Reaching Higher
by Ann Somerville, futuristic (2009)
Samhain Publishing, $4.50, ISBN 978-1-60504-353-1

Ann Somerville's stories, I feel, work best when they focus on the relationship between the main characters. This author doesn't do the sappy melodramatic little-girls-with-penises thing that plague way too many stories in the gay romance genre. Instead, she writes about relationships, bringing to life the many subtle nuances and grand romantic gestures in a way that resonates with me.

In Reaching Higher, I find myself touched, fascinated, and intrigued by the relationship Kine Raelne, Suaj qel Gwan, and the peripheral secondary characters around them. The plot is almost secondary to me. We have Rael and some of his men forced to work with the Quarnian folks who are supposed to be their enemies, to help these folks restore a device that will help the Quarnians get back on the right track when it comes to rebuilding their civilization. For Rael, this is supposed to be a sentence to be carried out until he's allowed to go back to his planet. Suaj is the fellow he has to work with. Reading the previous related story On Wings Rising may help reader "get" the setting easier, but I personally don't think reading that story is compulsory to understand this one.

Well, as I've said, I find myself most interested in the developing relationship between Rael and Suaj, even to the point that I can overlook the annoying way Suaj's lines are presented in italics because Suaj is psychic. Still, the italics thing isn't as annoying as it was in the previous story, so it's not that bad. Rael and Suaj are outsiders, the way this author's characters tend to be in the stories by her that I've read. Rael has issues, Suaj has some issues too (although Rael's baggage dominates the angst here), and the way the author manages to get these two to connect is a bittersweet kind of magic.

It's rather strange in that as much as I enjoy reading about the relationship between Rael and Suaj, a part of me notes that when the story ends, I actually do not feel as if I'm acquainted with these characters. I know how they think about each other and their feelings within the context of this story, but if you ask me who these characters are, I'd be hard pressed to tell you. Rael and Suaj come off like characters that exist only within this story - it is as if this is a play and Rael and Suaj are characters brilliantly portrayed by actors; these characters will cease to exist once the story ends. Am I making sense here? The characters emote and respond to each other beautifully, but as individuals, they are on the underdeveloped side. But perhaps this issue could have been resolved if the story had been longer and the author had had more space to develop her characters further.

Reaching Higher is marketed as a gay romance, but it is a little bit more than that - it's all about feeling, responding to another person, and feeling whole again as a result. After Reaching Higher, it is quite a bit of a disappointment to realize that the story has ended and I have to come back down to earth.

Rating: 87

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