A guest review by Jenre
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…
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.