Crimson

Title: Crimson
Author: Ethan X. Thomas
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Genre: m/m Science Fiction
Length: Novella
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

A guest review by Jenre

THE BLURB

Submission isn’t an option—it’s a full-time job.

A Men in Space story.

Humiliated by the betrayal of his former Master, Lieutenant Benjamin Kraft will do anything to bring the drug czar Tazu to justice—anything but kneel again. Forget passion too. He’d rather risk daily grow-op raids. Then, just when Tazu is finally within reach, an ambush wipes out Ben’s entire squad and threatens the life of his partner—a partner he never realized he cared about, much less loved.

As a member of a former slave race known as starlings, Adam’s speed and strength make him a valuable asset to the police force even as his blue skin inspires prejudice and derision from the other officers. Ben’s always been able to look past that, so what’s changed? Suddenly his partner is rude at every turn. Ben may try to get rid of him, but too bad; Adam won’t be scared off. He has his own reasons for wanting to bring Tazu in, and he’ll do it even if it means putting Ben in his place.

Even if it means acting as Ben’s Master on their next mission: an investigation on a planet where sex is everywhere, and where whips and chains are the norm…

THE REVIEW

Crimson is the third of the Samhain Men in Space Novellas. Each book is written by different authors and the only link between the stories is that they are all sci-fi based and that much of the action either happens in space or on a planet other than Earth. My complaint about the other books in the series, Moonlust (reviewed here) and Beyond Meridian (reviewed here) was that whilst the stories were enjoyable, the science fiction and world building were lacking in imagination. With Crimson the opposite is the case as the story contains many interesting and unique ideas but falls down on the coherency of the plotting and written style.

The story begins with vice cop Ben and his partner Adam dragging themselves away from the wreckage of their craft and searching for shelter on an unfamiliar planet. As they reach shelter they are suddenly attacked by robots, who seem to come out of nowhere. In an attempt to save his partner who he likes, respects and is sexually attracted to, Ben attempts a suicidal move which kills the robots and leaves him badly injured. Back on their home planet, Ben and Adam are assigned another job which takes them to the resort planet Granatas, where they discover a mysterious and dangerous substance called Crimson.

There were lots of distictive ideas in this novella, first and foremost of which is the character of Adam who is a Starling. Starling’s are humaniod, but seem to be descended from birds as their skin is a blue colour and their eyes are completely black. Instead of hair they have feathers which grow on their head, eyebrows and pubic area. In the past the Starlings have been enslaved and treated badly. Adam is the first of his race to gain status as a cop, but is still generally treated with suspicion. As a result of this and his people’s past, Adam is wary and bitter. He knows that he is good at his job, but hates the fact that he must fight prejudice at every turn. As the book progressed I was looking forward to learning more of Adam’s past and that of the Starling people generally. Unfortunately this area was just one of many that was never fully developed and I was ultimately disappointed at the missed opportunity with this part of the story.

Another really great idea was the fact that all cops have an implant in their neck called a symbiot. Symbiots are living creatures shaped like starfish which live at the top of the spine and give a mental and physical advantage to the human who shares his or her body with them. It makes the human able to read the thoughts of other cops, to influence the thoughts and actions of others, and to heal the body quickly after injury. The humans seem to have very affectionate feelings towards their symbiots, seeing them as friends living in their bodies rather than foreign objects. I liked the idea of the symbiot and wanted to know how humans had discovered them and a little more about how they work. Unfortunately, I was never told any of the background to these fascinating creatures.

From reading the above you might be getting the impression that I was a little bit frustrated with this story. I was. I also spent quite a lot of time confused as to what was actually happening to the heroes as nothing was adequately explained. Even simple things like the mission that Adam and Ben are given. I was never told why they are on Granatas and what they are supposed to be doing there. They get involved in a BDSM club but to what purpose I was never told. Ben begins the book respectful towards Adam and then makes a number of derogatory remarks about his lineage and yet it is never explained why he has suddenly started doing that. Was it because he was suddenly afraid of his lustful feelings towards Adam and so sought to put a distance between them? Possibly, but I’m just making a supposition here as I can’t say for certain what his motivations were. There was also a missed opportunity to describe the people of Granatas. For some reason they are red, but I was never told why this is – is it that they are a race of people with red skin and hair, or do they dye their skin and hair to distinguish themselves as prostitutes and servants to the rich people who come to the planet for their pleasure? Time and time again I had to go back and re-read bits in case I had somehow missed important information, but sadly, I hadn’t.

