LoveSpell, $6.99, ISBN 0-505-52627-1
Sci-fi Romance, 2005
There is a big difference between a fan writing a fanfiction story to be posted online to be shared with fellow fans at no cost, and an author so inspired by a character that is the brainchild of another person and using this character, with only some flimsy cosmetic changes, in her own work, mostly in the fact that Stargazer isn’t sold as a work of fanfiction or the novelization of a movie. This isn’t outright plagiarism, I believe, but the lines between borrowing and heavily lifting are blurred in this one. As much as I enjoy it, I could never silence that uneasy feeling I have that Cindy Holby, who writes futuristics as Colby Hodge, shouldn’t have made it so obvious that her Shaun Phoenix is heavily inspired by the character Riddick from the movies The Chronicles of Riddick.
Our heroine Lilly is on her way to a Senate convention when the ship carrying her is attacked by the nasty Ravigans. Since Lilly is trying to get the Senate to control the actions of the mean and nasty folks from the planet Raviga, it’s no wonder that the Ravigans aren’t too keen on making sure that Lilly gets to meet the Senate. On the ship is our cryogenized hero Shaun who is going to be sent to some distant and no doubt hellish prison for murder. Lilly and Shaun already have a telepathic link going on when he’s in the cryogenic state so when she breaks him out of his prison and asks him to help her now that her people and bodyguard are killed by the Ravigans in exchange for her helping him receive a pardon, he agrees to go along. Then there is his attraction to her, which he is hoping to look into in a more intimate manner.
While Lilly is no powerful warrior woman ready to kick ass, she is a capable and intelligent heroine on her own right, with one glaring exception – her contrived blind loyalty to her uncle and guardian. The premise of a thinly-disguised Earth attacking neighboring planets like Lilly’s Oasis for natural resources (Earth, oops, Raviga has destroyed its own natural riches) is a spectacularly unoriginal soapbox because every science-fiction movie and story nowadays seems to carry this save-the-world message. Still, the pacing is very nicely done and the author tells this story in a very entertaining and breezy style that makes Stargazer an enjoyable futuristic tale despite its abundance of predictable clichés.
But I don’t know how to gauge just how much of these clichés are just that, clichés, or elements heavily lifted from those movies where Riddick appeared in. Shaun’s actual identity could have been a typical Luke Skywalker-ish cliché were not for the fact that Shaun is already so similar to Riddick that this clichéd aspect of Shaun mirrors that of Riddick’s. Therein lies my problem with this book: I don’t really how much of this book is Colby Hodge’s. Sure, many things about Stargazer are found in many futuristic novels out there, but many things about this book from hero to plot aspects are too close to those movies as well. How much of this book’s strengths and weaknesses are Colby Hodge’s? Only the author can answer this.
While a part of me can honestly say that this book is a heartily entertaining story despite very little about it being innovative or original, another part of me wonders how much I can credit Colby Hodge for the book’s strengths. For all the flaws of that movie The Chronicles of Riddick, Riddick remains a very mesmerizing and compelling antihero with an attitude, for example, and when Shaun displays these attractive traits, can I fully credit Ms Hodge for coming up with such a character? All I can honestly say without a doubt is that Ms Hodge can tell a fast-paced, breezy, and enjoyable story if she puts her mind to it and I’d be very interested to see a story from her that is more Colby Hodge’s and less Dave Twohy’s. This book would have gotten a much higher grade from me were this the case.
A few days after this review is put up, the author emailed me to explain that she wrote this book back in year 2000. The publisher put this work on hold until the author has, in her own words, “established my historicals” (written under the name Cindy Holby). If anything, she was trying hard not to make her story too similar to Dune and Riddick was never in her mind when she was writing this book.