No Words Alone
No Words Alone is a futuristic that’s a lot of fun. In the end, however, it only served to reminded me why I usually like science fiction more than most futuristic romances. Sure, it was enjoyable to read, but issues big and small kept nagging at me. Most of all, for all the futuristic trappings, the setting reminded me too much of old earth cultures. When I pick up a futuristic, I’m not looking for something that reminds me of the past. I want something set in the future. That’s not to say the cultures can’t be traditional in some way (such as Grayson in David Weber’s Honor Harrington series), but there must be a balance.
Xera Harrisdaughter is a translator stuck on a planet with her ship’s crew and their enemy, the Scorpio. The humans and the Scorpio are forced to cooperate to survive the harsh planet. As the only woman on her crew, Xera fears what could happen once the men start to get really lonely, but she also fears the Scorpio, even if she’s one of the few who know their language fairly well. As it turns out, it’s the Scorpio commander, Ryven, and his crew who protect Xera from the humans. While the other humans are taken prisoner, Xera finds herself a guest of Ryven. Xera is taken to Ryven’s home planet, Rsik, where she expects to be treated like the spoils of war, but Ryven’s father makes her an ambassador. She also learns more about their culture – which is much more advanced than she had expected. Will their cultures get in the way? Will the humans destroy a chance at peace again? Will new enemies threaten them? This was a promising plot line, but the action slowed for a while as Xera found so many new details she had to take in.
This story started out promising because Xera was a strong, competent person. However, it seemed she was the only competent person on the human crew, while the Scorpio crew was chock full of noble, protective men. Xera’s captain, Khan, was a bully and a fool. Knowing Xera was a translator and the only person who could speak with the Scorpio, he still sent another crew member to talk with them – which got that crew member killed. It made me wonder how this Khan had survived this long without blowing himself up in space. With a captain this bad, how could Xera not choose to stay with Ryven? Maybe if the human males hadn’t been portrayed as mostly evil or ineffectual, the story would have been more believable. Also, if this is set so far in the future, why is Xera the only woman on the crew? Even the original Star Trek had more than one woman on the crew, and that was written in the 1960s.
Another issue came along later. Sometime after Xera finds herself on Ryven’s planet, we learn that she comes from a conservative society. Not only does her society frown upon premarital sex, but Xera is a virgin. Not just a virgin but one who has never before had an orgasm. If this had been an issue from the start, I wouldn’t have minded, but coming so late in the story, it seemed tacked on. Add to the fact that Ryven’s mother calls him a “rake,” and I felt as though I were reading a historical in space, complete with requisite virginal heroine. It made me yearn to return to the David Weber novel I had been reading last month. In Weber’s series, much of the action takes place on Grayson, a conservative planet founded by religious outcasts, but Weber handles the culture (and culture clash) much better.
Xera started out strong but became too passive at times, at least where Ryven was concerned. I liked Xera better when she broke her captain’s knee with a kick. I also love the idea of a futuristic where the heroine is an ambassador, but this idea wasn’t developed enough for me. I wondered what the future would be like for Xera. She’s going to spend the rest of her life on Rsik, and her beloved sisters may never be able to visit. Some of Ryven’s family members are shocked that she likes the martial arts or likes to (gasp!) dine out in public. Talk about alienation. I would have liked to see Rsik society change to accommodate her once in a while.
Ryven is a powerful, wealthy warrior. He’s an alpha, but he’s an alpha in a good way – a warrior, a valiant commander, a protector of the weak. However, once he and Xera marry, he becomes too much of a traditionalist for my tastes. For example, he doesn’t want Xera to keep her position after they have children, and he doesn’t want her to start a business because women don’t do that sort of thing. At times, I felt as if I’d wandered into a 1950s TV show. Xera had to keep adapting to his ways, which annoyed me because you’d think that a man who marries a woman from another species would expect her to be different.
At the same time, seeing Xera and Ryven try to get to know each other is a fascinating journey. They don’t jump into bed together right away, which is great because it’s in character for both. They are from different species after all – talk about a culture clash. The foreplay and love scenes aren’t too graphic. So I was startled during the first full-fledged intercourse scene to see the line “He flipped her over, facedown on the mattress, and slid into her, though careful, ever careful.” It’s the first time he has intercourse with his virginal bride, and he takes her from behind? It seemed out of place.
The villains are the usual evil array. Ordinarily, I expect that from futuristic romances, but they were often incompetent as well. Captain Khan was simply over-the-top, a paranoid bully. In fact, the GE (the company Xera worked for) was such a greedy, slimy entity that I wondered why Xera even wanted to trust her life to them. Other than the humans, the Scorpio’s main enemy is a flesh-eating alien species that needs blood to breed. If they are advanced enough to go into space, how come they couldn’t figure out a way to create a blood substitute or find another way to get the blood they need? As Xera says, “Why can’t they just start a farm or something?”
For all my problems, No Words Alone was a lot of fun. I enjoyed the ride, especially in the beginning of the story, but I would have enjoyed it more if I didn’t keep finding myself so frustrated by a “futuristic” culture that seemed straight out of the 1950s. If you’re more tolerant for virginal heroines and otherworldly cultures with a traditional bent, you’ll like this more than I did.