I think that this novella suffers from too many ideas for such a short format, and so something which could have been great is confusing and garbled instead. I liked all the ideas in the book, from the ones I’ve mentioned to others such as Ben’s submissive tendencies, despite his commanding presence, and how that affects Adam, a former slave; and also the use of Crimson and its effect on those who use it, but this book needed to be twice as long to fully explore all the wonderful ideas contained within its pages. This has been a difficult book to grade because I acknowledge that out of the three Men in Space books, this novella is by far the most exciting as a science fiction book. However, even the greatest of ideas need space to grow and develop and with Crimson it’s the lack of development and coherency of those ideas which has led to the grade that I’ve given.

15 comments

  • This one could have done with a few more pages for sure! It would explain so much more.
    *
    Ethan, thanks for telling us, there will be more. I will certainly pick it up. I love sci-fi and the world building certainly was interesting. Also I would like to see were Adam and Ben are heading to next.
    *
    In case anyone is interested: the Big Bird in NL is called Pino and is actually light blue with orange feet 🙂

  • I think I’ll pass; not understand what’s happening and/or why annoys me to no end. Too bad, because there seemed to be some good ideas in this story. I’m into sci-fi at the moment so I might look up the rest of the series.

    • Hi Mary
      If you like Sci-fi, then the other two books should appeal to you. They are very clear in their plotting, but not quite as adventurous with their world building.

  • Uhoh sounds like another case of wanting to have too many things in a limited format. This could possibly have been a lot better as a novel. (much like you said).
    *
    Too bad, because it sounds really quite interesting. Though…blue? Why does that make me think of smurfs? 😉
    *
    Thanks for the good review!

    • Hi Larissa
      I was a bit unsure about the blue at first, but actually the way that Ben finds Adam’s skin colour so attractive made me come round to the idea after a while.

      • There’s another book with a shapeshifter that I recently read. If I’d know up front what would happen, I would never have read it.
        *
        However, it did and seeing it through the character’s eyes made all the difference. Weird, but okay 😉

  • Ethan
    This sounds like it could be a terrific series – I hope you do expand and explore Ben’s and Adam’s relationship and their world because the protagonists are unusual. We don’t get many books like these. Maybe a novel next time. 😀

    Jen
    Great job as usual explaining why some things didn’t work for you.

  • Thank you so much for your review. While I’m sorry you felt that the novella was hampered by its length, I hope that you will give my writing another try in the future. I plan not only to explore Ben and Adam’s relationship in further books, but expand both on the past of the starlings and the nature of the symbiots. Best of luck to you, and again–thank you.

    – Ethan

    • Hi Ethan
      I am certainly interested in reading more about these characters, especially the D/s relationship that started to develop between them in this book.
      *
      I hadn’t realised you were going to make this into a series. If I had then I may have been able to attribute some of the things I found troubling about this book to the sort of problems that occur in many first books of a series where authors are trying to fit in setting up the world building along with a plot.
      *
      I shall look forward to the next book in the series and to finding out more about Adam and the Starlings.

  • Wow, that’s disappointing because you said lots of things in the review that for me (not a huge sci-fi reader) really tweaked my interest. Guy with blue skin and feathers? Cool. Red people? Neato. Sex planets? Always fun. New drugs? Ooooh. But … Maybe it was a case of double the length would have allowed the author to really explain stuff but he was given a limit and forced to stick to it which is unfortunate all around. Great job explaining why things missed in this one.

    • Hi Tam
      That is how I felt when I started reading – oh wow, a man who is blue and has feathers. I thought it might put me off the character at first, but actually I was fascinated with Adam and wanted to know a whole lot more about him than I was told.

  • Jenre, thank you for this insightful review!
    I was looking forward to it because I wasn’t quite sure if I should buy the book or not. I won’t now because I’d be as frustrated as you were regarding the issues you pointed out.
    Initially I was just a bit wary about Adam being a strange copy of Sesame Street’s Big Bird (thanks Wave for the name! in the German version it’s Bibo, I guess *g*) but after reading your review I learned there are more serious things to worry about. *lol*
    Darn. I’m a bit disappointed. It sounds like the story had a lot of potential.

    • Hi Lilli
      No Adam is definitely not like Big Bird :).
      *
      There was a lot of potential in this book and I’m quite sad that the book didn’t reach that potential.

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