Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on brokenglass. -Anton Chekhov, short-story writer and dramatist (1860-1904)
Games of Command by Linnea Sinclair
Published by Bantam Spectra, March, 2007, 525 pages
Having previously read “Finders Keepers,” “An Accidental Goddess” and, my favorite, “Gabriel’s Ghost,” by Sinclair, I can honestly say I was anticipating the release of her latest SF/Romance hybrid, “Games of Command” with all due fervor. Sinclair is a rarity, one of the few authors who can write decent science fiction and add in romance that doesn’t detract from the storyline, but enhances it. Games of Command is somewhat more complex than her previous novels, and contains fewer passionate clutches, looks and words between the main characters, yet it manages to give readers a secondary storyline, with the ships doctor and a rogue telepath, that allows us to experience all the romance and passion without interrupting the science fiction plot run by the main characters.The book is mainly about Captain “Sass” Tasha Sebastian, who has, in the past, been up to no good, but now is flying the straight and narrow space lanes when she’s ordered to duty on the ship of Admiral Branden Kel-Paten, a human-cyborg mix who has had a secret crush on Sass for years. Sebastian’s best friend, Dr. Eden Fynn, is also commandeered for the trip, and we learn early on that she is, thankfully, not another petite blonde with big breasts, but rather a voluptuous redhead who is an empath as well. Part of my problem with reading romances, paranormal, SF and fantasy-hybrids has been the authors insistence on using clichés and stereotypes in so much of the text. The heroine is always petite, usually blonde but occaisionally raven-haired, and always feisty. It’s as if that is the only kind of woman these writers assume that men find sexually attractive. Because a majority of women in the United States are a size 14 and over, I would think this one cliché alone would hack female romance readers off. There’s also the trope of the female protagonist never performing oral sex on the male protagonist that has had me wondering why for quite awhile. Fortunately, Sinclair takes a healthy stab at breaking those stereotypes and clichés with Dr Eden Fynn and her curvaceous, full-figured form, and Sass, the main character, performing oral sex on Kel Paten. What a relief to see some realistic sexuality and a realistic woman in this novel! Halleluiah! Kudos to Sinclair for her bravery in the face of romance novel convention.
The rest of “Games of Command” zings along like a well-written episode of Star Trek, The Next Generation, or Babylon 5. The Sebastian and Kel Paten characters go through a series of crisis and pages of sprightly dialog later, come out on the other end realizing that they love one another, which was not a given, at least for Sebastian, who was fairly embarrassed about the lovesick log entries she stole from Kel Patens personal computer. Dr Fynn, meanwhile, falls for secret agent and rouge telepath, Jace Serafino, and we learn all about the secret war being waged between the Psy-Serv command, (which reminded me of Psycorps from Babylon 5) a faintly Nazi-like organization that puts inhibitors on telepaths and controls their lives, and the Alliance, who only want peace and commerce, of course. We also learn that “furzels” and “fidgets” (cats and kittens, respectively) are embroiled in the war as a way to protect their humans and keep the galaxy smelling clean for all humankind. Though I enjoyed the telepathic cats and their exploits, I have to say that the cuteness of their childish dialog, calling their humans “mommy” and such got to be a bit too much. I know that people get very attached to their pets, and anthropomorphize them to the Nth degree, but they are still animals, not people, and their function as pets or deus ex machina (as is the case in the novel) shouldn’t be degraded by cutesy baby-talk. But that is a minor quibble with an otherwise great SF/Romance. My only other quibble is the use of clichéd euphemisms for anatomy during sex scenes. But I’d be willing to bet Sinclair will be one of the first to use words like “penis” and “vagina” or even, gasp, “clitoris” in one of her future novels. She’s just that gutsy.
I would recommend Games of Command to any reader who enjoy science fiction imbued with fascinating characters who come together in relationships that are wonderful fun. Sinclair's plots never plod and her prose is always sensible and clean, allowing her sparky dialog to shine each time she brings her characters together. Games of Command is well worth the late-night page-turning that will ensue when the reader must see what happens in the end.