I write smut. And so, I read smut. I wrote awhile ago about the “unreadableness” of most Tentacle Porn, complaining that the writing is juvenile, the characters hateful, the plot nonexistent, the authors’ descriptive talents paltry, and our empathy for the situation assumed. All of which adds up to “unreadable.”

A friend of mine who is more of a connoisseur of this sort of thing than I am suggested I look up “Alien Abduction Romance” instead. She averred that such stories had what I was looking for. In the AAR universe, human men are hapless and luckless, human women are absolutely uncontrollable fuckbunnies when given the freedom and power to be so, human women are desired the galaxy over because they can host and incubate just about anything inside their bodies, and alien males have penises of all shapes and sizes, exploring the topological limits of what can be shoved into a willing human orifice.

My first encounter with this genre was, to say the least, disappointing. Emma Taylor’s “Alien Heart” was just dumb. The first chapter is an “as we both know, Abby” in which the heroine and her sidekick discuss her apparent lack of romantic opportunities, followed by a sudden crisis, followed by an encounter with the alien… who’s more or less completely human. There’s nothing alien at all about him. He’s just a guy from another country with a crisis that requires a macguffin that Abby happens to have. They meet and we’re told they have passionate sex. “Boy being meets girl being beneath a silvery moon… which then explodes for no adequately explored reason.” The writing is flat, drab, and expository, when it’s not descending into Tom Swift levels of exclamation.

I can’t really complain about the plot; it’s under-baked, but then I describe my genre as “soap operas set on starships where the action doesn’t fade to black as the characters gen into bed.” It’s a fine genre, and I’m happy to share it with others. I just wish writers in this space would master a few books about plot, character, scene and sentence, and then read their works aloud asking themselves, “Does that really work?” None of the mastery and craftsship that I hope to see grow in writers is evidence here. There are better writers giving their works away for free on AO3. Sorry, Emma.

Nicola Cameron’s King of Blades (Two Thrones #4) feels like a bridge episode in the the Two Thrones series. After the first two books sailed along scrumptiously to establish an epic setting, the third (and still my favorite), Lady of Thornes segued to side characters and a charming romance. King of Blades goes back to King Matthais and Queen Danae, along with other characters fans of the series know well.

The plot of the book is a little weak. There seems to be an ongoing, slow-burn attempt to upset and embarrass Danae’s brother, Crown Prince Darius, even as Darius is attempting to do the settle-down thing and convince his boyfriend that they’re mutual husbando material. The other major plot, a comedy of errors involving an old girlfriend of Matthais, is resolved a bit too neatly in order to escalate Darius’s predicament.

The real story here is the ongoing thread of Luna, Matthais’s bastard granddaughter, and Danae’s pregnancy with royal twins. (If this were one of those old Harlequin-style romance novels, there would be a pram on the spine.) Cameron has been setting the children up for some sort of major conflict, with “a storm is coming” prophecies hinting in every book so far, but other than some interesting development’s with Luna’s waterbending Aqua Mage talents, the book doesn’t focus on them.

Still, I have no major complaints. Cameron writes the most amazing love scenes, and she gives one here to Lars and Darius that rings very true and I am very here for it. Her banter between Matthais, Danae, and Matthais’ old university-day friends, now a happily married couple of their own, is witty and true to character. Everyone has a unique voice, which is fairly hard to do, but Cameron does seem to have the skill. If you’re a fan of her work, and a fan of the Two Thrones books, this one is as excellent as the rest.

Ada Hoffman’s The Outside is a fine debut novel that throws together several different popular modern tropes into a lovely stew of a novel, but it also suffers from the big problem faced by all writers in this space, myself included.

[Warning, there be spoilers!]

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Imagine you’re a scrambler.” With those four words, Peter Watts’s character Siri Keaton kicks off the final major epiphany of his science fiction masterpiece about first contact, Blindsight. It’s why the aliens have come, and why they’re so inscrutable to the master interpreter, Susan James. Ultimately, we realize the aliens, which the crew name “Scramblers,” are here to wipe out humanity, but as Siri and Susan come to understand, the aliens don’t have a reason humans can understand.

Siri is telling the story as a story. And he tells us straight up that he’s an unreliable narrator. Part of the book’s conceit is that the reader has to puzzle out what’s really gong on in Siri’s head– a head that’s very different from yours or mine.

Thinking about it, I realized that maybe the aliens have a very understandable reason.

Warning, this post contains spoilers about both Blindsight and Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep.

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Adele by Leila Slimani is one of those books that I so desperately wanted to like based on the reviews, and ended up absolutely loathing based on the actual content. It’s a book-length bit of New Yorker fiction, you know the type: contemporary, moody, and pointless. meaningful plot. If a story is what happened, and a plot is why it happened, then Slimani has written a story that goes nowhere.

I was intrigued with the story because it purported to be a story about a nymphomaniac. That was the word used in the first review I stumbled across, and of course the critics were all over themselves to praise a woman for daring to write a story about a woman obsessed with sex, and about a husband who’s just not into sex all that much.

Adele, the titular character, is married to Richard, a solid, stolid, and loyal man, a doctor who works out of a major Paris hospital, and they have one child together, a boy named Lucien. Adele lives a double life, with a steady stream of men she meets and has sex with on a regular basis. The whole plot revolves around one simple question: When will Richard find out, and what will he do?

For a 180-page book, the answer is that Richard finds out around page 110, and he does… spoiler alert, but if you’ve ever read the New Yorker, you already know the answer… he does almost nothing. He suffers, Adele suffers, Lucien suffers.

But Slimani seems to be completely uninterested in why. Adele’s mother gives a speech about how Adele was “dangerous to men” the moment she hit puberty, and Adele’s best friend tells her that the stolid, married life was never meant for her, and really this book just ends up a portrait of two people who married for convention who should never have been in the same room together.

And for a genre that’s all about introspection, Adele is uninterested in why she wants what she wants. She moves through life with all the consciousness of a sparrow. It’s a depressing book, and it has no real resolution.

The book’s length includes an interview with the author, and Slimani reveals that she’s uninterested it why Adele is the way she is. “Adele wants to be a thing,” is about as thoughtful as she gets about her character. The sex scenes, and there are several, are crass and uninteresting. Maybe that’s Slimani’s point: that the sex simply can’t fill the hole in Adele’s soul, but Slimani doesn’t even make the case that it’s the sex that’s the problem, rather than Adele’s vapid regard for it. The sex is a hook to sell the book, and it worked on me, much to my annoyance.

Seriously, if you want to read something like this, go find The Sexual Life of Catherine M.. The eponymous M is a real person, and while she’s as passive and as impulsive as Adele, she had the sense to find a man who would indulge her obsessions and be her chaperone during her encounters. It’s also a much better book.

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