by Sharon Lynn Fisher, futuristic (2012)
Tor, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-6897-3
In the distant future, humans have colonized the planet called Ardagh 1. It's a verdant planet resembling Earth in many ways, so it's an ideal place for people to make a home away from Earth. Or so it seems, until the colonists find dead people from their past - usually a parent, or a lover, or even some person that they have encountered in the past - showing up, seeming alive and well, but "bonded" to them, unable to leave their side. These "reincarnated" people are called "ghosts", and, as you can imagine, the presence of these ghosts can be quite traumatic to the "hosts". Eventually, our hero Grayson Murphy eventually develops the Ghost Protocol, a procedure created specifically to allow the hosts to handle the presence of these ghosts.
Our heroine Elizabeth Cole knows all about the Ghost Protocol. Don't acknowledge the presence of these ghosts is one of the key rules to follow. When she lands on Ardagh 1, however, the biologist realizes first hand how... complicated... the whole thing can be when she discovers that she's actually a ghost - Murphy's ghost. Yes, she died on the trip to this planet, and somehow she is "reborn" without any memory of her death, only her past. For some reason, she is bonded to Murphy, a man she encountered only once in the past. When the both of them realize this, they have already spent some time interacting with one another. There is some chemistry there, too, but it looks like nothing but misery will come out of it.
If Ghost Planet is a movie, it'd be one of those science-fiction dramas directed and written by Andrew Niccol. It's more about feelings and meanings, revolving around an intention to make me reexamine my philosophy of time. This is not a bad thing, mind you, and I'm actually quite fond of Andrew Niccol's body of work. Unfortunately, the execution of Ghost Planet ends up making the whole thing feel quite bland.
Oh, I really want to love this book, because there is a beautiful star-crossed love thing waiting to happen here. Unfortunately, the romance never comes alive for me. Murphy goes from not wanting to even make eye contact with Elizabeth once they realize that she's a ghost to making love to her and declaring that she's his true love forever in the blink of an eye. How did that happen? Perhaps it's love at first, or in this case, second sight, but the way the author handles the romance has me wondering what kind of emotional damage Murphy must be harboring in his head to develop this deep affection for Elizabeth this fast.
I can understand why Elizabeth is attached to Murphy - in her situation, alone and afraid, it makes sense that she would develop an affection for Murphy. It may not be a healthy kind of love, but it's an understandable and even real kind of love. Murphy seems like a well-adjusted guy, and he even developed the Ghost Protocol, so what kind of complex does he have that compels him to break his own Protocol for someone that he has genuinely talked to for such a short time?
While this book is not marketed as a romance, the theme of Ghost Planet is irrevocably tied to human emotions such as love and other finer feelings - so much so that these positive feelings actually catalyze the thriving of life in the planet - so the romance is central to the whole plot. Since I can't buy the romance, I can't really get into the story as a result.
I'm also quite puzzled by Elizabeth. She's Mary Sue without a cause. I'm told that she's somehow different from other ghosts, but I am never given a good glimpse of what it is that makes her so special. She seems... normal. Her behavior in her situation is one that I can certainly relate to, but that makes her human rather than different. Worse, it turns out that there are other ghosts capable of independent thought, so Elizabeth seems like one of a crowd after a while. So what is it again that makes her so special that other researchers want her to be used as a test subject?
The Mary Sue syndrome eventually turns Elizabeth into a boring character. Every guy wants her, she becomes someone who just wants everyone to be happy and peaceful - OH NO VIOLENCE MAKES HER VERY SAD - boo hoo hoo panda snowflake alert. Her scenes with Murphy start to make me cringe because these two are so corny together, with him calling her "love" all the time while she just clings to him like a barnacle for emotional support, and I just want to scream, "I don't think you know one another well enough to act like the new Tristan and Isolde so stop being so sickening!"
The writing is actually pretty good, the pacing is fine, and Ghost Planet is a story that I can easily read in one sitting. The story could be thought-provoking, as the theme has some implications to mull over. It's just that I don't buy the romance and Elizabeth's special Mary Sue status, so I can't get into the story as much as I've liked. I'd be happy to take a look at what the author has to offer in the future, but Ghost Planet misses the spot where I am concerned. I'm really disappointed, as this story has an intriguing premise that I can really get behind.
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