22 July 2010

Review: Endless Blue, by Wen Spencer

I'm reading a lot of SFR these days, as part of the reading challenge and I can tell you that it's already paid off. Big. I just finished Endless Blue, by Wen Spencer, who has also written a trilogy focused on a young man raised by wolves who has an extraordinary tracking ability, as well as the acclaimed Tinker.

Endless Blue focuses on three people, each of whom has a complex and difficult personal history involving questions of identity and self. Mikhail is a clone and starship captain with enormous shoes to fill and debilitating melancholia. His foster brother, Turk, is a genetically engineered soldier who is caught between the human world and that of the "Reds," a sort of superhuman subspecies which is nevertheless abused and degraded by "real" humans. Paige Bailey is the female captain of a salvage ship who encounters them both when they crash-land on Sargasso following a harrowing jump from normal space.

Part of what makes this book so good is that the excellent characterization is matched by the complex plotting. Mikhail, Turk and Paige band together to figure out what's causing so many starships to jump from normal space into Sargasso and in the process, they discover who and what they truly are. There's a romance subplot, complete with HEA, that I really enjoyed, and several other lesser relationships that nevertheless enrich the plot, the characters and, by extension, the reader.

Endless Blue is fast-paced world-building with a compelling plot and sympathetic characters. And, perhaps as Spencer intended, the reader forgets all about who was cloned, who was bioengineered, and who has hooves instead of feet, because she does such a great job of making them all persons that it really doesn't matter anyway.

20 July 2010

What I'm Reading

Just a quick post, as today I have to focus on "real" work (that is, something that doesn't involve medieval knights, crash landing on an alien planet, a fiendish Regency-era French spy, or a hot geochemist). Yeah, I know--the words "hot" and "geochemist" don't usually appear in the same sentence for me either. That's why they call it fiction.

I just finished Madeline Hunter's Provocative in Pearls, which I highly recommend. It's the second installment of a projected four-part Regency series. (I assume I'm not the only one wondering about Castleford, though I have searched in vain for any indication on Hunter's website whether he's destined for Daphne.) I've been reading Hunter since her first medievals appeared in 2000 and I think she just keeps getting better and better.

Right now, I'm reading Ariana Franklin's latest medieval historical, A Murderous Procession, set in 12th-century England and France. It's the fourth book about a Salerno-trained physician who investigates mysterious deaths for King Henry II. It's billed as mystery, but I think of it as historical fiction that happens to involves a lot of murder. Adelia and her odd family--the eunuch Mansur, her daughter Allie, sometimes lover Rowley--are rich, wonderful characters.

On the current TBR pile are:

Neal Stephenson's Anathem, though I admit I am intimidated by a book that requires a glossary and runs almost as many pages as Gone with the Wind. Not sure how to classify the book--epic fantasy, perhaps. Of course, how could a book that requires almost 1000 pages be anything other than epic?

Wen Spencer's Endless Blue--"exciting space adventure" and SFR, which I read about at The Galaxy Express.

Lindsey Davis's The Course of Honor, set in ancient Rome about the relationship between a slave and the future emperor Vespasian.

Finally--very exciting--I won a copy of Silver Serenade, by Nancy J. Cohen, which is SFR about a "beautiful assassin and a desperate fugitive who join forces to...prevent an intergalactic war." Assassins! Fugitives! Intergalactic crises! Can't wait to read this one. It even has a great cover.

15 July 2010

Review: Jane's Warlord, by Angela Knight

I've talked about Jane's Warlord in other posts on this blog, but I realized that I hadn't actually reviewed it, so I'll remedy that shortcoming now.

Though billed as a paranormal, JW is actually SFR with time travel. The hero (pause to press hand to rapidly beating heart) is Baran Arvid, a very alpha male from the future, who is nevertheless gentle and protective with the heroine. Jane, our heroine, is in danger from a nasty man and Baran's purpose is to keep her alive.

Baran arrives somewhat unexpectedly on Jane's doorstep, along with a giant, talking wolf. (Okay--if I were reading this review, I'd stop at this point, sigh, and say "Great. Another talking wolf. Just what the world needs." Truth is, Knight write the wolf as a total smart-ass and succeeds in making him a fully developed character in the story.)

Jane has a strong negative reaction to the presence of a large wolf and an obviously very dangerous man in her house (did I mention that the hero is an alpha male?), and this gives Baran the chance to demonstrate both his swoon-worthy patience and understanding as well as his uncompromising committment to duty.

And, of course, in order to protect Jane, Baran has to sleep with her. (Heh, heh. I hate it when that happens.) We're only 50-some pages into the book by this time, but I am ready to throw myself at the mercy of an evil villain if it means that Baran Arvid and his furrball will come and protect me, and I'm a cat person.

