Book Review

Incursion by Aleksandr Voinov

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Title: Incursion
Author: Aleksandr Voinov
Publication Info: Riptide Publishing July 2012
ISBN: 978-1-937551-45-2
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy

Book  Incursion Incursion is an odd book – brilliant in some ways, off-putting in others.  This is a hard sci-fi, m/m romance featuring a hero with a disability.  Here’s your drinking game for today: take a shot every time I complain that this book is too short.   Do not do this while operating heavy machinery.

Incursion is about an ex-soldier, Kyle Juenger, who has lost the use of both his legs in an interstellar war.  He uses prosthesis, but they are awkward and painful because he can’t afford good medical treatment.  Kyle is asked by the local bigwigs to track down a shape-shifting alien spy.  The money would allow Kyle to get top quality cyber ware to replace the prosthesis.

Kyle figures that the spy must be on a ship that is just about to go off-planet and he manages to get a ride on the ship.  He finds himself drawn to the pilot, Grimm, who encourages him to think of himself as more than someone who can’t use their legs, and who flirts with him non-stop.  But Kyle is in the middle of this whole “find the shape shifter mission”, and not only is he uncertain of what he’ll do when his mission is complete, but he’s also not sure who the shape-shifter is.  Not Grimm, right?  RIGHT?

This is one of those novellas that desperately needs to be a full-length novel (drink).  It’s great until just before then end, when all of a sudden it’s – the end, ka-boom, when it feels like we are just getting to the middle of the story.  Basically Kyle and Grimm are just barely maybe kind of starting to have a relationship, and they have the sex, and then all of a sudden they are a couple and they fly off into the sunset (it’s a romance, the fact that they fly off together is not a spoiler.  OK, technically, it is, but durrr they will fall in love and be happy, because romance.)

As the first half of a full-length novel, Incursion would be brilliant (sip).  Kyle’s problems with his paralysis seem painful (physically and emotionally) and realistic.  He hasn’t had time to make any kind of peace with the paralysis.  His finances are in shambles.  He’s a gritty character who is struggling to build some kind of life from nothing.  Grimm is less compelling because we don’t learn enough about him.  He’s a mystery right up until he’s not, and by then the book is over (drink). 

I loved that Grimm insisted that Kyle, who has begun to think of himself as no more than a shell, is still a powerful, sexy person.  And I loved it that Grimm encourages Kyle to take care of the body that he has – to maintain the prothetic legs and care for the skin that gets chafed.  There was a good, nuturing quality to those interactions that I found moving.  I also liked the supporting characters but, again, we barely get to see them before the book is over.  Why, why could there not be 200 more pages to flesh out this story in the way it deserves? (chug)

The world building is actually very solid.  I admired the writing technique of starting the book by having Kyle, who is still not used to his prosthetic legs and who has almost no money, have to get from one place to another.  Following him on his trip across town allows us to get a feel for the economics of the world, the way military and private security works, and the emotional and physical state of the hero.  By the time he actually makes it to the office to which he’s supposed to report we are pretty well oriented to the world and sympathetic to Kyle.  The world feels physical and grounded – you need money, you get tired, people shove each other in the crowded train.  It also is clearly futuristic, with spaceports, and complex (and terrifying, and lethal) security in the fancy office buildings.  That first passage was some of the best sci-fi I’ve read in a long time.  Part of my strong reaction to the negative qualities of the book is dissapointment, because the beginning is so good and promised such high quality writing.

As far as the romance goes, it builds up just fine but just when a typical romance book would really take off this book ends (glug, glug, glug).  Grimm and Kyle have sex.  OK, I get that this is significant, but I have no reason to think they’ll be together forever.  Also, what is the deal with dominance in m/m romance?  I’ve only read a handful of m/m romances but every one I’ve read so far has this thing where one character is the pursuer, and is all “I will make you desire me and then I will make you have fabulous orgasms, because I CAN and you will come to accept that because I will MAKE you”.  It’s like because they are both men they have this testosterone problem where they have to joust for dominance before they decide to be lovers (and often after they decide to be lovers).  Am I getting this overwhelming pattern because of my small sample size?  Is this how men often interact in real same sex relationships?  Because it seems exhausting.  Enlighten me, more experienced readers.  My ignorance is embarrassing me.

