by Ann Lawrence, fantasy (2002)
LoveSwept (Timeswept), $5.99, ISBN 0-505-52492-9
Set in the computer game of world of Tolemac (Camelot reversed), Ann Lawrence's Virtual Warrior is another The Pure Healer And Her Barbarian Boyfriend romantic adventure. Since sophisticated fantasy is still too far-out for the romance genre, we will have to settle for another Boris Vallejo-ish tale of half-naked Brawn Fabio He-Man saving his scantily-clad heroine.
Seriously, even the villainess "Goddess of Darkness" in this story wants to steal a deadly weapon of mass destruction called the Vial of Seduction so that she can seduce a very powerful man and hence becomes very powerful herself (what, a woman needs a man to be all-powerful, is that it?). This brings back memories of the days when the fantasy genre is still a no-life fat ugly fanboy's basement jerk-off fodder, where the villainess are always some buxom thong-clad babe who just wants to have wild sex with our barbarian Conan hero. Today, the fantasy genre has shed its rather sordid image. Maybe one day the romantic fantasy subgenre will catch up. Maybe.
Our hero Neil Scott is a contemporary dude and the inventor of this game. He is struck by a sense of futility regarding his life, so he walks into his game to... er, find the meaning of life or something, I guess. Since names in Tolemac is a reverse of those in our world, he becomes Lien. He saves our palindromic heroine Ardra from the usual assault thing, and she in return nurses and heals him. And together, He-Man and his dumber, more helpless Teela will save the world and rebuild Eternia, oops, I mean Tolemac!
For a cheesy barbarian world where women are chattel, Tolemac ain't too bad, although I'm still waiting for a romantic fantasy that doesn't make a big fuss about the heroine's gender. Surely somewhere out there is a planet where one can be a woman without having to mention and defend her gender in every few pages? Even if the setting is pretty good, the characters are flat. Ardra is the typical one-dimensional all-good and easily-guilt-ridden sort, while Neil/Lien is a stock hero whose baggages are never spelled out clear enough for me to emphatize.
Very well, if the romance is flat, maybe the adventures will make up for it? Well, for me, no. I've had better time watching cheesy adventure stuff on TV like Stargate SG-1 and Farscape (the latter can be excellent and thought-provoking often, mind you, despite bad cosmetics and cheesy aliens and all). Virtual Warrior is basically Simplified Caveman Fantasy 101 with a flat romance thrown in as a bonus.
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