Samhain Publishing, $4.50, ISBN 1-59998-870-4
Sci-fi Romance, 2008
I have to warn you, people – Kassie Burns’s Starbound is actually a humorous space romp more like a tongue-in-cheek irreverent tale instead of something even a little sober. The blurb at the publisher website makes this one come off like some kind of War and Peace with plenty of hot sex and drama, but it’s not really like that.
Okay, we are on Starbound, a big spacecraft which also functions as the home to a colony of 5,000 or so humans living among robots and computers. These humans worship the “star gods” which are actually “energy beings” called the Napau. The star gods have decreed long ago that humans are forbidden to be monogamous. Love one, love all, you see. But some humans are starting to break the divine ruling and this story is about four such people. Jerod and Erlinn Kane are in love and they are very open about wanting to get married, so the priests of Eros drag Jerod away to be a sex slave, thus putting the romance between those two on hold. Meanwhile, Gem loves Kev Barak but she is worried that Kev may be putting the moves on Erlinn. But Erlinn doesn’t want Kev as much as she wants his help to rescue Jerod. She also won’t mind recruiting Gem to her side to help start the kind of revolution that she and Jerod have thought about.
The Napau want these humans to be free-loving hippies because that way, they will break down these humans’ inhibitions and subsequently they can easily use these humans’ bodies for their own sexual experimentation without those humans getting all hot and bothered. The energy beings, you see, don’t have bodies – they can only temporarily “possess” a body in other to enjoy doing kinky things. Jerod is one of those people who are currently serving the Napau in this capacity. Will the revolution ever succeed?
I personally won’t call Starbound a romance. Sure, the main characters are in love (and I don’t mean that they are in a foursome – the man and the woman in each couple want to commit to each other), but the bulk of the story deals with sex. These characters seem to be constantly having it that I often wonder how they find the time or energy to get anything else done. The grand escape from the Napau, when it happens, takes place late in the story and is almost anticlimactic when I take into account the build-up that leads to that moment. In the meantime, there are ribald jokes, irreverent one-liners, and silly behavior.
I find the characters very underdeveloped, but the premise is pretty interesting. It’s too bad that the author chooses to focus of the more ribald aspects of her story because those interesting aspects of the story therefore never get the attention they deserve from the author. Starbound makes a rather amusing and bawdy read but it’s also at the same time feels like a rather half-baked tale that could have so much better if the author has paid a little more care to develop the non-sexual aspects of the story.