Kai and Garrett. The soldier and the You Tube star. Two different voices written by two different authors. The setup could, if handled tritely, be eye-rolling—Kai is a semi-professional online gamer, and Garrett runs into him while playing Fallen World Online from his bunk in Afghanistan. Garrett fixes military vehicles and has been in the army since he got out of high school. Kai is agoraphobic and lives in his own cocooned world earning income by demonstrating new video games for his huge online audience. Big tough soldier and slender fragile gaymer.
“Oh, please!” you say. But no. Erickson and Hassell write very different kinds of books, and neither one is inclined to stick to the increasingly tired formulas that form m/m fiction’s foundation. To be totally honest, both Kai and Garrett start out as types, and their pairing up is also a familiar trope in the m/m world. I admit freely that both types AND their pairing have particular appeal ; the big tough guy with a gentle heart, and the smart-but-damaged twink both work for me. So, needless to say, putting these guys together has great potential, if handled thoughtfully and with good writing.
This is where the authors do such a great job creating three-dimensional people out of gay romance archetypes. Kai, empowered by his self-imposed isolation, has made money doing solo sessions for a virtual audience very different from his gamer fans. Garrett, trapped by the macho culture of the army for eight years (even post DADT), has resigned himself to unsatisfying quickies with straight guys who are “tour homos,” which in the olden days went by the name situational homosexuality. Both young men are desperately lonely, without real friends. Neither one has ever had anything like a relationship. As their friendship is sparked online and moves to the real world, both Kai and Garrett are continually forced to reevaluate who they are and what is important, in light of what they each learn about the other. This isn’t “love is blind” romance, but more like “love is redemptive and healing.”
Strong Signal is the first in a series called Cyberlove and it promises to be a rewarding and satisfying addition to the new kind of m/m fiction. I’ll be there, for sure, when book two appears.