Apr 6, 2014

[Books] Mindscape

One of the more active LGBT publishers over on NetGally definitely has to be Riptide Publishing. Almost every time I click on a title that I'm considering reading, chances are that it's a book to be released by this particular publishing group. And that says a lot about their willingness to embrace more informal feedback channels like the independent review community.

This is not to say that I'm necessarily a big fan of their releases in the same way that I've come to adore Angry Robot Books. A lot of their LGBT novels seem to be little more than run-of-the-mill gay romance stories set in different situations right out of porn scripts or something like that.

Mindscape piqued my interest since it was the first time I had encountered an science fiction novel aligned with LGBT protagonists, so that certainly sounded promising. At least it sounded like it would be a lot more than your run-of-the-mill sort of trashy romance. And while it certainly tried to be a better novel, it still felt a little middle of the road, if you get my drift.

Synopsis: Mindscape is an LGBT science fiction novel by Tal Valante. I received a free advanced review copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion of the work.

In some far-flung future, we meet former Spavy (Space Navy) officer Shane Cawley who is visiting his partner Mark Sayre in a military hospital. Mark had been captured by the enemy and was now essentially catatonic. But there's more than just love that bonds Mark and Shane together - it's a special telepathic connection called resonance that is extremely rare even in this future reality. And Shane is determined to find the man that he loved hidden deep within this seemingly mindless shell of a person.

Thus we explore the story in two distinct ways. We have Shane's scenes in the present as he uses their resonance connection to push into Mark's mind and try to rescue him from wherever his sense of self has secreted itself away, deep in his mind. On the other hand we follow how Mark and Shane got together in the first place in a series of flashbacks that eventually make their way to how Mark had been captured as a POW.

Like I said in my introduction above, it's not very often that I encounter a book that tries to marry science fiction with a gay romance premise. This is not to say that this isn't possible - it just doesn't seem to happen quite as much for one reason or another. And this seemed like a decent attempt to build that sort of a narrative given a decently interesting science fiction premise.

The story is very focused on its protagonists, contrasting Shane's frustration at being unable to wake Mark up out of his catatonia as contrasted against Mark's eager enthusiasm for trying to figure out how to get closer to Shane. But despite this rather personal focus, the story seems to gloss over a lot of things and sort of focuses more on only particular aspects of the narrative. Thus we don't get a truly clear picture of what the war is about. Nor do we get a good understand of why Mark and Shane actually got together.

The resonance link concept was a nice one that certainly helped tie things together more. But at the same time it felt like a way to cheat us out of more story since we just assume that resonance alone was enough to get them to want to be together more than anything else. Even with the rarity of this special connection, I'd like to think that two guys would still need a lot more to go on in order to fall in love and to be truly on the brink of marriage.

I was surprised at how the book had a pretty decent manner of depicting space battles and trying to contrast fighter tactics versus the sort of complex, strategic commands for larger capital vessels. Clearly the author had a firm idea of the "rules" that made this world work such as how main systems get temporarily knocked out after a jump across space. But at the same time I think we could have spent  at least some time to discuss these different technologies that we discover and thus allow the reader to immerse him or herself further into the "reality" of the world.

The core romance angle did feel a little forced and the mindscape sequences actually got a little boring and repetitive given the brain only provided one setting. One would like to think that even a brain on the defensive would try wildly different pattern and ideas in order to keep "attackers" constantly on their toes as they tried to adapt.

Mindscape is a nice attempt at working in a geekier science fiction premise into a classic LGBT romance concept. It is a bit of a challenge to read given how we have two different stores since they operated opposing timelines, but for the most part the book had relative value. Thus I'm good with rating this book as 3 strange ways that Shane tries to release Mark from his mental prison out of a possible 5.

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