December 14, 2017
(+++) PROCEEDING AS EXPECTED
Argeneau Novel No. 26: Immortally Yours. By Lynsay Sands. Avon. $7.99.
Andromedan Dark, Book Two: Darkness Falling. By Ian Douglas. Harper Voyager. $7.99.
You get what you pay for and you get what you expect when you pick up books by accomplished genre authors who deliver just what you would anticipate them delivering, time and time again. Books that fit their series snugly, in series that fit their genre with precision, are in a sense beyond criticism, since they do not pretend to be anything more than they are and do not reach out to anyone except readers who are already enamored of their approaches and/or authors. The long-running Argeneau series about the usual contemporary sort of strong, appealing, sexy and determined vampires – a whole, wide-ranging clan of them – continues with remarkable consistency in Lynsay Sands’ capable hands. These are the sorts of books that would once have been called “bodice rippers,” and their cover illustrations still tie them to that old-fashioned genre, but nowadays the women are taking off their clothing on their own, and with alacrity – no ripping necessary. There remain carryovers from the human world to the immortal one of vampires, however, and that is the linchpin of the plot of the 26th Argeneau book, Immortally Yours. The female protagonist here, Beth Argenis, is a strong and capable Rogue Hunter, tracking down dangerously violent immortal fiends. She has a longstanding crush on another strong and capable Rogue Hunter, Cullen “Scotty” MacDonald; and these being immortals, this is a crush of very long standing – well over a century. Why have these hyper-attractive, sexually uninhibited vampires not acted on the attraction? Why, because then there would be no tension in Immortally Yours! All right, that is not the official reason: Beth, when a human, was sold into prostitution and brutalized by scores of men, and she believes that Scotty (who is a laird, no less) thinks he is too good for her. It is obvious where this is going to lead; the only question is when and how. The “when” is “soon enough,” and the “how” comes in the form of threats to Beth’s immortal existence – threats from which Scotty is determined to protect her, but from which she considers herself quite capable of protecting herself, thank you very much. The push-pull of the budding Beth-Scotty relationship climaxes, well, often. But it first climaxes with a kiss that shows the two of them to be “life mates,” this being one of those Argeneau series inventions that help justify, or at least explain, the intensity of the characters’ physical attraction. Now Beth and Scotty have a lot to work out, in bed and elsewhere, including the difficulties of both their pasts. And in the present, Beth needs to protect herself and Scotty needs to protect her even when she wants to assert her own abilities, and it turns out that it takes the two of them working together to keep Beth safe. No surprise there. In fact, no surprises anywhere, really, in Immortally Yours, but the Argeneau series is not noted for surprises – it is a paranormal-romance series with fast pacing, recognizable-within-the-genre characters, plenty of adventure, and a heaping helping of sexual attraction. For those who like this recipe, Sands invariably prepares it with skill.
The skill set is different, or at least the topics are, in the work of Ian Douglas (one of the pen names of William H. Keith Jr.). Keith uses the Douglas alias for books of science fiction with some fantasy elements and a strong military flavor. And that is just what the Andromedan Dark series is. Although intended as more-or-less “hard” SF, Darkness Falling and the prior book, Altered Starscape, partake of fantasy because they project a far, far, far distant future, four billion years from more or less our present time, in which far, far far less has changed than genuine “hard” SF would assume. Really, the extreme distance in time is a stand-in for extreme distance in, well, distance, the idea being to isolate the characters and force them to confront their own needs, abilities, shortcomings, etc. That element is common in SF of all types, so in that sense this series fits neatly into a sci-fi box. It also fits well into the civilian-vs.-military conflict that Douglas has explored before and that he made an important element of Altered Starscape. In the second book, the conflict between military leader Grayson St. Clair and political leader Gunter Adler continues, but there is really no contest between the noble, upstanding St. Clair and the sniveling, power-hungry Adler, so the book’s primary drama must come from elsewhere. The sexual politics of the humans and “gynoids” (female androids) provides some of the conflict here, but the ultimate concern involves one of those everlasting tropes of SF, or more specifically space opera: some sort of all-powerful civilization-destroying something-or-other that the heroic humans must figure out how to stop. The humans are hampered primarily, it seems, by their dialogue. This is the distant future, after all, and was distant even before the four-billion-year trip. But when St. Clair asks the colony’s AI what the ship’s alien hosts want, the AI replies, “Primarily our expertise,” which leads St. Clair to say, “Huh? They’re 4 billion years ahead of us! What do we know that they don’t?” That is a good question, if inelegantly phrased, but the answer is essentially gobbledygook, being that “once technology reaches a certain level, further advances become little more than refinements to what exists already. And with no need for radical advances, technological growth tends to stagnate.” Oh, please – that sounds like the far-future version of the notorious quote attributed (incorrectly) to Charles Holland Duell, commissioner of the United States Patent and Trademark Office from 1898 to 1901, to the effect that “everything that can be invented has been invented.” Surely Douglas does not want people to think about that quotation, which long ago captured the popular imagination even though Duell never said it. But Douglas’ “technology” explanation smacks of the same sort of warped (and scarcely warp-speed) thinking. Well, no matter – Darkness Falling, and the series of which it is a part, are not intended to be considered with too much philosophical or analytical exactitude. These books have action, adventure, excitement and some interesting (if formulaic) personal conflicts going for them, and for the sorts of readers at whom Andromedan Dark is aimed, that mixture will be more than enough.