Too Much Plot!

From Suzanne Brockmann's website
Yes, there is such a thing as too much plot. Also, misleading jacket copy. You'd think this book would be about Shane and Mac right? You would be wrong.

Many things came together in a perfect storm to ruin my enjoyment of what should have been a really good book. The three books I've shredded in the last two weeks are all ones I found during the SFR Brigade's "If you like this, try this" event a couple months ago. All are from mainstream publishers, and all were authors coming from another genre and dipping their toes into SFR.

This was my first Brockmann book. And while it was okay, there are significant problems.

First one: The entire plot could have happened without Mac and Shane and nothing would have changed. They're billed as the primary romance, but there was really nothing there other than some hot and heavy lust. They felt more like filler and I never really connected with either one of them. Which is sad, because I have a thing for SEAL's.

They're supposed to be the main characters, and they're hardly together. How the heck is Shane "falling in love" with a woman he's spent a grand total of three hours with? This is a 500 page book.

Second: The timeline was too compressed for a believable romance arc. The entire book happens in two and a half days. I couldn't buy that Mac and Shane could actually fall in love in that amount of time when they spent more time apart than together. See above. Maybe three hours together, total. In 500 pages.

Third: The constant ramping up of mental powers. Not to mention some that are scientifically impossible due to the laws of physics, like a human being able to breathe fire. This is not a paranormal, though it plays on familiar paranormal concepts. It's a science fiction romance, and the science parts needed more work. The Greater-Thans had a scientific explanation for their abilities, and some of those abilities are impossible within a scientific world. Like flying and shooting fireballs from your mouth.

Fourth: Inconsistent worldbuilding relying WAY too much on political bias and not enough on extrapolation of actual events. Ms. Brockmann screams loud and proud about her gay son and how supportive she is of gay rights. Fine, whatever floats her boat. But I have a problem with being hit upside the head with it in a novel. The gay romance was handled fairly well and didn't cross any of my lines. But it did NOTHING to advance the overall plot. It revealed some nuances to the Greater-Thans, but that's not enough of a reason to do it. It read heavy-handed and agenda-driven. Everything Elliot discovered about how to deal with what was going on would have happened without acknowledging his feelings for Stephen.

Fifth: Mac, the supposed heroine, was a bitch. I hated her and couldn't wait to get out of her POV. Every. Single. Time. She used the people around her, acted with no thought about people she considered her friends, and I really don't understand what Shane saw in her. She's described in the jacket copy as having a kick-ass attitude. No. She has a serious case of bitch-itis and there was *zero* evidence of actual character development, and no character growth.

Sixth: Shane seemed like an afterthought, and then at the end it was OMG I HAVE TO USE HIM IN THE FINAL BATTLE OR HE'S POINTLESS. The final battle left me scratching my head more than anything else. It was weird. And Shane's skills as a former SEAL were not used.

Seventh: What the heck. Psychic dream connections. It can be cool when used sparingly, but Ms. Brockmann didn't use it sparingly. It was the main way of revealing the plot and advancing the romantic relationships. Sorry, but dream interactions don't carry the same weight as physical.

All of this makes me sad. No wonder SFR has such problems being taken seriously, since this is what represents the genre. There are serious issues where the authors are tacking on SF elements because it sounds cool. They're not doing the work needed to pull it off and make it believable. It does not surprise me that this book came out almost two years ago and there's no sign of a sequel. I don't think I would read it.

I have a thing for SEAL's. Have for years. But after this book I'm not sure I have the patience to try her Troubleshooters series. My writer brain can't deal with it. This book has a lot of not-so-good reviews on Goodreads too, with more than one reviewer sharing my thoughts on the gay characters aspect. It's not that I mind them being there, I truly didn't because I liked them as individuals. It was the way they were thrown in to be "inclusive", as opposed to advancing the plot.


Strange things writers research

Image by pkeleher via
Wikimedia Commons
My Slipstream Network series is set on Earth in the not too distant future. There are multiple dimensions, an Earth used as breeding experiments by aliens, and people fighting for the right to live their lives as they want instead of how they're told.

I've had this fascination with professional football for many years, and it took a major upswing when Tim Tebow was starting for the Broncos and I started finding behind the scenes books about life in the NFL. Then there was the lockout, Bountygate, the Super Bowl being in New Orleans (I live in Louisiana and root for the Saints no matter what).