The plot revolves around Baran and the furrball keeping Jane safe and preventing the evil villain from killing innocents. Did I mention that accomplishing these objectives requires lots of sex? (Just FYI, the furrball is not involved in these scenes.) Be aware that such activities are a bit on the rough side and there is, uh, alpha-male dominance involved.

Bottom line: This is fast-paced time-travel SFR with a clear focus on the relationship between the H/H, but it won't be everyone's cup of tea for the reasons discussed above. If you like your heros alpha, but with a soft side for the heroine, don't miss JW. And don't let the talking wolf put you off; he gets some of the best lines.

Review: Stardoc, by S.L. Viehl

I've been on a SFR reading jag lately and just "discovered" S.L. Viehl, who has a pretty extensive backlist focused on the character of Cherijo Grey Veil, an interstellar physician. Stardoc is the first book in the series. I picked up Stardoc because I'm a fan of romance, SF, and fiction that involves medicine or medical mysteries (Ariana Franklin's series about medieval forensic investigator is on my auto-buy list).

The heroine, due to a conflict with her incredibly overbearing father, leaves home for the frontier colony planet of K-2, where she encounters medical challenges in the form of over 200 different species. I really enjoyed the parts of the book that took place at the clinic as Cherijo tries to get a handle on alien physiology.

But I found Cherijo herself a less-than-sympathetic heroine. She seems pretty darn tempermental and reminded me of why I don't care for the Anita Blake books--like Anita, she's always on the verge of shooting/hitting/beating someone or stomping off in a huff. Although Stardoc has been classified as SFR by some readers, I consider it SF with romantic elements. There's a love interest, but this potentially fascinating character is incompletely developed. And I was mystified by his attraction to the heroine, who seems to forget he exists with alarming regularity.

While not a keeper for me, I enjoyed the premise of Stardoc and found the book to be a fast-paced read with a ton of interesting characters, many of whom I'd like to spend more time with, such as the compelling Duncan Reever.

14 July 2010

Decisions, decisions...

This morning I settled down in front of my computer and tried to decide what to work on. I try to spend the morning doing email and "fun" writing (i.e., romance) and then spend the afternoon doing "real work," research and writing in my academic discipline.

Since I have several erotic romance stories in progress at any one time, I tend to work on whatever is uppermost in my mind. Usually either a scene or a character will be pestering me to be written. I find this modus operandi keeps me interested in writing and prevents me from getting bored or burned out. This morning was sort of a blank, though, and I actually considered...vacuuming.

This disaster-in-the-making was averted when I checked my email and had the loveliest message from Terrie in Texas. She had just finished reading The Antaren Affair and took the time to tell me how much she enjoyed it. And she asked for Jholtan's story--Jholt is a secondary character in the novel and I've been trying to decide whether to find him a hot, sexy alien woman of his own. Terrie's exact words were "It is unthinkable that you would not continue with Jholtan's story. Please don't be so cruel." LOL!

Needless to say, Terrie solved my what-should-I-work-on-next dilemma. I think poor Jholt is going to have to crash-land somewhere. With a Vanoran woman. Perhaps her clothes will be torn off in the resulting explosion, but she miraculously remains unharmed. She and Jholt will have to team up to survive. Naked. No, not naked. Maybe partially clothed. Yeah, partially clothed . . .

13 July 2010


Seriously Interviewed gave me the chance this week to talk about reading, writing, and what I do when I'm not doing either. Here's the interview.

One of the questions was "If you could be a paranormal creature, which one would you be?"

I wrote "were-warbler" thinking I was being clever, but figuring it would be edited out before the interview was published.

Nope. There it is, up on the website.

For those of you who aren't birders, warblers are little yellow twitchy birds that are about as hot and sexy as a box of grits. (Photo provided for your edification.)

So much for being clever!

09 July 2010

My Sister as a Writing Critic

My younger sister Fernie (name changed to irritating childhood nickname to protect the innocent) is one of my favorite people in the world. She is also my biggest fan, which is part of her job as my sister. I send her work-in-progress constantly, harass her unmercifully until she reads it, dissect her comments ("So, exactly what parts of that sex scene did you like?"), and pummel her with challenging questions ("Do you think they could do it on a spiral staircase?" "If a horse is watching them, do you think it counts as voyeurism?")

As a small tribute to my sister, I'd like to share a couple of one-liners that make me howl with laughter and keep me from taking myself too seriously:

Me: "So, do you think the hero is hot enough?"
Fernie, thinking carefully: "Well, I wouldn't kick him out of bed."

"I like the new stuff. I even forget it's you writing it cause it's that good."

"Look! Another comment! Someone besides me and mom bought it!"

So, thanks Fernie. I'm dedicating the next one to you.

08 July 2010

Science Fiction Romance Reading Challenge

If you'd like to explore science fiction romance, check out Rae Lori's SFR reading challenge. I just signed up to read 15 SFR books before the end of December and first up is S.L. Viehl's Stardoc, which combines SFR with xenobiology (now that's a great word). I'll be posting my reviews as I go.

