Prince Charming, Spaceman (review: Kidnapped)

15 Jul

She bit her lip and looked down. As real as his frustration seemed to be, and as serious as the topic was, she couldn’t help but find it all just a little comical. When she was sure that her voice wouldn’t betray her and tell him that she was amused, she suggested, “Maybe you like me.”

That may just be the essence of a reader’s reaction to Maria Hammarblad’s SF romance, Kidnapped (April 2010)—this reader’s reaction, at least.

I’ll admit I was skeptical.  A cold-eyed alien interrogator learning to love thanks to his innocent human prisoner does seem, at first, a little cliché—maybe comical.  But I woke up this morning to find that last night, in the short time between getting in bed and my sleeping pill taking effect, I’d already read 82 pages.  So there’s definitely something compelling about Kidnapped, here’s what:

The story’s simple.

So often in science fiction that’s a bad thing—complex world-building and layer upon layer of socio-politico-economo-religious commentary in a Gordian knot of metaphor most often have the preeminence.  But hey, the way to solve the Gordian knot, after all, was just to slice through it.

Let’s not forget that we all learned to read on the most straightforward of stories—love stories to be exact.  Fairy tales (the watered-down, slightly less Grimm ones they told us before naptime at preschool, I mean) aren’t very complicated.  There’s a girl, usually in trouble.  There’s a guy, usually her hero.  They fall in love, usually in a remarkably short amount of time, and overcome a couple obstacles before their happily ever after.  Now I’m an afternoon away from finishing the book, so I can’t make a judgment about happy endings, but for now:

There’s a girl.  Her name is Patricia Risden, a wide-eyed, “space-sick,” incapacitatingly innocent woman who (much to Maria Hammarblad’s credit—I really can’t stand the omnicompetent heroine) understands that she’s technologically impaired and won’t be escaping her imprisonment on a space ship any time soon.  Like any good damsel in distress, she’s harmless.

Usually in trouble.  Tricia had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time—I mean, really the wrong place.  Driving home on a dark night, she swerves to avoid hitting a man in the middle of the street—who, lucky Tricia, happens to be the rebel pilot of a rogue space vessel under pursuit by the authoritarian, intergalactive government of the Alliance.  Tricia crashes (damn woman drivers) and wakes up in a chrome prison cell.  Much to her terror, Tricia’s American citizenship isn’t going to help her here, as she stares at the pale blue dot rapidly disappear under her feet.

There’s a guy.  Travis 152 of the Alliance Space Control is an extraterrestrial with one bionic arm, a Phantom of the Opera-like ravaged face, and a personality that would make the average human sociopath look positively cuddly—thanks to a childhood of totalitarian brainwashing.

“I‟m a high ranking officer of the corps,” he tells her.  “I Do Not Like People.”

Usually her hero. Not the conventional hero, to be sure.  Travis has some trouble coming to grips with the fact that the new emotions pinging his neurotransmitters seem to reflect a breakdown of his conditioning.  He’s a torturer, an executioner, and a man who would rob a candy store for his lover (literally.  That was possibly my favorite scene, by the way—ever).  But though his cruel High Commander might just take his other arm for the breach of protocol, he’s not locking Tricia up anywhere—unless it’s in his arms.

They fall in love. Well, this is a science fiction romance.  I’ll say, though, for the squeamish, that Hammarblad’s romance isn’t at all graphic or explicit.  A lady, after all, never tells.

Usually in a remarkably short amount of time.  I won’t say it was love at first sight—because Travis needed a little warming up—but it’s lonely out in space, and the intact half of the alien commander’s face is, we’re told, quite attractive by Earth standards.  And when you think about some of the absolutely ridiculous “romances” out there (*cough, Twilight, cough*), Travis and Tricia falling for each other is completely reasonable.  She’s a sweet girl who needs rescuing, and he’s a fearless Alliance officer.  What could go wrong?

They overcome a couple obstacles.  At this point, that means his flinty High Commander, the rebel William Reynolds, his wife Isabella, and their cache of explosives.

Though there are a few noticeable grammar/mechanics errors, there aren’t enough to be distracting in any way.  As for the writing style–maybe I’m not being very articulate, but Kidnapped is–there’s no other word for it–cute.  When it comes to interpersonal relationships, Travis 152 of the Alliance Space Control is just as naive as the blushing Tricia, and the description can’t help but turn the lips up into a smile.

