First of all, it should be known I'm an outrageously curious person. I can't handle not knowing things--that's why I often spoil TV shows and movies for myself, sometimes not even on purpose, but because I clicked one too many links. I always need to know more. If I have just a taste of something, I go crazy.
So when I noticed a wave of people reviewing certain books--giving them 5 stars--I had to read them. When I learned their subject matter, I had to read them even more.
I'm referring to R. Lee Smith's three books: Cottonwood, The Last Hour of Gann and Heat. They aren't super new.
Ughhhhhh. Can you hear me sighing through the computer? Because I'm sighing. I don't really know where to begin with these books. They possessed a strange quality that drew me in at first, made me very curious, but then I grew unbearably bored and furious with a lot of the characters/plot lines. I even started talking to myself when I read them. I think I said "fucking really????" a million times this week. And these books are loooooooong. And absolutely insane.
R. Lee Smith is amazing at world-building. I cannot take that away from her. How she manages to craft these intricate, detailed (almost too detailed) worlds is beyond me. But I have a lot of problems with these books, and let me tell you why.
It started with Cottonwood. Everyone shit themselves over it. Its reviews are over the moon.
A quick summary: Aliens landed on Earth 20 years ago. We humans were dicks about it and put them in concentration camps. Conditions are terrible, blah blah blah, the people in charge hire average joes to become caseworkers who take surveys of the aliens and report the info back. The cover is that the officials are going to integrate the aliens with humans, but the truth is the people in control just want all the 411 on the extraterrestrials in order to do evil shit. Our Plain Jane protagonist (Sarah) falls in love with an alien (Sanford), becomes a whistleblower of sorts, and all this sadistic shit happens as a result. The last chunk of the book messed with my mind, dude.
Does this sort of sound familiar? Oh, right. The plot is almost exactly like District 9. As I was reading it, I couldn't believe it. When I looked back at reviews, some made allusions to it and said the author addresses it in her notes. Smith says she just happened to write essentially the same story, and that there were even more similarities she snipped out to avoid comparison. Mmhm. The only real difference is she added a romance. And the aliens really do act like bugs.
Guess what else they do, just like bugs? They mate. Just like bugs do. Thankfully Smith walks us through this process repeatedly. Yay! If you're wondering, yes. Yes, Sanford and Sarah have bug sex. That's a sentence I never thought I'd write, for sure. Also Sanford pays a visit to an alien brothel, and also fathers a son, so I got to read about two aliens (bugs) having sex. I will hand it to the author for her apparently extensive research into the mating habits of roach-like insects.
Honestly, I was fairly engrossed with the plot and wasn't as bored with it as I was with the other two books. The villain's POV was dull, however. Something I noticed about all of Smith's villains is they're all a bit over the top (with perhaps the exception of Kane in Heat). But I'm getting ahead of myself.
To give you an idea of what the alien looks like:
I'm so turned on right now.
I know, I know, it's what is underneath, etc, but I just don't think I could cross that line. Also his penis is at one point called "a stinger-like member". No. Just no.
I do understand and appreciate, however, that Smith tried to make them as alien to us as possible.
Side note: Smith has a bit of a preoccupation with repeated rape and sexually violent scenes. It's a theme in all her books, and that I'll also tip my hat to, for she makes certain characters and situations terrifying and hopeless. There were a few times my heart was in my throat. Eventually, though, it becomes overdone and loses the impact.
Once I'd finished the book, I felt deeply unsatisfied and decided most of it was ridiculous (I'm fine with sci-fi, I just didn't care for this particular batch of it).
Then I found out she had another alien book where a lizard-like alien (Meoraq) and a human girl (Amber) fall in love. This would be The Last Hour of Gann. I told myself not to do it, and I did it anyway: I read it. Sort of. Eventually I had to skim because I wanted to know what happened in the end, but I was so done with the repetitive scenes of abuse and sexual violence that didn't move the plot along at all. Smith seems to do this a lot when it comes to her villains and it's just awful (remember I said they were a little too much?). I don't mind violence in novels or movies. I do mind it when it becomes gratuitous.
Anyway, it's the reversal of Cottonwood: people from Earth are headed to a new planet to colonize it but end up crashing on the wrong planet with little to no hope of getting home. The survivors are complete dipshits and the leader (Scott) is, you guessed it, a dipshit. He's one of the many villains of the story, and way over the top, of course. After a while you have to think Why are these people following him? They fucking deserve to die, I don't give a shit. The same scenes happen over and over again in different ways. Amber makes a suggestion, Scott calls her fat and everyone is mean to her, she cries and takes it like a doormat.
