With COVID-19, nowadays “quarantine”, “social distancing”, and “isolate” are common parts of our everyday vocabulary. While isolating is necessary right now, it can lead to varying levels of depression and other unexpected emotions – even for an introvert like me. As I was sitting in the quiet of my apartment, with my cat keeping vigil next to me, I was longing for any type of travel and human interaction. Travel and human interaction are not normally things that are normally high up on my “must haves.” While dystopian films and novels might seem like a natural for readers to gravitate right now, a lot of my friends have avoided those types of entertainment because it seemed off-putting. It’s as I was sitting at home in isolation that I thought of some of my favorite romances that take place in far off worlds and unique characters and bizarre situations that seem like just the thing to perk up a reader longing for travel, adventure, fun, and excitement. You might not be able to go far right now, but books provide an entertaining alternative.
Although I don’t normally read sci-fi, something about the Cat Star Chronicles books by Cheryl Brooks intrigued me. The first one I read was the second installment of the series, WARRIOR – such a trippy book! The heroine is an unassuming witch who finds a catlike man and nurses him back to health. Little does she know the treasure she’s found. All the Zetithian heroes in this series are intergalactic hotties. It’s because of their magnetism and biological appeal that Zetithian men are persecuted by males from other planets – to the point that their home planet was destroyed. What follows is an epic Lord of the Rings-style quest. In addition to her other abilities, Tisana can communicate with animals and birds. Cheryl Brooks writes it so that the reader hears the same things that she does, so you get a conversation between her and a vulture or something else. Over the course of the series there are several characters and worlds that become favorites. Captain Jack, the heroine from book one, is a quirky and fierce spaceship pilot and adventurer who shows up throughout the series.
ROGUE, the third Cat Star Chronicles book, has one of my favorite planets and introduces some of my favorite characters. The planet of Darconia is a hot, desert-like plane and the native population is made up of upright and intelligent lizard beings. The Darconians are a hoot – the goofy guards like Dragus, the noble chief of palace security Wazak, and unconventional yet regal Queen Scalia and her charming and unique children. There are three moons, scrail cloths that attract the oil and dirt off you rather than bathing in water, and two Zetithians collected by the queen that entice a piano teacher from Earth. Sigh. This is a great series for fans of romance, erotica, sci-fi, fantasy, humor, and simply great storytelling. Cheryl Brooks continued with a spinoff series about the children of these couples called Cat Star Legacy. I highly recommend both.
Just as Darconia in Cheryl Brooks’ ROGUE is hot and dry, Ruby Dixon’s Icehome and Ice Planet Barbarians are aptly named because the planet is mostly covered in ice and snow. The series is built around some big blue warriors and their sa-khui tribe. They have horns and tails but are built and major hotties. Most of them are a mix of strong and sweet with the occasional grumpy Gus who eventually evolves to be more palatable to the reader. Most of the heroines are Earth women who were abducted by alien baddies when their ship crashed on the ice planet and were eventually discovered by the sa-khui. In the “Icehome” series, another batch of aliens and Earth women appear on the scene. Some of these new guys are blue too but with four arms, some are red, and some are furry. I like the diversity. Even though most of the heroines are from Earth, there’s a lot of diversity there as well. All the characters are realistically flawed. Being abducted from your family, friends, and home planet and thrust into a cold and sometimes terrifying world doesn’t always bring out the best in the women. Each woman finds a skill that is productive or useful – some cook, hunt, take care of children, stitch together animal hides for clothing, or use their ingenuity to make life better in some way. Like Captain Jack in Cheryl Brooks’ Cat Star Chronicles, Liz names things after some element of Earth culture. Because of the planet’s climate, they christen the planet “Not-Hoth” as a reference to Hoth from Star Wars. Life is harder than they knew, but it’s not all gloom and doom. Because everyone must rely on each other to survive, tight friendships and even closer romantic bonds form. The creatures that populate the ice planet are fascinating, like the strange and curious vegetarian metlaks, dirtbeaks, dvisti, bunny-like “hoppers” and other assorted creatures. Some of the fish are piranha-like and have bamboo type poles sticking out of the water. If you didn’t know that the fish were attached to these sticks, you could get a scary surprise. Soap comes from a certain type of berry and putting those same berries in a body of water will get rid of the fish so that you can bathe in peace. To survive the harsh climate on Not-Hoth, each person must kill a creature that houses a parasite and ingest it themselves. In addition to benefiting the body, it plays matchmaker as a way of continuing the species. A parasite in one person will resonate with one in somebody else indicating that they would make ideal mates. In addition to enjoying the characters and their banter, the eroticism, and the wild creatures, this series has a special place in my heart because, during the winter, my hometown of Buffalo, NY can seem a little like Not-Hoth too.
While Cheryl Brooks and Ruby Dixon write about exotic aliens and far off fictional worlds, Honey Phillips’ Cyborgs on Mars series is about an alternate reality with people from Earth sent to Mars. It’s a unique setup because it blends sci-fi with an old west vibe. In this reality, some people have fled Earth for Mars either to get away from something or just because Earth has gotten too polluted and overpopulated. Mars is a second chance for some characters. For many of the heroes, they came to Mars as injured soldiers who were repurposed and reworked to become half-man and half-machine. While there is a prejudice by some of the Martian human population, it’s evident to most that the cyborgs are stronger and have more strength of character than many of the human men. As rangers or as a territorial judge, like the hero in THE MAGNIFICENT CYBORG, these cyborgs maintain law and order as people explore the good, the bad, and the ugly of a new frontier. There are homesteads, a town brothel run by a madam with a heart of gold, and the cyborg cowboys with their mechanical horses. I adore the horses! Instead of cattle thief and train robbers, this series has the shadowy and seemingly sinister GenCon corporation to provide the sense of danger for the main characters. While the heroes are several shades of spectacular and sexy, the heroines are a diverse group and have wildly different backgrounds and strengths. They include a scientist, town madam, and women who are determined to work the land and make it work for them. I also enjoy Honey Phillips’ Treasured by the Alien series about reptilian heroes who are a fab mix of sexy and sweet.
You can read more of Miranda Owens’ reviews and blog posts here: http://freshfiction.com/user.php?id=51111