Saturday, February 25, 2012

Fusion in Romance Fiction

I (finally) finished R. Lee Smith's Heat, an immense book (really: 500+ pages or longer -- hard to gauge on the Kindle, but it's a nearly 1 MB download) and one that's hard to categorize.

Or rather, Heat is easy to categorize...several times over.

First of all, I heard about it at Dear Author, where January's review used the words, "the best independently published book I have read, and one of the best books I have read in a long while."

Hey, I was sold. And she's right--it's very well written and hard to put down. (Although I did skim the final three chapters, which could have been tightened by an editor.)

What I can't do is easily assign it a label so another reader would be able to say, "Ooh, erotic Sci Fi -- I love those books," or "Speculative police procedural -- sounds like fun."

The problem is, there are too many labels, and they all apply. Here's a partial list of genres that Heat falls into:
  1. Science fiction. That's a no-brainer. The heroes are three-toed aliens from the planet Jota with claws on their hands and feet; you don't get characters like that from anything but SF.
  2. Romance. If the definition of a romance novel is that the development of a love relationship between (at least) two characters culminating in a happy ending, then Heat is two romance novels: both couples get their own HEA.
  3. Erotica. Lots of explicit sex, most of it highly relevant to the plot and/or characters, some of it objectionable (if non-consensual sex bothers you), some of it resulting from a long, slow build-up of sexual tension. Heck, there's even some (kinda sorta) f/f action, although I wouldn't suggest anyone buy Heat for those scenes.
  4. Police procedural. Not the best aspect of the book, but it's undeniable that the elements are there: a law enforcement officer is charged with apprehending a criminal whose whereabouts and activities are hard to track.
  5. Morality tale. I found myself musing pretty seriously about oh, say, deer hunting (which is big in my literal corner of the woods), specifically about how human hunters think about their lower-order prey. I also wondered about the wages of environmental degradation (a sin of sorts), what constitutes an "innocent victim," and what the appropriate punishment should be for the criminal in the book. And that's all without getting to the non-consensual sex, overtones of slavery & cruelty, Stockholm Syndrome, and so forth.
Would I recommend Heat to someone? Maybe. I certainly enjoyed it. I also admire it a lot. It's well-written, and while that's not a reason to read any single book, it's a quality we take for granted until it's not there. Heat is wonderfully creative; the title refers, variously, to a biological condition experienced by Jotan males that allows/requires them to mate in a particularly violent fashion; to thermal energy; to sexual tension; and to the 90-dog-days-of-summer that Oregon (!) suffers in a vaguely futuristic United States. (Hard to tell what year it is; Law & Order is still playing in constant rotation on basic cable, which in theory suggests the early 21st century, but does anyone believe that L&O won't still be playing in, say, 50 years?)

But even if I recommended Heat, I'd have a hard time summing it up succinctly enough to help another reader make an informed choice.

By contrast, I'm rereading Mercedes Lackey's 500 Kingdoms series: Feminist retelling of fairy tales.

I got Victoria Dahl's Good Girls Don't in the mail today: Single-title contemporary romance.

Someone strongly recommended Fiona Hill's The Country Gentleman: Traditional Regency romance.

See? You know immediately what sort of books those are. But if I say of Heat that it's an erotic science fiction romance, I haven't conveyed the violence, the moral relativism, or the kinky sex. (Frankly, I don't know that it's not also a horror story...)

Fusion is great in food, music, and nuclear physics, but we're not programmed to understand it in Romlandia. Maybe that's true in all popular fiction, or in all fiction, or all writing. I don't know.

It's hard to do books like Heat credit. It succeeds on so many levels that if you like "that sort" of book, you'll love it.

I just wish I had a better way of telling you what sort of book it is.

Oh, wait. I know: It's a good book.

1 comment:

  1. It sounds really out there. You have me intrigued but I don't know if I'd buy it.


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