SPOILERS (WITH TWO PART RANT):  Ultimately Grimm turns out to be a shape shifter (well, duh) and he injects Kyle with shape shifter stuff that turns Kyle into a shape shifter and allows him to walk.  Kyle hates shifters more than anything.  Grimm does this without Kyle’s knowledge or consent.  Prepare for a two-part rant:

Part One:  I hate it, HATE it, when a character has an HEA and we know it’s a HEA because the disability magically vanishes.  It’s insulting.  I hurt every single freaking day and of course I’d be thrilled to feel better, but guess what?  I already have an HEA.   I love my husband and my family and I have a good life.  My physical problems do not prevent me from experiencing a rich and vibrant life.  I do not appreciate an HEA that suggests that as long as a person is disabled, they cannot be happy.

Part Two:  WTF?!?  Grimm injects Kyle with an alien serum to turn Kyle into something Kyle hates, without Kyle’s knowledge or permission – and Kyle is supposed to THANK him.  And he DOES.  It’s OK, because it was for Kyle’s OWN GOOD.  Kyle is angry for like, five minutes but then the book is about to end so he starts a page furious and ends it excited about his new life and full of affection for Grimm.  Perhaps this emotional journey would have been more plausible if the book wasn’t so short (chugchugchug).

If I were really drinking, by now this review would read like this:  fgdfgfdzdxvcbcvbcv…..THUD (that’s my head, of course).  This book started so well, and so many things about it were good, but it doesn’t feel like a complete book.  As far as I can tell, there’s no sequel (I thought maybe this was part of a series, which would explain a lot, but I can’t find a sequel).  So I’m giving this book a C-, with the ‘C’ being for the excellent handling of science fiction settings and themes, and the realistic view of someone struggling with a recent serious injury, and the ‘minus’ for the fact that the book took a weird and infuriating controlling turn and ended too abruptly (hung-over moan of anguish).


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Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    RT says:

    I’m not planning to read the book, because all the things you hated are things that would drive me nuts, but the review was really interesting. Thank you.

  2. 2
    Dora says:

    “I will make you desire me and then I will make you have fabulous orgasms, because I CAN and you will come to accept that because I will MAKE you”

    That sounds like a description of your typical alpha male hetero romance to me. How many books have we read about the hyper aggressive male pursuing the female who just KNOWS they’re meant to be together for exactly the same reasons? It isn’t just Sylvia Day type books… a lot of the books feature a dominant male hero who relentlessly pursues the female in the same fashion as you’re describing and we’re just sort of expected to believe him when he says these things. Look at The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook… the hero relentlessly pursues the heroine even when she initially brushes him off, repeatedly insists that it’s only a matter of time until they have sex, and does essentially make this happen by forcing his company and sexuality on her until she relents. That’s just one example, but you could easily replace the title and character names with a significant chunk of m/f romance novels and protagonists and it would read the same way.

    I think in gay romance, as when it happens in hetero romance, it’s simply a matter of preference on the writer as an expression of a character wanting to be sexually desirable and loved, that instant charge sort of connection the genre is so known for. The powerful, sexy, passionate character who pursues you relentlessly because they want you that damn bad and you’re just meant to be. I don’t think it’s to be taken as an accurate representation of all gay male relationships any more than someone could pick up the books I’ve mentioned and take them for a representation of all hetero ones. :) It’s probably mostly a case of luck of the draw if that’s what you’re primarily finding.

  3. 3
    CarrieS says:

    @Dora – I think you are absolutely right about it being a luck of the draw issue.  I forgot when writing the review that I had read one m/m romance, The Stolen Luck by Shawna Reppert, that was totally devoid of alpha dynamics (loved it).  I am hoping to read more diverse books this year, and one thing I’ll be looking for is books written not just about LGBT people, people of color, etc, but by LGBT authors etc, not that I think actually being LGBT is a requirement for good writing.  As far as I know, Courtney Milan is not a Victorian Era male judge and she writes about them just fine, and I don’t think Meljean Brook has slated any Krakens lately but I sure do love the Iron Seas Books. 

    I’d appreciate any recommendations for good LGBT romance, romance with people of color, and romances with people who are differently abled, especially for things by authors from these groups, although that’s not a requirement.  Doesn’t have to be sic fi/fantasy.  Thanks for helping me with my new year’s resolution!

