Wednesday, January 31, 2018

2017 SFR Galaxy Awards Round 2 - Heather Massey

The SFR Cryo-Ship Future We Want

In Ageless Sleep
by Arden Ellis
(Less Than Three Press)

Arden Ellis' In Ageless Sleep proved to me once again that sci-fi romance authors are the experts when it comes to stories blending science and romance.

If you've heard anything about the 2016 "sci-fi romance" film Passengers, it's that the film was reported by many to be a hot mess. I, for one, avoided it after reading reports of highly problematic elements.

While perusing the catalog of Less Than Three Press many months later, the blurb for In Ageless Sleep intrigued me because I wanted to see what an SFR author could accomplish with a similar premise. Like Passengers, In Ageless Sleep takes place on a cryo-ship. Also like Passengers, one In Ageless Sleep character wakes up another during the long journey. At that point, the stories diverge wildly. After finishing the story, my first thought was, "In Ageless Sleep is the movie Passengers should have been, and should have aspired to become."

Indeed, I am here to say that an SFR novella by a little-known author blew a wannabe Hollywood blockbuster film out of the water.

Heroine Mal is a soldier, but is on a mission with criminal undertones. When the story opens, she's hijacked The Royal Arc with the intent of kidnapping Princess Aurora, all as part of a centuries-long war between the Reaches and the Sovereigns. Mal's reason for rousing Aurora from cryo sleep is selfless and a far cry from the creepy reason involved in Passengers. So right there we have a dynamic that demonstrates not only a more well-thought out premise, but also a lovely bit of characterization. Even though Mal has done a nefarious deed, she has one redeeming quality that prevents her from surrendering fully to the dark side.

In Ageless Sleep also outperforms Passengers as far as representation because one of the heroines has a disability and the other is a woman of color. Diversity of the main characters makes for a much more realistic futuristic setting. I especially appreciate the description of Mal's physical characteristics. There's nothing wrong with fantasy bodies in SFR, but Mal feeds my craving for body diversity and ordinary, relatable body types.

The story features an interracial lesbian romance and is for fans of enemies-to-lovers stories as well as romances with characters who come from opposite sides of the track. The story packs in plenty of witty banter and relatable, flawed, characters. Both Mal and Aurora have cool skill sets. Also, the story, through their relationship, addresses issues like classism. In Ageless Sleep is a great example of how one bakes science and social commentary into a delicious romance.

I'm still rather stunned that I discovered In Ageless Sleep. I didn't discover it because of a multi-million-dollar marketing campaign that put it right under my nose. Rather, I found it on my own as part of my never-ending quest to consume stories that serve my needs by including elements of interest to me (e.g., LGBQTIA couples, the female gaze, heroic female characters). What are the chances someone would write the perfect antidote to a Hollywood film that, despite an estimated $110,000,000 budget, seems to fail SFR fans on nearly every level? Thank heaven Arden Ellis took that chance, because it made this sci-fi romance reader very happy!

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