Book Review

Ghost Planet by Sharon Lynn Fisher: A Guest Review by Carrie S


Title: Ghost Planet
Author: Sharon Lynn Fisher
Publication Info: Tor 2012
ISBN: 978-0-7653-6897-3
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy

Ghost Planet Ghost Planet was depressingly terrible as only a promising book can be.

The premise was wonderfully intriguing and the author (Sharon Lynn Fisher) writes good descriptions and has an overall good use of language, with a few scenes that were genuinely harrowing.  The writing technique is polished and smooth.  This high level of potential made it almost insulting when the book became progressively lost in scientific bullshit and stock, annoying characters. 

Fair disclosure – Ghost Planet is getting great reviews elsewhere on the net, so if you loved Ghost Planet don't be shy about defending its honor in the comments – you are not alone.

Ghost Planet is about a planet (Ardagh 1) that has recently been colonized by humans.  Every human who comes to Ardagh 1 soon discovers that they have a ghost – a person who they knew, who had died, who must follow them everywhere.  In order to cope with the resulting depression amongst the colonists, the colonists are instructed to follow Ghost Protocol, which involves refusing to interact with the ghosts in any way.  Our protagonist, Elizabeth, shows up on the planet and meets with her new boss, Murphy.  Much to her horror and surprise she quickly discovers that she is a ghost herself – she died when her transport crashed during landing – and she is now the ghost of Murphy, who will not acknowledge her.

I think Fisher's first mistake was in making the ghosts corporeal.  They aren't actually ghosts; they are supposedly alien copies of dead people, but they are fully alive.  They eat and sleep and walk around and have all the memories and the personality of the human they are a copy of.  They think that they are that person and for all intents and purposes they really are.  Yet none of the colonists say, “Yay, I have my loved one returned to me!”  I'll grant that having your dead relative suddenly appear and start following you around must be startling but really the uniformity of the reactions just seems bizarre.  Plus, if the ghosts are corporeal, why don't any of them turn on their ghostees, who make them sleep in closets and refuse to feed them?  How is the planet getting the DNA with which to make physical copies of people, many of whom have never been to the planet?

Then Fisher decides to explain the ghost phenomenon in terms of a host/symbiont relationship, and the harder she tries the worse the book gets.  There is a ton of horrible, horrible, fake scientific babble about how this can happen and it's just unbearably awful.  Here is an example.  The main characters have noticed that when ghosts and ghostees interact a lot, vegetation grows spontaneously.  It is Earth vegetation, not found on Ardagh 1, and it grows without seeds, soil, water, or sunlight.  On top of that, the vegetation is specific to the person it grows near (so the Irish guy gets clover and someone named Yasmine gets jasmine).  Our heroes make this observation:

“If the growth is triggered by the symbiont/host bond, why wouldn't it manifest something personal about the pair?  Symbionts are manifestations of something personal about their hosts.  The planet itself is a manifestation of something personal about the colonists.”

If the above paragraph and quote did not cause you to fall to the floor, writhing in agony, and screaming, “SO!  MANY!  THINGS!  WRONG!  WITH!  THIS!” then you might be OK with Ghost Planet

Unfortunately, you still have to deal with the characters.  Oh, God, the characters.  Elizabeth is the ultimate Mary Sue.  She is perfect in every way.  She is always reasonable and plucky.  She has every male character in the book in love with her and every character, period, saying how special she is, within minutes of first meeting them.  She comes up with all the great ideas because she is so darn intuitive, and solves many problems that have bedeviled scientists for years within her first week or so on the planet.  She even (SPOILER) has a perfect pregnancy, during which she experiences only slight hints of nausea.  Elizabeth's only flaw is that she can't cook, which Murphy thinks is very cute.

And…then, there's Murphy.   His character is wildly inconsistent and totally useless except that he is great at sex (which he wants to have all the time) and at cooking.  He is the creator of Ghost Protocol and had built his career and personal life on enforcing it, and had a previous ghost that he quite happily ignored, but within a few days of Elizabeth becoming his ghost he is not only paying attention to her but also making out with her.  There's very little development of their emotional relationship.  He is in love with her because everyone falls in love with her, and she is in love with him because he's hot and can cook and thinks she's great.

The best stuff in the book, and it's very, very good stuff, is in the first couple of chapters when Elizabeth realizes that she is a ghost and struggles to figure out how to survive.  Her pleading with the living for them not to tell her mother that she has died is truly devastating.  Her horror upon realizing she is dead, her struggles with depression, and the grimness of her predicament are very well done.  In a way, Fisher was too successful in her opening chapters – if they had been weaker, maybe I would have accepted more flaws from the rest of the book, but having seen just how powerful Fisher's writing can be I was frustrated beyond all measure to see it get worse and worse with every passing page.  I read the whole book thinking it might turn around but it never recaptured the sense of urgency and emotional punch of those first chapters.