Shortly after the Super Bowl last year I started brooding on a new idea. I knew one of the characters would be in the NFL, but it's taken me awhile to nail down his story and find his heroine.

My alien-DNA-enhanced-humans have their home base in our dimension set up in Colorado. I have a thing for the Rockies there, and it's a great excuse to indulge in my love of looking at pictures of said Rockies. In my fictional universe I can have my University of Arkansas quarterback drafted anywhere I want, so of course he ends up in Denver.

Last week the football and research gods aligned. I have plenty of stuff from last year on New Orleans preparing to host the Super Bowl. I'm from Louisiana, there's no way I'm writing about a fictional Super Bowl in a city I've never been to. What I lacked was watching the Broncos prepare for a Super Bowl. A lot's changed in the sport and the size of the event since 1999.

The Broncos are going to the Super Bowl. I'm watching them prepare. I'm in research nerd heaven!


Little Miss Perfect

Jacquelyn Frank
This is the second book in Jacquelyn Frank's Three Worlds series. I read the first one and enjoyed it, for the most part. It just barely squeaks by on my qualifications for SFR. It read more like fantasy.

Anywho, on to the review.

One word: Ambrea. Gah! She bugged the heck out of me from the moment she walked on to the page. Why? She's too perfect. And he was an afterthought. Which means I didn't finish it.

By too perfect I mean she always said the right thing, always did the right thing, took charge of every situation she was, manipulated the hero like was a blob of Silly Putty, and was instantly hot for a man from a race her people consider Public Enemy Number One.

Oh, but wait. It gets better. She grew up in SECLUSION! As the spurned heiress to her people's throne, put aside by her father because he was convinced her mother was a traitor therefore his heir's blood was tainted too. Very Henry VIII/Elizabeth I. She walks back into her palace after the IM intervenes to reinstate her as the empress, and says and does exactly the right things without even thinking about it. Then she runs off to her private rooms with the hero, this enemy of her people, a people she cares so much about she's willing to risk her uncle's wrath to reclaim her throne, and that's where Ms. Frank lost me. They have their first time making love, they're both virgins, and guess who's taking the lead? Her. Sheltered little "I can't believe anyone would try to kill me, let alone my own flesh and blood" Empress Ambrea talks this "huge Tarian" through his fear of having sex with her. And I mean little as in tiny, she's practically a midget compared to him.

Ooh, I almost forgot. She's obnoxiously religious and carries her prayer book everywhere.

The part that supposedly makes it SFR is the Three Worlds. Three separate planets, filled with humans, but each planet considers the others to be a different race. No sign of Earth. They have a police force dressed in military terminology called the Interplanetary Militia. The heroes in this series are IM soldiers. The first hero, Commander Bronse Chapel, acted and sounded like a soldier. He lived and breathed for the job. And his heroine didn't get on my nerves. She made mistakes, and plenty of them. She was cool, and her psychic abilities were well thought out and believable.

Then comes Ambrea, the little perfect princess. Grew up in seclusion remember? On a world that felt like it had been yanked from a bad fantasy novel. No woman could have hair longer than her. The villainess relied on a mystic healer sort of lady to off the princess's little brother with some kind of herbal poison undetectable to the IM's technology. Really? You expect me to buy that?

Can't forget Rush "Ender" Blakely, the hero. From the race her people consider Public Enemy Number One, and so far beneath them it was almost comical. For some reason I didn't stick around to find out Rush is a pyrotechnic. And he's never told his commanding officer about it! He's not a well crafted pyro either. His pyro genes, or whatever the heck they are, make him impervious to every known weapon in the Three Worlds. And again, his CO doesn't know about it.

Except more often than not it felt like Ms. Frank *did* forget Rush. And don't get me started on the inconsistency with character names and their handles (that's what military given nicknames are called).

Then there's the worldbuildling. It started out great in the first one, but the second one made no sense. It was the strangest mashup of ancient Rome, epic fantasy, and Elizabethan court. Plus, it didn't work. At all. This is a world with interstellar transport, cutting edge technology, and I'm supposed to believe the nation of Allay is still so backward socially that no woman can have longer hair than the princess? And that the emperor and his brother imprison people they don't like in medieval style catacombs? And that herbal poisons can't be detected by IM scientists? One more. I'm supposed to believe the emperor's concubines use herbal poisons to keep each from conceiving, and it doesn't show up in tests of any kind?

