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REVIEW: Ghost Planet by Sharon Lynn Fisher

Dear Ms. Fisher,

Science fiction romance is one of those subgenres I hear so much about but have never really gotten into myself. Since I’m in one of those reading kicks where I want to try everything new (to me), I figured now would be as good a time as any. So when I saw your debut on NetGalley, I decided to give it a try.

ghostplanetElizabeth Cole is a psychologist who leapt at the chance to accept a post at a newly discovered planet called Ardagh 1. Sure, she might be running away from her problems — a mentally ill mother, a clingy ex-fiance — but it’s a chance for a new start, to live a life for herself instead of for other people. Unfortunately, there’s a hitch in the plan. She dies en route to Ardagh 1.

Normally, that’d be the end of our story. But you see, Ardagh 1 is a unique planet. It is populated by alien lifeforms that take the shape of the deceased loved ones of the humans who settle there. These aliens are called “ghosts” but in reality, they’re virtually indistinguishable from humans. In addition, the ghosts tether themselves to a human colonist in a sort of symbiotic relationship.

The existence of these aliens had led to the creation of Ghost Protocol: a procedure which human colonists use to handle the alien presence. The main point of the protocol? Ignore the ghosts exist. The protocol was instituted to protect the welfare of the human settlers but the increasingly unstable planet suggests that perhaps this course of action was a mistake.

Elizabeth originally came to Ardagh 1 to study the ghosts and their relationship to the settlers. Now that she is one herself, she has a vested interest in the matter. Especially when she finds herself falling in love with the human she’s tethered to: Grayson Murphy, the creator of Ghost Protocol. But as she begins to uncover the secrets of the ghosts and the planet, Elizabeth finds herself thrown into a conflict between opposing forces who want control of Ardagh 1.

Maybe this wasn’t the best introduction to SF romance. It’s a strange book. The heroine dies before the start of the book. The person we meet is in reality an alien with Elizabeth’s consciousness and personality. This leads us to all sorts of metaphysical questions of whether she really is Elizabeth or someone (or something) else entirely. What makes a soul? What makes us us? In some ways, I thought the book didn’t delve in these topics as much as they should have, considering.

I also thought the romance aspects were rather weak. Throughout the novel, I felt we were told more than shown that Elizabeth and Murphy were falling in love with each other. Elizabeth was definitely attracted to Murphy, sure, but we go from Murphy flat out ignoring her to kissing her while still seeing someone else. I guess the tether between Elizabeth and Murphy operates as the science fiction version of a soulbond so maybe that’s why I found myself unable to get into their unfolding relationship. I generally don’t like the soulbond/soulmate trope. But maybe readers who do like those storylines will like this book more.

What I did find myself more interested in was the world and the aliens. I really liked Elizabeth’s interactions with the other ghosts. I also enjoyed the exploration of the relationships between human and alien and how symbiosis and parasitism can resemble each other depending on the circumstances and perspective.

In fact, I wish we’d gotten more about the world, especially with the revelations that unfold towards the end of the novel. What is the primary motivation behind the aliens bonding to the human settlers? Is it a defense mechanism? Why would they evolve in such a manner? If no settlers ever came, what would have happened to them? I was torn between wondering if this was the start of a series about Ardagh 1 or was meant to be a standalone novel facing a brave new future at its conclusion. I’m not sure I can handle yet another series but I also wanted to see what happens next.

While I liked certain aspects of Ghost Planet, I’m not completely sure it actually is a SF romance. It just didn’t seem romantic to me. I’m very interested in hearing what other readers think. That said, people interested in some interesting worldbuilding and SFnal ideas will likely find this a worthwhile read. B-

My regards,
Jia

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Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at [email protected]!

11 Comments

  1. DS
    Nov 12, 2012 @ 09:26:46

    TOR has a pretty bad habit of dropping a series after the second book. I’m hesitant to start anything that might be a series.

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  2. MarieC
    Nov 12, 2012 @ 09:55:18

    I was so happy to see this review! I’ve had this book on my radar, but hadn’t seen any reviews yet. I love the premise, but I didn’t know it was supposed to be a SF romance. I’m still interested in reading it even without the romance factor; perhaps this is the start of a series and the following books will showcase that.

