Alien Quest by Mark Richard Zubro
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
I’ve tagged this hard-to-classify book as a queer, erotic detective sci-fi novel. That’s a lot of genres mashed together and fully satisfying to none of them. I must point out that I am not the target audience for detective novels or erotica having read nothing in those categories before except for The Case of the Good-for-Nothing Girlfriend by Mabel Maney, a lesbian take on the Nancy Drew mysteries. What I was hoping for was a solid sci-fi or urban fantasy with a queer protagonist, which is still a rarity in today’s market. That fact that the book takes place in my city of residence made it all the more fun.
I should note that I received this copy of the book for free from the author whom I do not know. In July, I attended a reading of authors nominated for the 2013 Literary Lambda Awards. This author, with a 1990 win in the category of Best Gay Mystery for A Simple Suburban Murder (Tom Mason and Scott Carpenter, #1) and numerous nominations in that category since then, was reading from his latest nomination in that category, Pawn of Satan (Paul Turner, #11). I have not read any of the author’s nominated books, just this one.
As a queer novel, this book is largely deep inside a white gay neighborhood populated by gay stereotypes: the leather queen very sick with AIDS and living in a hospice, the male dancer/escort, the sassy-but-nuturing, over-sized drag queen (who is possibly not white) . . . The settings are the hospice, seedy hotels, a fetish mansion, a whorehouse. While there could be perfectly legitimate reasons for said settings within the context of the story, I lost trust in the narrator when the narrator lost all sense of perspective. About the leather mansion, the narrator said “As all gay men in Chicago know . . . ” Anyone who can presume to speak for the interests and knowledge of a wildly diverse subset of society lacks perspective in my book.
As erotica, maybe this book would work for some people. I personally found erotic sections to be distracting from the narrative and insincere. However for believers of love-at-first-sight, this 96-hour romance may work.
As a detective novel, I found the story a little shy on specifics. The “mad scientist” [literally called that on the back cover of the book] is intent on either destroying or enslaving Earth-kind. It’s never made clear which, how, or why. I would expect my bad guys to have reasons and discoverable methods. He wants something from Earth, but the story never makes clear what it could be. The mad scientist also wants money, US money. I’m not sure how that is helpful in his plot especially if mankind is destroyed.
As a sci-fi novel, I got the most satisfaction. There are advanced scientific machines and gadgets and an advanced alien culture reliant upon biological integration with nanotechnology and neural implants. This is a sound cultural structure that I wish had played a bigger role or been more fully explored. I’m okay with the main alien protagonist “not being a science guy.” The idea that an advanced culture relies on technology that they do not fully understand is a valid trope. However, he implies that there are other alien races without ever citing a single one. His own race and people are never named as he constantly refers to himself as “an alien,” which I find odd. Only once do we get the name of the home-planet, Hrrm, but it comes with no further description.
All of the sci-fi and “alien” aspects to the alien seem to serve only one purpose, and that is to make him seem exotic for the sake of erotica. Possibly, a character of color anywhere in the book could have done the same. The three aliens we see, though, are white young and attractive in the perfect image of the modern American advertising and porn industries. The impossibly-toned, 20-something single white male is not just the ideal of the gay neighborhood, but of the entire cosmos. That is disappointing.
[Check out my other reviews here.]