Tricia was starting to wonder what she’d gotten herself into. This probably wasn’t her best idea ever, but he was trying hard, so she just smiled encouragingly and took his hand.

He answered simply, “Yes,” and remembered a moment too late to add, “Dear.”

As we get to know them, the rest of the cast prove just as engaging as Travis and Tricia, the innocents abroad—from the rebel crew’s paranoid technologist “with a thing for purple women” to the taunting, sneering High Commander Veronica (I call her V-Ron), who makes as excellent a fire-breathing dragon threatening the damsel Tricia as any I’ve read recently.  She sees the fairy tale and Tricia and Travis’s love story—

His commanding officer clapped her hands together and laughed; she was enjoying the day much more than she had expected. “Look what a gallant knight you’ve become. Who would have thought!

Kidnapped, I’m thinking, is a bedtime story—not because it’ll put you to sleep (it won’t), but because behind all the space travel, technological details, and talk of rebels v. Alliance, the underlying structure is a fairy tale, plain, simple, and sweet.  And for that, it’s kind of enchanting.


7 Responses to “Prince Charming, Spaceman (review: Kidnapped)”

  1. B.B. July 17, 2010 at 2:20 am #

    This reminds me of someone’s (Asimov? Pohl? I can’t remember: it was in a book in my grandad’s SF library, decades ago…) definition of an SF plot as being one which has other-worldy elements necessarily built into its structure. I forget the detail, but the idea was that if you could Find/Replace ‘spaceship’ with ‘Cadillac’, ‘space marine’ with ‘marine’ etc. throughout, and the plot remain unchanged, then it’s not SF – it’s space opera, maybe; which can still be massive fun, of course – but it’s a different beast.

    ‘Kidnapped’ doesn’t sound like it makes the SF definition.

    And the other thing your review made me recall is my problem with many of those classic fairy tales: Usually, the heroine never does anything! – she spends all her time getting saved, getting married. Makes for unengaging stories. But I love the fairytales where the hero/heroine does come up with some brilliant course of action which makes the listener go – oooh, brilliant! (e.g. Scheherazade ending on a cliffhanger every night so that the king won’t kill her in the morning). [There’s another one I found where the heroine out-bluffs a lion and a hyena, and it’s just a nice, satisfying, 5 minute tale – can’t see it anywhere on the internet, unfortunately)

    • thescattering July 17, 2010 at 3:15 pm #

      I feel like I’ve read something like that too, somewhere–Arthur C. Clarke, maybe?

      I can understand the reasoning, but personally, I’m not a purist. I’m more concerned with whether or not the story’s enjoyable, and something can certainly have science fiction elements without being Science Fiction proper. When it comes to reviewing books especially, I don’t care what genre or subgenre it fits into; classification’s fun, but I’ll leave it to Linnaeus. Story’s most important to me.

      As for fairy tale heroines–true, they do sit around in towers. But just as bad are the ridiculous MacGyvers of fiction with their preposterous escapes. In fact, that might annoy me even more. 🙂

  2. Carrie Miller July 17, 2010 at 6:27 pm #

    Interesting… According to this definition neither Star Trek, Babylon 5 nor Andromeda would be Science Fiction either? They are all more about people too, not so much about technology.

    (I am also more interested in the story. And Kudos to the above review. It is very entertaining!)

    • thescattering July 17, 2010 at 10:00 pm #

      Thanks Carrie!

      Yeah, I tend to find any fiction works better when it’s focused on the characters. My best example would be LOST (I’m still in denial that it’s over)– there’s time travel, but the people and their relationships are what make it work.

      • Carrie Miller July 20, 2010 at 6:04 am #

        I’m trying to pretend that Lost isn’t over. Those characters were really interesting and somehow “real,” and I miss them.


  1. Now Reading: Touch of the Goddess by Maria Hammarblad « the Scattering - December 16, 2010

    […] July, I reviewed Hammarblad’s first novel Kidnapped, and though I haven’t virtually cracked the virtual spine of her next book, I anticipate […]

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    […] no science fiction purist.  I got into a small-scale comment thread debate on a previous review I wrote about just this topic: science fiction versus Science Fiction.  First of all, Plantonic […]

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