Sorry. Don't buy it.

The third book in the series, according to Ms. Frank, is "indefinitely on hold". Which is a nice way to say the publisher cancelled it because sales were abysmal. I completely agree with the publisher's decision to drop this thing like a hot potato. Because it was one hot mess.

To have a solid SFR universe the world building must make sense. Scientific and logical sense. It's SCIENCE fiction. You can extrapolate out the wazoo and come up with anything you want, but you have to build the foundation to support your skyscraper. The Three Worlds has no foundation to support the skyscraper she tried to build in this one.


What Went Wrong?

Image from Lisa Renee Jones
Earlier this week I blogged at the SFR Brigade about my idea of a perfect hero. It's no secret I love heroes best. I was all set to enjoy this book about a man with a reputation so vast he's become a legend.

Problem number one: He's supposed to be Special Forces, but his hair is past his shoulders. Excuse me? This guy is not a soldier, he's a psychopath in a uniform, with psychopaths for parents.

Problem number two: He's an ass.

Problem number three: He had no respect for boundaries.

Problem number four: I would not run away with this man. I'd be afraid he'd kill me.

Problem number five: Stereotypical "I'm going to take over the world because I'm EVIL" bad guy. Sorry, Ms. Jones, in the 21st century this only works for Dr. Doofenshmirtz. But he has motivation (make his perfect older brother look the fool). Adam has no motive for what he's doing.

Problem number six: Good twin/Bad twin. Good twin leads the good guys, bad twin leads the bad guys. FOR NO REASON! I made it halfway through the book and learned *zero* about these twins.

Problem number seven: Michael does not in any way cherish Cassandra, nor did he show any compassion or kindness. Even toward her. This is a HUGE problem for me. He doesn't tell her what to do either, he demands it and makes her give in by kissing her or tearing her clothes off. Preferably both.

Okay, deep breath here. Need to calm down. This book really pissed me off. On to why I think Michael is an ass, and other character issues.

The author is well established in the romance genre, specifically erotica and paranormal. The heat level on this one was average, but there was one scene with Michael and Cassandra that was borderline rape and it's what sealed the deal for me to put it down. Why do people continue to think stuff like this is okay if it's the hero doing it because he's so hot for her?

It was like she took the stereotypical paranormal hero, the ultra possessive alpha male with a bad attitude, and gave him 'roid rage. I don't remember ever having such strong negative feelings for a romance hero. Usually it takes a character like Theon Greyjoy or Joffrey Lannister to set off such passionate hatred in me. (I want to dig Theon's eyeballs out with a rusty spoon and shove them down his throat. And who doesn't love to hate the little bitch king?)

The setup I can buy, though it's not the most original. Area 51, the 1950's crash, experimental alien DNA injections to see what happens. Here's where she started to lose me. Too much PNR stuff, like dissolving into the wind, being able to control said wind, and controlling animals. How on earth does that qualify as alien? We have no idea what the aliens were like, whether they had psychic abilities or were able to control matter at the molecular level. If you're going with alien DNA you need to know the science of it and what the aliens were like.

Then there's the heroine's father, the man behind the experiments, supposedly a general. Don't buy him as military either. He's a megalomaniac, also in pursuit of world domination. What is it with all the world domination going on here? Really? You couldn't dig deeper and make these characters real instead of stereotypes? I flipped through the second half, and HE gets sexually-aggressive-bordering-on-rape too. With Michael's mother!

Next up, the PNR trope of bonded mates. In some series it's very cool how it's done, like Sherrilyn Kenyon's Were-Hunters or the mating bond in Psy-Changeling.. But this one was too much for me to swallow. I have a hard time buying alien DNA causes a mark to appear on the woman's neck and it creates a psychic connection between them, with physical repercussions ONLY on her while the bond is forming. When the process is complete she becomes a hybrid like him. Except the story harps on the fact the alien DNA can't be duplicated or cloned in any way. Unless, apparently, there are multiple exchanges of bodily fluids and then it can clone itself all it wants in the new body. I have problems with this.

So what went wrong? In short, everything. Unfortunately as I peruse the more mainstream SFR this type of shoddy worldbuilding and reliance on stereotypes is turning up quite a bit. Since this is what readers have been exposed to, it's no wonder pulling them in is so difficult.

Tossing in aliens, or in this case alien DNA, does not science fiction make.