Tuesday, January 31, 2017

5th Annual SFR Galaxy Awards: Round Six by Marlene Harris

Best Bread and Circuses (Intergalactic Edition)
Galactic Gladiators (Gladiator/Warrior/Hero) by Anna Hackett

There’s an old Star Trek episode titled Bread and Circuses, that takes a look at what happened on a world where the Roman Empire never fell. There’s an element of that to Anna Hackett’s Gladiators series. The trappings that surround the story all hearken back to the Roman Empire. The stories are, after all, set around a gladiatorial arena, and the heroes are all gladiators. The men who run the various gladiatorial houses are even titled “Imperator”. But make no mistake, this is science fiction. 

The arena is on the planet of Kor Magna, many, many light years from Earth, as the kidnapped crew from the Jupiter station discover. They were all shanghaied across the universe through an unstable wormhole, and now they are all stuck in Kor Magna, trying to rescue each other and find love and happiness in the shadows of the great arena. Or even on its very sands. As each Earth woman claims one gladiator for her own, she rescues the next “sister” she can find and puts down roots in the place she is forced to call home.

If you are looking to be swept away, this series can’t be beat.

Best Interstellar Menagerie
Pets in Space by S.E. Smith, Susan Grant, Cara Bristol, Veronica Scott, Pauline Baird Jones, Laurie A. Green, Alexis Glynn Latner, Lea Kirk, Carysa Locke

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to have a dog, cat, dragon or whatever as your fellow traveler among the stars, this book is a treat from beginning to end. Complete with chew toy and catnip.

Pets in Space is a collection of novellas that blend a science fiction setting, a romance complete with HEA, and an animal or animal-like companion to share all the glory and all the cuddles. As they do.

My favorite story in the collection is "A Mate for Matrix". Matrix is this terrifically advanced cybernetic warrior. But he’s still very much a dog. He gets both himself and his human companion into a whole lot of trouble, and a whole lot of happy, when they come to Earth and Matrix, like all dogs everywhere, can’t resist chasing a squirrel. All those enhancements, all that intelligence, and he still gets beaten by a squirrel. And if you’ve ever thought that your own kittens were explosive charges, this story will have you rolling on the floor with laughter.

Best Spoiler Alert Title
Star Cruise: Outbreak by Veronica Scott

The title completely gives the plot away, but there’s a whole lot more to this story.

This star cruise line is run by a whole lot of ex-military, and its a damn good thing, because this crew runs into the sort of trouble that would leave the usual cast of a Love Boat drifting in space in a dead hulk.

The story in Star Cruise: Outbreak is not surprisingly an outbreak of a particularly deadly mutation of that old standby, the Norovirus. Viruses, like cockroaches, seem to live forever. Trapped on a plague ship, with no possibility of outside help or outside resources, it’s up to veteran military doctor Emily Shane to find both the cause and the cure with the limited resources and limited time she has left before they are forced to fly into a sun. And with the help of the very hot and extremely interested Security Office Jake Dilon, find the terrorist who started this mess before they all end up dead.

If Robin Cook set one of his medical thrillers in space, it wouldn’t be half as exciting as Star Cruise: Outbreak.

Most Unusual Job for a Heroine
One Fell Sweep by Ilona Andrews

There aren’t many books featuring innkeepers, whether in science fiction or elsewhere. After pouring through Ilona Andrews entire Innkeeper Chronicles in about two days, I am left to wonder why. Because this series is fantastic, as is its heroine, the innkeeeper Dina Demille.

The Innkeepers Chronicles exist right at that border that Arthur C. Clarke described so well so long ago. Any technology, sufficiently advanced, is indistinguishable from magic. And that’s the case here. When Dina is in her inn, her power is supreme. She is symbiotically connected to the inn, and they nurture and protect each other.

In this universe, Earth is just one planet among many, and a rather backwards and under-powered one. The network of inns on Earth make our little backwater a neutral place where anyone can come for sanctuary, as long as they obey the rules: do not harm a fellow guest, and do not compromise the secrecy and security of the inn.

But a bunch of intergalactic religious fanatics are willing to take any risk to kill some of Dina’s guests that they consider anathema. And Dina is forced to give everything she has to protect those guests, even her life.

It’s only the love of her werewolf that brings her back from the brink. And it’s utterly awesome.

Most Awesomely Prolific and Prolifically Awesome
Anna Hackett

Anna Hackett is the author of three fantastic SFR series, Hell Squad, The Phoenix Adventures, and Galactic Gladiators. She also writes the action-adventure romance series, Treasure Hunter Security, which is not SFR. Or at least not yet.

The series are all different. Hell Squad takes place on an apocalyptic post-invasion Earth. The Phoenix Adventures features two sets of cousins who are intergalactic treasure hunters. (I expect Treasure Hunter Security to tie into this at some point, but it hasn’t. YET). And the Galactic Gladiators, featured in their own award, are an awesome blend of sun and sandals with interstellar slave trading and intergalactic politics.

I love them all. Anna is my go-to author whenever I need to lose myself in a great story.

