I think is was Isaac Asimov who said that good science fiction should be both good science and good fiction. He was right. And that means good science fiction romance should be good science, good fiction AND good romance, right? Although I read a lot of romance and a lot of science fiction, I’m frequently disappointed in attempts to combine them; something seems to suffer. So when I read one that works for me, it’s extra special for being in that difficult sub-genre.
Collision Course by Zoe Archer hits the science fiction romance trifecta for me. I was pulled pretty quickly into the world Archer creates, and the scientific dimensions were interesting and creative without seeming impossible. That’s all the more amazing because this is a relatively short book. The world building is solid — I learned what I needed to know to appreciate the plot events and character motivations, as well as to give the book a solid background feel of a galaxy full of a variety of species. But I didn’t feel info-dumped, nor did I feel that details providing color were extraneous to the story. I’m glad that this is the first book of a series, because I’m interested in the bigger picture I glimpsed in this first book.
So, the romance: I really liked Mara, the smart, sexy, capable spaceship pilot who makes her way as a space scavenger because she doesn’t like following rules or taking orders. She is a perfectionist, and she hasn’t lost the ability to think idealistically or romantically. She thinks she’s tough, and she is, but she learns in the course of the book that she can admit to some tenderness, and allow herself to love and be loved, without losing her edge or her sense of self.
The man she learns that with is Kell Frayne, a commander in the Black Wraith Squadron, an elite group of pilots. Forced to work together to rescue another Black Wraith pilot, Mara and Kell experience instant and mutual sexual attraction. But they have power and trust issues to work out, while also navigating deadly stretches of space, attempting a difficult rescue, and avoiding capture or death at the hands of the PRAXIS group.
I like how quickly Kell learns to respect Mara and value her strength, intelligence and skill. Mara takes a little longer to acknowledge his abilities, although she’s quick to notice his physical attributes, but that’s a nice gender role reversal. They learn to work together out of necessity, and sexual attraction and admiration for each other’s skills become the foundation for trusting each other in ways neither of them expects. Because the steps in this process come about as a result of the events they experience together, the romance and the adventure are woven together in this book really well.
Kell and Mara are both pretty earthy about sex; equally so, which is nice. Their lust for each other is fun to read, and watching frustrated lust turn to gratified lust and then to love is quite a ride. Again, I’m surprised at how effective that is in this short a work, and with so much else going on. I’m eager for the next installment in the 8th Wing series, coming at the end of November.