LoveSpell, $6.99, ISBN 0-505-52593-3
Sci-fi Romance, 2004
I’ve never been more frustrated by an author’s limiting the scope of her characters until I read Patti O’Shea’s contribution to the 2176 series, The Power of Two. Banzai Maguire is a one-woman Che Guevara preaching democracy in this timeline, the world is changing, the tides are turning, and all our heroine is concerned about is… her family and feeling so sad about the hero’s past? Give me a break.
Readers familiar with the “psychic peace-loving dipstick heroine and the action man hero” premise typical of too many futuristic romances will see through the jargon and mechanical trappings of this story straight away. Cai Randolph may not be psychic but she plays the role of one: she has “nonoprobes” planted in her brain to allow her to become wired to sophisticated computer devices. Therefore, she is one of those people who wire up to the computer and relay information to the men on the field. (Why they need someone to do this and not just get straight to the computers for information themselves, I will never know.) And because heroines must somehow be fragile so that the hero’s masculine instincts can rear forth, women with nanoprobes are prone to brain damage when the nanoprobes malfunction. This is relayed by the author in the first few pages. It doesn’t take a psychic reader to see what is coming next.
The hero is Jacob Tucker, the field operative. He doesn’t know that Cai is human (he thinks that she is a computer program that is made to sound “female”) but when he finds out, oh boy. There are overreactions and then there are ridiculous overreactions, and watching how Cai apologizes for not telling him that she is human has me rolling up my eyes. But that’s the problem of this book – the characters are not really cohesive people as much as they are just one-dimensional walking, talking “virtue”s. The plot of the story is Cai trying to get Jake to take her along with a mission to track down Banzai Maguire. Why? She wants to locate her missing parents.
Here’s the thing – Ms Grant is setting up the story arc in such a way that Banzai Maguire is going to change things. Cai and Jake are supposed to have a story that is part of the arc. But what I get instead are characters that display very little depths. Cai, in particular, has her personality tied around her missing parents and Jake so much that she has no distinctive traits as a person. Ms O’Shea doesn’t give Cai anything apart from the superficial and predictable laundry list of “good” heroine behavior: peace-loving, misses her parents, feels so sad when she learns about Jake’s past, feels insecure and lacks self-confidence because she was a child prodigy ostracized by her peers, and all of these traits are portrayed in a sickeningly one-dimensional manner.
In short, Cai is a very typical overly-emotional hippie dipstick heroine who is what she is because the author makes her that way. I’d love to know how Cai reconcile Jake’s violent job with her pacifist stance, for example, but Ms O’Shea takes the easy way out by giving Jake such a sad past that I am supposed to cry, “But he is misunderstood! Boo-hoo-hoo!”.
Jake won’t be so bad a character if he isn’t tied down after the first fifty pages of the book in making up for Cai’s shortcomings. Oh, he has to take care of Cai! He thinks Cai is so sad and blue!
Let’s make this clear: Cai is not a stupid heroine because she shows during the course of the story that she can (mostly) make sensible decisions and take care of herself. But emotionally, Cai is like an automaton programmed to have no personal thoughts and feelings that don’t revolve around her parents, Jake, and her past. There are so many things Ms O’Shea can put into her story – emotional conflicts, political dilemmas, divided loyalty (both Cai and Jake are working to capture Banzai, after all), for example. There is plenty of room for explosive character growth. But by limiting her characters’ scope to Cai’s little-girl-lost woes and restricting any potential philosophical conflicts into overly simplistic “Peace is always good! A good heroine will always strive above everything else to make everyone happy! PEACE! LOVE! HUGSIES! BUNNIES! EEEEEE!” Care Bear-like happy songs, Ms O’Shea instead delivers a story that is devoid of any genuine passion. It feels like a book devoted to following the “visceral hippie dipstick/vegetarian/daddy-girl lost meets new daddy figure” formula. A formula that, no matter what the plot is, will never fail to have the world revolve around the heroine’s immature emotional conflicts and unrealistic sexual awakening even as the world around her changes, rises to new heights, or comes crashing down. These events don’t even seem to affect her at all and she is happy as long as she has her true love, her daddy, and a happy ending.
For a formulaic futuristic that offers very little that is new or innovative, The Power of Two is well-written and the heroine isn’t some braindead child-like little virginity fiend that one can encounter too many times in the futuristic subgenre. Speaking for myself, I find the author’s limiting herself to shallow waters when the plot demands that she swims into the great unknown frustrating beyond belief. The story needs to fly high but it doesn’t even try to hop a little higher than usual.