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REVIEW:  Line and Orbit by Sunny Moraine and Lisa Soem

REVIEW: Line and Orbit by Sunny Moraine and Lisa Soem

Dear Sunny Moraine and Lisa Soem:

I’ve been taking part in SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge and this month’s prompt was to read a new-to-you author. I’ve had Line and Orbit in my TBR since it came out last year, it was recommended by a trusted source, and it has received lots of very positive reviews. I was in the mood for an SF-romantic story, so I pulled it out and started reading. Overall, it was an enjoyable read, and I can see why so many people have raved about it, but it didn’t entirely work for me for a number of reasons.

Line and Orbit

The story is a relatively straightforward one. Adam Yuga is an executive in the Protectorate, a society in which genetic manipulation has resulted in attractive, healthy, brilliant, and practically-perfect humans. Adam earns a huge promotion to near the top of the Protectorate hierarchy, but his required medical evaluation turns up an abnormality that not only disqualifies him from the position but casts him out as an exile. Sick, broke, and desperate, he steals credits by hacking into the Protectorate servers and is saved at the last minute by Lochlan, a Bideshi stranger who takes Adam back to his own society, an exiled nomadic group which travels via huge spaceships. Bideshi healers are able to reverse Adam’s condition, but only temporarily, and meanwhile Melissa Cosaire, who is more or less the Chief Operating Officer of the Protectorate, sets out to find and neutralize Adam before the sources of his illness are revealed to the rest of their “perfect” society.

The majority of the novel is taken up by these three storylines: Adam and Lock’s growing relationship (they basically move from The Bickersons to The Bickersons in love), Adam’s integration into Bideshi society and culture (complete with magical/medical treatment and rites of passage), and the resumption of the conflict between the Protectorate and the Bideshi, who were originally one culture and society.

There’s a lot to like here. The writing is smooth and enjoyable and the initial setup crackles with promise and action. The worldbuilding has elements that recall Gattaca, Babylon 5, and other film and TV contexts while still feeling original. Adam’s stunned realization that he is about to lose everything is a gut-wrenching read, and I was immediately invested in his fate. The scenes where he makes the decision to hack in and steal credits and his rescue by Lochlan are also really well done. And the early scenes from Lochlan’s POV, while a bit confusing at first, make it clear that while this is Adam’s journey, the cast is going to be large and interesting.

The first few chapters hooked me sufficiently that I gave the text the benefit of the doubt when Adam landed on Ashwina, the Bideshi ship Lochlan and his friends and family were on. The ship itself was imaginatively realized:

What Adam and Kae emerged into wasn’t the carefully manicured landscape of the Protectorate reserve. The staircase led up to a small alcove at the bottom of a twenty-foot cliff, and what looked like bedrock made a shallow foyer around them. For a moment, Adam just stared, for every inch of the rock had been carved in whirling, curved lines, chasing each other until they faded.

Here, with the fresh smell of grass wafting across his face, Adam felt like he’d been transported out of the ship. The grasslands that spread out before them had to be miles wide, the arching glass above tall enough to capture clouds. A river cut through the lowlands, wildflowers spilling down over the banks. In the distance, he could see the curved walls of the ship, but they were hazy with atmosphere, indistinct. Adam tipped his head back, skin warm under the sunny light.

The social-cultural depiction of the Bideshi was more problematic for me. First of all, the name bothered me: bideshi (or videshi) means foreign, exotic, and/or strange in several Indo-Aryan languages. While I can see why the Protectorate called them that, I found it odd that they would use that term themselves (ethnic groups don’t generally label themselves as foreigners). The people themselves are dark-skinned, short, religious/spiritual, and believers in magic and the power of nature, while their Protectorate counterparts are tall, blond, handsome/beautiful, and science-oriented. It was hard not to see the “noble savage” stereotype underlying the Bideshi characters, and this tendency was reinforced by their unalloyed kindness and goodness. On the occasions they expressed anger, it was righteous anger, and except during major conflicts they rarely expressed negative emotion (apart from irritation).

I liked spending time with the characters, and they weren’t all the same by any means, but they were pretty one-dimensional. The Protectorate characters, with the exception of Cosaire, were surprisingly more nuanced, and the exchanges between Cosaire and the Protectorate detective, Aarons, were among the most interesting in the book.

With the Bideshi being wonderful and the Protectorate being at best wrongheaded and at worst villainous, there really wasn’t much tension in the story. A skirmish between them in the first half of the book made it apparent to me that I needn’t fear seriously for the lives of any of the characters I was supposed to be attached to. A bigger problem, though was the vagueness with which some of the major scenes were depicted. Adam undergoes a “naming” ceremony which makes him part of the Bideshi community, and I had a lot of trouble figuring out precisely what that entailed or what would have qualified as “failing” the ceremony, which would have been a big deal.

Similarly, the climactic battle was severely underwritten. There were some nicely done aerial dogfights earlier in the novel, but the truncation of the ultimate confrontation left me frustrated, and I never did fully grasp what was happening to Adam during that time.

The romance between Lock and Adam is considerably less detailed than you find in a typical m/m romance, and while I was willing to believe their attraction and romantic journey, I had to read between the lines. I really appreciated that there were a variety of non-straight characters. While Adam is a closeted gay man (the Protectorate enforces cis-gender and heterosexual norms), Lock is bisexual and there is also a trans* character. Overall, the sexual orientations and gender identities of the characters aren’t that big a deal, which is refreshing.

