timthumb.jpgNot wantig to buy books with cover art depicting a headless man with such clearly defined abdominal muscles he looks like a skinned carcass limits my sf romance reading pool consiredably. But that poor headless muscle dude splattered on the cover of so many sfr books just happens to effectively kill my romance mood, and does not do much good for my other moods either. Purple and blue pretty faces on a starry background are not as bad as the headless dude, but usually so cheesy I'm a bit embarrassed for everyone's behalf. Coming across the cover for Luminous at (currently sadly on hiatus) Scifiromancequarterly.org I instantly made the decision to purchase that story just to support elegant and unembarrassing cover art in sfr genre, no matter what sort of story it should contain.

I finally got around to actually buying the story and reading it. The plot is set in a time of an interstellar war, which is only alluded to. It is in the background, never seen directly, but setting the scene – much like the Algerian war in the movie Les Parapluies de Cherbourg. The actual action is quite minimal, which I like. Heroine Jyothi lives alone in a research station on a habitable but somewhat bleak planet. Everyone else on the research team has been drafted to the war, and though someone else was supposed to stay with her and maintain the station, he has rather gone to war too than to be stuck on a greyish planet with greying Jyothi. First she has made her own choice to separate from her lover for duty as a scientist, and afterwards she's been abandoned by everyone else. She's still diligently sending messages, but no-one answers. She follows all the rules, even ones that don't make sense anymore, just to have some structure in her life. There is nothing to look forward to, only lonely old age and eventual death. Until one day, as you can imagine, something unusual happens.

The main point of the story is supposed to be a relationship between an older woman and a younger man, but this is where it does not quite make sense. Why is Jyothi so hesitant to pursue the relationship with her new-found companion? At the risk of spoilers, the man is a sort of alien, incarnating into a young male body. He is not a young human male with all the associated cultural baggage in relation to mating with an older woman and there is no-one else on the planet to pass judgement. But come to think of it, the heroine is the one with the problem, even despite their mutual attraction, and she's the one who has grown up among humans and their the preconceived notions of age difference. And the hero does the mental work of finding the root of the problem and fixing it by making changes in himself. So maybe it does make sense and also work as a proof of my "emotional labour as a central reason for romance lit." theory! Although I would have perhaps been more pleased if the heroine had changed her attitude and accepted his love as it was, but I suppose the hidden pay-off of the story was to gratify the reader by having the already nice and lovely hero twist himself into a pretzel to satisfy even the somewhat irrational wishes of the heroine.

At times I liked the author's airy writing, but the use of "..." is a bit excessive to my tastes. The dreamy, languid feeling of the story came through just fine without so many ellipses.

Not that I demand total ascetism in punctuation. I am a big fan of different lenghts of dash (- – and—) in older romances, Ethel M. Dell particularly sprinkles very liberal doses of them in dialogues to indicate passion so violent it hampers speech. You know where the term "dashing hero" comes from? Here's an example:

"Don't be—upset," he said with an effort. "I'm not going—to die!"

But ellipses in the 21st century... what can I say... They remind me of a type of passive-aggressive people on internet forums unable to get to the point of their weird, convoluted diatribes against wheat or something. Which is not an association I want floating around in my head when I read about a gentle love blossoming between two gentle persons.

Other reviewers have commented on the gentle fairy-tale like feel of the story, and I can only nod in agreement. Wishes do come true, to the point where a cynical reader might start looking for clues that lonely Jyothi has started hallucinating to keep her mind from crushing under the weight of absolute isolation. For all we know, the rest of the human race might have wiped themselves out in the war! But taken at face value, it is a kind and compassionate love story, and the stark but refreshingly non-hostile terrain, as mundane and adventureless as the grind of daily life, keeps it becoming sickly-sweet.

Author's blog here, publisher's site here and cover artist Yasmin Khudari's site here.