Too Close to the Sun
Why, why, why? Why do so many romance writers get thisclose to getting it right in a futuristic romance before it all falls apart? So many have great ideas. They create imaginative and new worlds and intelligent and original characters to inhabit them. Then the romance starts, and everything goes to Romance 101 hell.
Angel Torrence is a galactic smuggler. It says so on the back blurb and for the first 80 or so pages of the book I believed it. Just as Angel makes the last payment on her very own ship, the airfield on which it’s parked is attacked. Now her ship is just so much space dust and she’s masquerading as a hired pilot so that she can commandeer another one. What she doesn’t realize is that the ship is under the command and control of Colonel Nicoli Romanof of the United System of Planets Security Force and he’s about to make her life very dangerous and difficult.
Nicoli Romanof is determined to find the Harvestors’ home world. The Harvestors have kidnapped and enslaved people throughout the universe, and the colonel’s plan involves tracking the deadly aliens in order to destroy them, with the help of his scientist friend Yanur Snellen. Yanur helped remove Nicoli’s life essence from his body and downloaded it into his T-150 Star Fighter’s computer. With a tracking device installed in his corporeal form, it’s only a matter of time before he finds what he seeks.
Angel has no clue about Nicoli’s mission when she steals his ship and Nicoli doesn’t realize that she’s a she. He’s convinced that Angel is a young man and though he’s reluctant to involve a civilian in his plan, he feels he has no choice. Only Yanur has all the facts and he’s not telling; he’s been injured and can’t help his long-time friend. Yanur knows Angel is their only option, but if Nicoli realizes Angel is a woman, he won’t allow her to assist him once he reaches the Harvestor home world. Once Angel realizes that her only way out of the whole mess is to get it over with, she goes along with Yanur’s plan to find Nicoli’s body and reunite it with his life essence. Whew! Complicated to explain, not so complicated the way it’s presented. And that’s a plus here. Ms. Popp’s science is strictly of the Star Trek variety, but it works with her fast-paced and sure-handed story telling.
Too bad the fast-paced plotting slows down pretty dramatically as soon as the duo actually meets in the flesh. Then the problems begin to blossom and multiply like the dandelions in my yard. The plot stutters forward while the author throws in everything from amnesia to Angel’s being a virgin despite her years of life on the rough/tough fringe of society. Add in a scene in which Nicoli accidentally walks in on her when she is “clothed in nothing but her long blond hair and one of his shirts.” (Is this Regency England or Space? You be the judge.) He’s determined to never marry because of guilt he feels from the past. She is going to marry for love only, because her parents had an arranged marriage and were very happy and loved each other. No, wait, that’s not the reason… it’s because her planet has a long tradition of arranged marriages and they never… scratch that. She has her reasons, okay?
Robin Popp’s debut SF/Romance is well paced and features great ideas and a strong, intelligent hero and heroine. The story fits who these people are, but only until they fall in love, when what worked begins to fall apart. I know being in love can mess with a person’s concentration, but I’ll pay good money to the first person who can explain to me why a heroine’s loss of virginity automatically reduces her I.Q. by about 20 points. Any takers? It doesn’t have to be that way. Romance and science fiction can mix effectively. Authors Sharon Lee and Steve Miller have proven that. If Ms. Popp (or anyone else) would like to follow their example, I’ll be there.