I enjoyed reading Line and Orbit, but when I finished I was left dissatisfied, because the characterizations and the resolutions of the various storylines were either more predictable or less interesting than they could have been. Thinking it over, Lochlan and Cosaire were the most interesting characters in an on-page sense, but they were irritating and overly villainous respectively. Adam started out interesting but then veered into Matrix-like “The One” territory, and Kae was just too patient and wonderful.

I’m interested in seeing what the upcoming sequel to Line and Orbit looks like, as well as Moraine’s new fantasy novel, but I want less predictability and please, no more magical “traditional” cultures. Grade: C+

~ Sunita

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REVIEW:  Turbulence by Lyn Gala

REVIEW: Turbulence by Lyn Gala

lg_turbulence

Corporal Jacqs Glebov is a simple soldier who wants a bunk, decent food, and the company of other battle-hardened men and women who understand the realities of fighting. Instead, he’s stuck patrolling a remote corner of the border with cadets straight out of boot camp. They don’t understand him, and he sure doesn’t have an ounce of respect for them.

After a field promotion, Commander Zeke Waters is sent to the Candiru for some practical experience in a leadership role. Instead, Zeke falls in lust with the adamantly heterosexual Jacqs. The way Jacqs fights and the way he sees the world draws Zeke closer, even if common sense tells him to walk away.

Even if they can find a way to find to reconcile their sexual differences, they are both still soldiers. The war will eventually take them away from each other unless they can find a way to escape the rules that have defined their lives.

Dear Lyn Gala,

I have read many m/m romance books which claimed to also be scifi/space operas only to discover to my dismay that they were not. So often the books are romances and the scifi/space opera aspect is just used as a window dressing for romance. Happily, this book is a real space opera – with a spaceship crew, war with aliens and enough action scenes to satisfy me. I also thought that the world building was good and had enough details to make the story enjoyable. There is a romance in this book and I think the writer mixed up the romance and the action well, but this is an “us against the world” story, once Jacqs realizes that yes, he wants Zeke, the conflicts the heroes face are mostly external.

In the foreword to the story the author says that the inspiration for the main character was a prompt from a fan who asked the question: What would happen to somebody who would share a particular character trait with Jayne from “Firefly”? I have not watched “Firefly” (I have been telling myself to do so for a while now, but something always distracts me), but I made sure to ask somebody who did watch and who read this book as well whether the worlds are in any way similar. I was told that no, mostly not and I also was told that Jacqs is not Jayne. I am telling readers this to explain that to me being inspired by a single character trait from existing character does not mean that this story is fanfiction, but I really wanted to double check first.

If you look at the blurb, you will probably think that the romance aspect of the story includes the “gay for you” trope. At least that is what I thought before I started reading the book. I would say that after I finished the story my answer would be that I am not sure whether the story deals with “gay for you” at all. In addition, the author states in the foreword to this book (and I really appreciate the note, otherwise it would have caused some confusion for me) that the sexuality in this world is more complex than just gay or straight. I mean, it is a fantasy creation of course, but for me it is an inventive and believable fantasy creation. I think in a sense this is based on the Kinsey scale (the basis for her invention I mean), but she came up with quite a few new words for people’s sexuality such as hypersexual, stenosexual and some others (I will let you read and find out what those definitions mean for the people in this book, in addition to the words familiar to us like heterosexual and homosexual. In this world people are required to declare their sexuality (not for any punitive purposes, I guess just for statistics) and they can change their sexuality any time they want.

Jacqs is a great character. He is a battle-hardened veteran, who is in the social interactions sometimes (ok, often) tends to act with his fists before he thinks, but whose heart is in the right place. I liked how he worried about his team members’ survival, even if he mostly called them idiots, and I think if I were serving in the army I definitely would have wanted Jacqs on my side. When Jacqs decides that he is attracted to Zeke, he changes his sexuality from heterosexual, but he did not then register as homosexual either. I really liked how one of the most important aspects of his characterization was woven into his decision. This man did not like introspection, but he never ran away from problems, met the challenges head on and after some thinking he realized that his sexuality was something different than he had thought it was before. I guess for me his thinking that over felt very male-like.

“Jacqs didn’t rightly like self-introspection. It never led to good things. It didn’t even lead to mediocre things, not in his estimation. But at the same time, he’d never run away from a fight in his life, not when it came to bullies in the camps, not when he’d faced off against the batfaces for the first time, and not when he had demons rolling around in his head. He battled them, and he either won or lost the fight, but he didn’t go hiding”.

I think I would have wanted Zeke on my side as well. Zeke was another veteran who was supposedly sent to lead the crew of “Candiru” in order to acquire leadership skills on a larger scale than he previously had a chance to practice. I thought Zeke managed the best he could and that he was a great officer already. Zeke and Jacqs made a great team – both in their professional and personal life.

I also really liked several other crew members of “Candiru”. The ensemble cast overall was interesting and I wanted to learn more about them. The female crew members were well done I thought – I thought that even minor characters had some flaws and felt human to me.

I do not think I am revealing major spoilers when I say that humanity in this book is at war with an alien species. I am not sure whether I was completely happy with how the alien species were portrayed (very broadly and I am not sure whether it was alien enough for me), but the story was not about them, so I shrugged and moved on.

As you can see by now, I thought that overall this was a really good book, but I was taken aback by the ending. It was unexpected (for me at least), which in some ways is a great thing, because I like it when a story takes me to the unpredictable places. However, it also left me a little depressed. But this is an issue of personal preference. The ending fit the story perfectly; it was original and to me fit the characters’ personalities. I just wished the writer had not gone there in the first place. I understand that I am being very cryptic in order not to reveal spoilers, but if somebody would like to know more details, I will be happy to give those under spoiler cuts in comments.

Grade: B.

 

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