She is also incredibly prolific, especially for an author who always hits the mark. In 2016 alone she published the first three books in the Galactic Gladiators series (Gladiator, Warrior and Hero), FIVE books in the Hell Squad series (Shaw, Holmes, Niko, Finn, Devlin), two books of the Phoenix Adventures (Lost in Barbarian Space and Through Uncharted Space) as well as the first three books of Treasure Hunter Security (Undiscovered, Uncharted, and Unexplored).

It’s not just that that’s a lot of stories, but that it is a lot of absolutely awesome SFR and action-adventure romance stories. For lovers of SFR it's a very lucky 13. If you are an SFR lover and you haven’t been introduced to Anna Hackett’s kickass crew, you are in for one hell of a magic rocket ride.

5th Annual SFR Galaxy Awards: Round Five by Heather Massey

Most Satisfying Conclusion to a Great Trilogy
Vortex of Crimson (On Deception's Edge #3) by Lise MacTague

Vortex of Crimson follows the ongoing adventures of heroines Jak Stowell and Tori Ivanov. The first two books are Depths of Blue and Heights of Green. The third book raises the stakes to new heights with its mix of danger, suspense, and lots of action.

Here are a few elements that make this book (and the trilogy as a whole) stand out:

The majority of the story's ensemble cast is kickass women with a huge range of skills and abilities. I loved that the more virtual pages I flipped, more new female characters appeared. Given the abysmal representation of female characters in various visual mediums, knowing I can turn to a book like Vortex of Crimson for my grrrl power craving is highly satisfying.

Like the first two books, Vortex of Crimson tackles a number of social and political issues. For example, the issue of the patriarchy and its negative impact on women. This is a no-holds-barred take on the toxic beliefs and institutions that are intent on denying women equal rights. This is especially relevant to Jak's character since she's a woman caught between two worlds.

Along with the first two books, Vortex of Crimson has military details that, to this layperson, feel really well-researched and authentic. It's one of the best examples of sci-fi romance with military elements that I've read.

The romance between Jak and Tori is adorable! It offers plenty of angst and at times it seemed like Fate was conspiring to keep them apart forever. The trilogy follows both their courtship as well as their efforts to negotiate a new, permanent relationship. All of the above and more left me sighing in happiness after finishing this amazing book.

Best Sci-Fi Romance Webcomic
Flesh Machine by Michael Avolio

Michael Avolio's Flesh Machine's is still in progress as of this writing, and at this point there's no guarantee of an HEA between the hero and heroine, but I still love it and am glad I discovered it.

The story takes place on far-future, non-Earth worlds and features an interracial couple: Lucy Olmos, a mechanic-turned-fighter pilot, and Seiji Dequier, a brigadier in the Interplanetary Watch. They team up to battle guerillas who are making life dangerous for innocent civilians.

Lucy and Seiji’s courtship is so sweet and tender it'll melt in your mouth. A certain plot twist throws their burgeoning relationship into forbidden romance territory. The love scenes are artfully depicted and include lots of sensuous detail. My favorite parts are the times Lucy and Seiji look at each other with love and affection.

Flesh Machine updates Tuesdays and is free to read. Interested readers can help support Michael Avolio's work by donating to his Mutineer Studio.

Most Dapper Heroes
The Clockwork Menagerie by Elliot Cooper

There's only one thing better than a dapper gentleman in a steampunk romance story, and that's two dapper gentlemen who fall in love!

Clement Dyer makes amazing clockwork animals and fears his former lover and current rival, Duke Goodwin, will destroy his business. No matter what's happening or what they're doing, Clement and Duke are dapper! This short story packs a lot of sweetness and angst in their enemies-to-lovers/reunited lovers romance. Also recommended for readers who love clockwork cats!

Most Uplifting Sci-Fi Romances
Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time by Cherie Dimaline, Gwen Benaway, David Robertson, Richard Van Camp, Mari Kurisato, Nathan Adler, Daniel Heath Justice, Darcie Little Badger, Cleo Keahna; introduction by Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair "Manitowapow," foreword by Grace Dillon "Walking the Clouds"; edited by Hope Nicholson

First, a description of this anthology:

Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time is a collection of indigenous science fiction and urban fantasy focusing on LGBT and two-spirit characters. These stories range from a transgender woman undergoing an experimental transition process to young lovers separated through decades and meeting in their own far future. These are stories of machines and magic, love and self-love.”

Three of the stories have a distinct SFR feel and the others hold appeal for SFR readers as well. The stories entranced me and taught me a few things along the way. After reading this anthology, I felt good and, well, uplifted! Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time is an example of diversity, authentic representation, and inclusion done right.

SFR with the Most Relevant Social Commentary Regarding a Current Affair
Gambit (Felig Chronicles #5) by P.J. Dean

Shortly before reading P.J. Dean's Gambit, the latest installment in the author's alien invasion series, I had read The Verge's "Criminal Charges," an article about the "predatory monopoly" of prison phones. Lo and behold, I discovered that part of Gambit addresses issues related to the private corrections industry in the United States.

Mind. Immediately. Blown.

The issue of privatized prisons is a hot topic in the news these days, in no small part because of 13th, director Ava DuVernay's powerful film about mass incarceration, its origins, and its impact. Gambit delivers the kind of social commentary I crave in sci-fi romance and does so in an entertaining way. The series' message about how the power of love can drive out hate applies not only to hostile alien invaders, but also to us Earthlings.