Then the "Lizardman" comes into the picture. I'd been tortured by his POV already to a very unhappy extent. He's a religious zealot and talks about God endlessly. It takes forever for the two to meet up. This time I will admit I liked their relationship. They amused me and I cheered for them.
Here he is:
Hottie. He really is kind of awesome, though, and their relationship feels organic. It's funny that I liked the world-building/plot-line of Cottonwood, but was fairly ambivalent about the love story, but The Last Hour of Gann's love story kept me going. That, and I have an irrational fear of outer space and getting stuck somewhere with no way to get home. I was morbidly curious as to what would happen to the survivors, though I didn't care about most of their fates.
Like I said, the unnecessary repetition (I mean, over and over and over again, I'm not exaggerating) of rape and conversations that went around and around made me skim. I didn't really care about the planet's past and why everyone was so religious. I was over Amber's sister being a bitch, and how many times Amber could get herself hurt. Then I got to the part where the aliens' penises are described in detail and I couldn't look away.
A funny thing that bothered me was everyone was forever telling Amber to watch her mouth. Maybe I'm just a big curser. Maybe all my friends are big cursers. I know some people really don't curse a lot and that's admirable, but these people are deserted on a planet they know nothing about with lizards going around raping people. I would think a few curses would be okay. But no, Amber curses sometimes and Scott and the other guys are always like, "Watch your mouth!" or "Enough with the language!" It seriously happens every time they have a conversation. Perhaps Smith was further illustrating how cruel they were to her, or it could have been a sexist thing. I don't know. Seemed so weird to me.
The ending is relatively happier to me than Cottonwood's but people are speculating it doesn't feel entirely finished, which might leave room for a sequel. God, I hope not. This book was long and tortuous and I hated it, but I might feel compelled to read a sequel.
PS Amber gets knocked up. I'm not even sorry about spoiling that because it's hinted throughout the entire book, even before she meets up with Lizardman.
Another problem I want to address: the dialogue of the girls in both books (and in the third, while I'm at it) was just bizarre. The men, I get, because they're aliens, but the girls are about the same age as I am. I ended up making fun of them in my head. A few expressions I'd never heard of were used, and they just sounded older. Plus, they were massively obnoxious.
Finally I want to complain about Heat. This was simultaneously her worst and best yet. I'm exhausted even thinking about it.
So a very simple summary: Kane is a bad alien who escaped prison and comes to Earth to harvest chemicals from human brains to make alien drugs. Tagen, a sort of policeman, is sent to retrieve him. Then the two aliens are immediately thrust into Heat, which makes them need to have sex like every five seconds. And they have multiple ejaculations until they get to their "true-cum", which is I guess the grandaddy of their orgasms. Whatever.
Kane hooks up with Raven, a rookie prostitute, and does terrible things to her. Still, there's an interesting affection between them that I was super intrigued by.
Tagen runs into the scarred but wonderful (can you hear me sighing?) Daria. Ugh. I can't. I couldn't care LESS about these two characters. In the beginning I tried, but I quickly found myself rushing ahead to find out what Kane and Raven were up to.
Of course Kane is sadistic in bed. Initially it didn't bother me; towards the end it got old. His relationship with Raven kept my interest and I wished the author had focused on it instead of going back to Tagen's utterly pointless storyline. Seriously, he was a total idiot. He plopped down on Earth not even knowing if Kane was on Earth. What the fuck, right? Daria is the one who investigates and figures out where Kane is headed (after days and days, by the way, and after Kane has killed a whole bunch of people) while Tagen sits around and pets her cat. Oh, and watches Law & Order. Kane was a treat, however, and Raven was fascinating.
I don't want to spoil the ending, but I actually thought it was great. Briefly I thought it would be an awesome movie, if it were ever filmed, but then it occurred to me they'd probably focus mainly on Tagen and Daria and I chased that thought right out of my head. The ending did unfortunately show how completely worthless Tagen's entire existence was, which only served to highlight how much more interesting it could have been had Smith cut Tagen completely out of it. Lord knows the book would be long enough without him.
So there you have it. Curiosity got to me. I spent a good deal of my time this week reading these books and I do feel it was worth it to an extent...
...If I ever go on Jeopardy or something, I'll be able to describe cockroach and lizard mating rituals flawlessly.