Close Encounters
by BH Dark, futuristic (2008)
Samhain Publishing, $5.50, ISBN 978-1-60504-139-1


BH Dark is actually the pen name for Julie Cohen and Kathy Love. One is a chick-lit and contemporary romance author while the other currently writes paranormal romances. I guess they want to unleash a wilder side of theirs as BH Dark in Close Encounters because this one can get pretty raunchy. Look at the tag line on the cover alone - "In space, no one can hear you cream". You've been warned, darlings.

It all begins with a bunch of enterprising Mark Burnett wannabes from planet Odilia. Odilians are asexual creatures and they find the idea of humans shagging for fun a most fascinating kind of entertainment. Our entrepreneurs decide that their fellow aliens will enjoy watching live performances better - better than merely watching and re-watching the few pornographic movies from Earth that the Odilians stumbled upon once upon a time - so they decide to sneak into Earth and grab a few humans back with them to start their new reality TV venture.

"This will be reality entertainment at its finest. Our program will surpass all the tedious and infantile programming available." Nisom practically crowed, pacing in long slides across the floor, growing more excited. "Survivor 283: Fath Nebula, yet another season of tribes living and competing on a distant moon of some planet surrounded by poisonous gases and desolate, inhospitable terrain. Boring. Life Swap, where two members of very different alien races trade places for a week. Dull. We are offering real entertainment. We will be rich."

Our lucky "contestants" are Cassandra Elliot (21, virgin/student), Beauregard Bryson (rocker-like mechanic dude), Leandros (guy from a Vegas band), and Eve Green (interior decorator).

Cassie starts out like the Harlequin heroine from hell - improbably sheltered, coming off like a throwback to the 1800s (I can't imagine any hip 21-year old who will use the phrase "house of ill repute" in a non-joking way), enjoys sex but acts up really weird afterward. I think she's probably a way for the author to exorcise some demons after years of writing for Harlequin. Cassie is very annoying, naturally.

Eve is engaged to Barry, the quintessential nice guy that is also synonymous with loser in romance novels because we all know she's going to ditch the boring nice guy for the bad boy in the band at the end. Because, you know, she loves the bad boy while she only merely uses the nice guy to feel secure and loved until she finds the hot guy that gives her an orgasm.

As for the two guys, they are interchangeable "bad boys", so a part of me snickers at Cassie's hysteria when the aliens want them to change partners now and then. The two guys are the same, after all. But then again, Cassie is Cassie. Like too many Harlequin heroines, you have to take your time to coax them, lie to them, assure them that they are loved, and then you do all the work and give them lots of orgasms until they are done. And then, you have to listen to their tearful "I had an orgasm, oh the horror!" melodrama and you are expected to blame yourself for giving them a good time. This is my friendly PSA to all those guys out there who for some reason want to grow up to be Harlequin heroes. Guys, it's not worth it.

The premise is rather disturbing because the aliens are using pheromones to force our humans to have sexual desire, but the author tries to sweeten the deal by telling me that Beau has an immediate bond of some sort with Cassie just as Leandros has one with Eve. I find it hard to believe that, considering how these folks barely know each other when they begin to get intimate under the influence of those pheromones. The romantic aspects of the story only work for me late in the story when these folks are sent home and they have to think about what they want from each other, but given that their so-called romance has a very weak and unbelievable foundation, I can't say that I buy the whole happily ever after thing for these people.

I suspect that Close Encounters would have worked better for me if it has been a straight-up erotic romp without any attempt to force the romance down my throat. I'd have preferred to have the characters go through all the naughty scenes and enjoy themselves fully instead of bogging things down with romance novel conventions. But because the author wants to have the cake and eat it too, making this one both a romance and an erotic story, the end result is neither here nor there. The romance feels artificial and all that "But we have a bond with each other, we don't want to shag another person... oh, okay, we'll do naughty things but remember, we are not happy doing this because we want to do it to the person we have a bond with!" drama only ruin the erotic moments for me.

Close Encounters is one story that should have featured more unapologetic sluts of both sexes and all sexual inclinations instead of romance novel clichés. If anything, this story demonstrates that romance novel clichés can be complete flops as sexy people.

Rating: 73


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