Rae also provided this lovely image, which I've added as a permalink on the left.

Happy reading!

07 July 2010

New Release!

Hooray! Today is the day my SF short novel The Antaren Affair is released. I'm really excited about it and am looking forward to hearing what readers think.

As I've written in other posts, I think that SF is entering a new era with the advent of ebooks. Romance has led the digital way, but I expect that SF niche publishers will emerge within the next ten years. I hope those niches include SFR and SFER (Science Fiction Erotic Romance). There's definitely a market for it, and I suspect that market is 1) largely untapped and 2) likely to grow as readers become ever more comfortable with technology and the concepts behind SF.

Since today is release day, I'm going to indulge myself and talk a little bit about The Antaren Affair. I've always been interested in how cultures construct gender and sex--i.e., how they understand and perpetuate "appropriate" roles for males, females, and those who are in-between.

So what if a highly intelligent woman from a sexist world meets a man from a world that has achieved equality? That's the fundamental conflict I deal with in the book. I make language the common ground between the hero and heroine. Language also enables the heroine to escape oppression to a certain degree.

Language structures how we think. Language establishes the conceptual limits for what is possible. To a certain extent, if we don't have a word for something, it's really hard to get our heads around it. As a writer, I think about language all the time and I had great fun devising grammatical principles for the Antaren language. I hope you enjoy the book!

P.S. If you do like it, let me know whether you'd be interested in reading Jhōltan's story.

05 July 2010

Defining Science Fiction Romance

I'm confused. Confused by publisher labels on romance. And I'm wondering if the word "paranormal" is now being used for any romance that isn't a historical or a contemporary, including those romances that involve societies from places other than Earth. My guess here is that publishers think the term "science fiction" will scare away romance readers. I can't speak for anyone but myself, but I could really use some help sorting out SF romance from everything else in the romance aisle.

I'm not a big fan of all the vampire, werewolf, were-jaguar, were-whatever books that have taken over publishing lately, but I certainly would agree that they're "paranormal." I'm afraid that some books that I would like, however, are hiding under the paranormal label. For example, I recently read Jane's Warlord, by Angela Knight, which I adored. It's described as a "sexy paranormal debut" by the publisher. But the hero is a soldier from the 24th century who time travels.

Sorry, but to me, that's science fiction. I'm pretty sure that I missed out on this book when it was first released (in 2004) because it wasn't marketed as SFR.

To me, science fiction involves at least two of the following: 1) the future (including the near future); 2) use of technology; 3) non-Earth peoples, societies or planets.

Check out a great interview with Heather Massey (of The Galaxy Express) here, where she defines SFR and talks about its recent publishing history. To Heather, SFR involves romance set in "technology driven settings." She includes steampunk in that category and since I know next to nothing about steampunk, I can't comment. But I totally agree that SFR must have some element of technological innovation that is not currently available in the early 21st century. But technology doesn't have to be the center of the story.

Jane's Warlord, for example, involves time travel, but the science behind it isn't directly relevant to the plot. After providing some basic principles of operation, Knight has convinced her reader that time travel is a reasonable technological development and structures her story around the resulting conflict.

My own erotic SFR requires space travel. It's a way for my hero, who is from a society descended from an Earth-based culture, to meet a humanoid woman from another planet. Most of the technological advances are implied; i.e., I don't get into the physics of space travel or explain how communications from the planet surface to the orbiting spacecraft function. My interest in writing SFR is in exploring social and interspecies differences, not in technology per se. But without the technology, there's a lot less to explore.

03 July 2010

Science Fiction Romance

I've been thinking a lot about science fiction romance (SFR) lately, which appears to be a growing (sub)genre in publishing. The success of the film Avatar has taken SF romance mainstream and it's a trend that I hope continues. I like SF for the same reason that I like historical fiction--it takes me to a completely new world where the rules are different.

Some of my favorite SF has been written by anthropologists, who are trained to think about the details of cultural beliefs and behaviors. Authors such as Mary Doria Russell create entire civilizations with complex and vastly different cultures. This "world building" is what I find most interesting about writing SF romance; the challenge, of course, is to engage your reader in this world and make it believable and accessible while at the same time alien and "other."

My short novel, which releases on Wednesday, July 7th, focuses on gender differences between two societies--a topic ripe for exploration by SF romance writers. How do gender inequalities affect the relationship between the hero and heroine? How will future technological developments affect the ways in which men and women relate? What role will biological differences between males and females have in future societies? How do other societies construct sex and gender?

If you're at all interested in SFR, check out The Galaxy Express, which is run by Heather Massey. I found some new-to-me authors on her website as well as thoughtful and provoking posts that address everything from SFR book covers to the position of SFR in the publishing world as a whole.