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  3. CK
    Nov 12, 2012 @ 10:39:07

    At best, I’d call it scif-lite. I totally agree with the romance aspect being unconvincing and towards the end, it felt so tropey that I felt MarySue, err, Elizabeth was destined to give birth to the Chosen One. Having said that, I did enjoy the story even though I was left with the same questions you had. I wanted to know more about the world and less about these characters.

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  4. Estara
    Nov 12, 2012 @ 11:56:12

    Jia, try any of the science fiction books (she has one fantasy romance) by Linnea Sinclair. They’re all among the best that subgenre has to offer. My particular favourites are Finders Keepers and An Accidental Goddess.

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  5. Patricia Eimer
    Nov 12, 2012 @ 12:17:35

    It sounds interesting? I may wait though, see if Tor drops the series early or not.

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  6. Ellie
    Nov 12, 2012 @ 16:24:37

    I thought this was okay. I had been really looking forward to reading it, but found it kind of lackluster. I too loved the alien/ghost parts more than the romance, which did seem weak to me. I never thought I’d find the guy TOO into the heroine, but that’s how I felt. I wanted to know WHY he loved her. Because she was attractive? Um, okay. I …. guess that’s a reason.

    But I did wonder what I would do in that situation, the whole time I read the book. And I thought Elizabeth showed great courage.

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  7. Susan
    Nov 13, 2012 @ 10:28:48

    I had pre-ordered this book, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. Thanks for the review.

    I’ve been left hanging when publishers have dropped series early. Ace has been the primary culprit for me, but there have been a couple of others. It’s immensely aggravating. Hope that doesn’t happen here. (I wonder if/how publishers are affected if they start getting a rep for walking away from series early? Does it dampen their sales when they do launch new series?)

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  8. Jia
    Nov 13, 2012 @ 11:18:19

    The thing is, I’m not entirely sure this is a series or not. It seems like it could be but there’s no clear indication anywhere (including the author’s website) that it is.

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  9. Heather Massey
    Nov 13, 2012 @ 15:09:39

    I was curious about future books in this world as well and asked the author about it in a recent interview I did with her. She is working on an unrelated book for Tor but is considering “…a story set in the earliest days of colonization on Ardagh 1…” (http://www.thegalaxyexpress.net/2012/10/interview-with-ghost-planet-author.html)

    So basically, as of right now, Ghost Planet is a standalone book.

    >the tether between Elizabeth and Murphy operates as the science fiction version of a soulbond

    I agree, that’s a strong dynamic in this story. I’m not a huge fan of very overt soul mate stories but this one worked for me because of the premise.

    >I’m not completely sure it actually is a SF romance.

    The plot structure is probably a factor in that the first half focused more on the science fictional developments and only then did the romance kick into high gear. I’ve encountered that a few times with SFRs coming from SF publishers.

    One could tag Ghost Planet as SF with strong romantic elements and that would certainly fit. However, what nudges it into SFR territory for me is that if you removed the romance then the plot would fall apart. Can’t say anything more about my perception of that without going into spoilers.

    That said, I wouldn’t have minded learning more about Murphy and Elizabeth’s relationship & attraction outside of the whole ghost plot. Like, if they could have spent at least a little more time in the beginning getting to know each other even while they experienced the angst of a forbidden romance. Still, since they were both mental health professionals and Murphy is her supervisor, I wouldn’t have wanted them to get too hot and heavy too soon. Chalk it up to my background as a mental health professional. :)

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  10. Jia
    Nov 13, 2012 @ 18:47:36

    @Heather Massey: No, I definitely agree. It would have been uncomfortable to read had that happened.

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  11. Sid
    Dec 24, 2012 @ 22:14:06

    Just finished it. It is a nice setup but the story fall flat. There is not enough conflict, or suspense, or romance to sustain the story. From the Sci-Fi point of view, it is very weak in the science behind this, almost completely metaphysics therefore not really science. Comparing to another book I recently read, “The Host”, this one is very much inferior. The good part is that the writing is fluent and a fast read (finished it in less than 3 days).

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