As I mentioned, Sharon Lynn Fisher is getting great reviews.  Clearly she is doing great with her writing career whether I like Ghost Planet or not.  In fact, I may be the only person on the Internet who disliked the book.  That being said, Ghost Planet was a very imaginative, very intriguing, very disappointing mess.  I am giving this book a D+ because despite some strong writing talent, this story contained neither thoughtful science fiction nor emotionally engaging romance.  

This book is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Sony | Kobo | iBooks

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Moenen says:

    The whole premise to the story sounds bafflingly silly and unrealistic. Why the hell did anyone go along with Ghost Protocol? Were there no psychologists on the planet to point out how dumb and counterproductive the idea is? “Oh yeah, I thought I would become depressed watching my dead mom follow me around, but now that I’m actively ignoring and neglecting her instead of dealing with my grief and accepting her presence, I feel soooo much better!” WTF?!

  2. 2
    Mullinse1 says:

    So, I haven’t read it, but I love the idea of the creator of the “just ignore them” philosophy hooking up with his ghost.  Think of the scandal!  Victorian ladies everywhere would give him the cut direct!

  3. 3

    It’s certainly an intriguing concept but I think I’ll pass. Perfectly plucky women who can solve all the boring science problems just through her pretty smile make me want to stab things with sporks.

  4. 4

    I admit that I was disappointed by this novel, for many of the same reasons you outline here. But the author has potential to write a much better novel, and since this appears to be the first book in a series I can only hope it improves.

  5. 5
    Alex says:

    I’m confused.  Did Elizabeth and Murphy know each other before the start of this book?  It sounds as if they’re meeting for the first time, but then why would she be his ghost?

  6. 6
    CarrieS says:

    @Alex – I turns out that they had met, but only very briefly.  They were Ships the Crossed in the Night.  Their love was Meant To Be.

  7. 7
    CarrieS says:

    @Moneen – it pains me to even type these words, but the GP IS developed by psychologists.  The lead guy is a psychologists.  A very, very, stupid psychologist.

  8. 8
    laj says:

    I haven’t read this book, but as far as your grading a D+ seems ridiculous to me.  C- or a D yes, but a D+?

  9. 9
    CK says:

    I enjoyed this book, but I agree with everything you said. I think I liked it so much because I had such low expectations on the scifi/plot front (most SFR are weak on the scifi plot and heavy handed on the romance) and it was an easy read. Even so, by the end I was getting a bit annoyed and started to think MarySue was going to give birth to The Chosen One. I’ll definitely try another book by Fisher.

  10. 10
    Ann F. says:

    I thought this was one of the most original sci-fi romance books I have read in a long time (and I’ve read a lot of them!).  The book certainly had some flaws.  Like you I would have liked to see a little more developement between Murphy and Elizabeth.  In fact the part of the book I enjoyed the most was right after they both figured out what she was and he was still coming to terms with it. 
    With that said, I am willing to cut this book a little slack since it is the first in a series.  The author built an interesting and unique world but it does suffer a bit from first-book-itis.  Meaning things can get a little bogged down while we are getting the set-up.

    Also, your quote above about the symbiot/host thing made me laugh.  I remember cringing when I read that too! 

  11. 11
    Glorei says:

    There has to be a connection at some point in the pairs past. It could be as fleeting as meeting someone briefly as a first encounter, or a long loved family member. Elizabeth and Murphy met VERY briefly at a point in time.

  12. 12
    Glorei says:

    I LOVED this book. I read quite a bit, and I read a book for enjoyments sake. Yes there were bits about the book that I thought could have been done better, but like most books, there is always something that you feel might have worked better a different way. I loved the world building, and some really enjoyed the style of the book. Yes there are times you might roll your eyes at how perfectly things work out, but then that can also be said for a lot of books with romance in them. It is a combination of Sci-fi and PNR and as such it is going to all work out beautifully in the end. Please dont be put off by the review, I would urge you to get it from the library if you dont think it will be worth buying it. If you aren’t bothered by PNR or are a stickler for everything being boxed off correctly and being done just so, then perhaps its not for you. I gave it a 5 stars on the site I review for and it was one of our books of the month when it was first released.

