a relationship in a week or two. The setting was so unique that I am planning to read some of the other books in the series to find out what the future holds for the Sime and Gen.