  13. 13
    CarrieS says:

    @laj – I’m not sure why a D+ would be any weirder than a D or a C-, but I can tell you why I picked D+.  In m opinion (and you can see on the comments that mileage varies big time on this book) the book failed both as sci fi and as romance and as crossover.  There was no level on which it worked.  So, I’m not going to give it a C grade which I usually assign to books that are “just OK”.  Nor does it reach the level of catastrophic, total failure that I think of as an F grade.  So it gets a D, but the strong first few chapters and the good use of basic writing technique earn it some bonus points, bringing it to a D+.  I loathe assigning letter grades but for once I’m pretty confident about this one.  Hope that helps.

  14. 14

    Aaaand that rumbling sound you heard was the sound of Stanislaw Lem turning over in his grave…

  15. 15

    Thank you for mentioning Lem. One of the difficulties in pushing SF romance to my SF fan friends (of any sex) is how some popular SFR books don’t hold up well when you look at the science aspect of the story.

  16. 16
    Sharon says:

    I’m sorry the book wasn’t for you, Carrie, but thanks all the same for taking the time to read and review! And also for disclosing about the other reviews. Best, Sharon

  17. 17
    Laskiblue says:

    Okay, the mix of opinions has intrigued me enough that I will have to read this book.  It’s a really interesting premise for a series.

  18. 18
    Majormik says:

    Well done Sharon you can’t please them all but you have come damn close.

  19. 19

    Sounds like it wasn’t the book for you that particular day!  I, on the other hand, loved it—it was very well written and I was really drawn into the world Sharon created in Ghost Planet.  I can’t wait for her next book!  I’d suggest that other readers might enjoy it more (a lot more!) than you did and I hope they’ll give it a try.  I think Sharon Fisher is one of the most exciting new authors to come along in some time! 

  20. 20
    CarrieS says:

    @Sharon – based on our response, you are a classy, classy person – thank you, and I genuinely wish you great success with future Ghost Planet books

  21. 21
    Adrian says:

    Okay, classy authors make me want to buy their books. Sounds like I would have the same problems you did, Carrie ( and I usually agree with your reviews), but Sharon may have earned a purchase from me. I went and looked at the book for my nook on the B&N site and found this gem of a “Meet the author”:

    “Sharon Lynn Fisher lives in the Pacific Northwest, where she writes sci-fi/fantasy and battles writerly angst with baked goods, Irish tea, and champagne.”

    My kind of girl!

  22. 22
    CarrieS says:

    @ Sharon – Aargh, I can’t type!  I meant “based on “your” response”, not based on “our response”.  Again, thanks for being a true class act.

  23. 23
    Sharon says:

    I had filled in the “y” in my head. :) Thanks so much, Carrie!

  24. 24
    Sharon says:

    Ah thanks for that, Adrian. If you do I hope you like it. :)

  25. 25
    Jessirose713 says:

    So, wait, I’m confused.  “[Ghosts] are supposedly alien copies of dead people.”

    So is she an alien? Her DNA would have to be different from a human right? Is she going to give birth to a lizard baby?

  26. 26
    Laylapalooza says:

    Not going to lie, I kind of want to read this, because the premise sounds totally interesting!

  27. 27
    Amy Raby says:

    While I feel some of these criticisms are fair, I really enjoyed this book. One of the things that’s frustrated me about some of the SF romances I’ve read—and maybe I’ve just been reading the wrong books—is that the worldbuilding has been lackluster. It might be a romance set on a starship, or on a planet with some generic sci-fi trimmings. I want my science fiction romance to be more than just a generic sci-fi set on which a romance plays out. I want ideas, I want a book that makes me think, and I feel like this one delivered on that. And when I’m swept up in a fascinating world and premise, I don’t notice flaws. Or if I do, I overlook them because I’m having a good time.

  28. 28
    Kelly L. says:

    There may be something I’m not understanding—but how does ignoring the ghosts prevent abuse, if the ghosts are corporeal? I could actually imagine an abusive ghost getting angry about the silent treatment and lashing out.

  29. 29
    Adrian says:

    So I totally bought it last night and read it and finished it this afternoon after getting home from work.

    I enjoyed it. I had some of the same issues that Carrie did, and recognized the same types of problems. But the writing was pretty good, and like Carrie I thought the first couple of chapters were exceptional.

    My main problem was it felt as it had just too much going on. Too many new characters being introduced and throwing new conflicts and new wrinkles into everything, it szeemed to go on an on and be just a bit too long.

    However, I do not regret purchasing it. The unique premise was a breath of fresh air, even when it stretched credulity. :)

  30. 30
    SKapusniak says:

    I’m afraid far from making me fall to the floor in horror all the paragraph quoted just made me go even more go “omg! Solaris!” and instill a burning desire in me to re-watch the Tarkovsky Movie version.

    …and I now discover the e-book version of Lem’s original novel (which to my shame I haven’t read) is a new translation. Squeee!

    Err, sorry. Carry on people.

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