  4. 4
    Dora says:

    @CarrieS – Well, provided you don’t mind horror, Poppy Z Brite’s “Drawing Blood” might be worth a read. It’s about a young cartoonist named Trevor who returns to his (haunted, naturally) family home, where his father (also a cartoonist) murdered his brother and younger brother before killing himself allegedly following a sudden and complete loss of creative ability. Trevor winds up getting involved with a younger guy named Zach (Trevor is 25, Zach is 19), and they solve the mystery of the house and Trevor’s past. Though it’s been years since I read this, from what I recall Zach is less sexually aggressive and more just persistent in that way someone who really likes someone else is, and the relationship felt very natural and one you rooted for because Trevor has struggled with his sexuality and obviously has a lot of issues as relates to love and abandonment. Though there is obviously the horror element, a lot of the plot focus is on self-doubt and baggage (horror in itself!), and the relationship between the two heroes is very well done, if very bittersweet and angsty. (Something I have a low tolerance for myself, usually.)

    The potential issues with it, however, are that it seriously romanticizes the use of drugs (mostly pot) as relates to subcultures like the goths and so on, and I personally found all the descriptions a little too flowery/pretentious at times… it’s sort of like what you’d get if you forced Tim Burton and, I don’t know, Stephen King to collaborate on a gay romance. (Spare me your lingering descriptions of how pretty everyone is, all the time! There is a murderous ghost in this house… I DON’T CARE HOW BEAUTIFUL THE BRUISED HOLLOWS OF HIS SAD, SAD PUPPY EYES ARE!) It’s worth noting, however, that Poppy Z Brite is actually Billy Martin, a man who was born a woman, which brings an interesting perspective to the m/m romance. Caveat Emptor… I also remember being disappointed in the ending or the twist or something, but though I can’t remember why, it did stick with me because I appreciated reading a gay romance with so much heart and emotion, though it wasn’t perfect. :)

  5. 5
    Vasha says:

    One romance by a gay man that I can recommend is Hot Head by Damon Suede. Two caveats: the sex is very explicit and the leads behave like great big idiots (at first), but it’s great! And there’s no alpha dynamics; and the two guys do, eventually, talk things out and set about building a sane relationship, I really appreciated how the author went on for several chapters after the “I love you” to show how they actually worked at figuring out how to be together.

  6. 6
    Vasha says:

    I have a love-hate relationship with Alexsandr Voinov: on the one hand, I adore his short novel Skybound, which is an emotional World War II story that’s not very sexually-focused and strictly vanilla; but his stories that have a dominance dynamic are not for me. And as for First Blood, a novel that he wrote with Barbara Sheridan, let’s just say I found its attitude toward rape extremely offputting. I really don’t think I dare read any more of his books.

  7. 7

    I’ve heard from many readers that two alpha males butting heads then ravaging one another is really hot. Hence it’s popularity. I’m not big on the alpha male persona, in books and real life, and have only read a couple of m/m so I can’t really weigh in. I’m more a fan of f/f than m/m but that’s my personal leanings.

    Decadent Publishing has a wonderful series called Challenge for people struggling with challenges in life including disabilities. You might want to check it out.

  8. 8
    Sarita says:

    Here here on disabilities and HEA not being mutually exclusive. The Vorkosigan books by Lois Mcmaster Bujold are excellent in that regard. Not that they have a HEA as such, not being primarily romance. Except for maybe A Civil Campaign (I swear, each book in that series is a slightly different genre). But Miles stays disabled, both physically and emotionally, and still gets to fully enjoy finding true love.

    Can anyone recommend any good romance titles with a (consistently) disabled hero and/or heroine?

  9. 9
  10. 10
    Zee says:

    My go-to M/M reads are Carina’s holiday novella collections, Men Under the Mistletoe and His for the Holidays, and I don’t think any of those has that kind of scary dominance relationship. I just re-read the Josh Lanyon one about the jewel thief and the FBI agent and it gave me all the warm fuzzies ever.

    I also seriously, SERIOUSLY dislike the type of HEA you describe.

  11. 11
    Sarita says:

    @Heather Massey, thanks, this is perfect :)

  12. 12
    Dani says:

    I absolutely love Voinov’s writing but I admit I haven’t read this one yet.  Gold Digger, Scorpian and the Special Forces series are some recs from his list that are solid awesome (can’t you tell I am a fangirl?).

    Also, other m/m authors to try….TJ Klune, Eric Arvin, Damon Suede (as mentioned above), Abigail Roux, Heidi Cullinan, Josh Lanyon, SE Jakes, SJD Peterson, SA McAuley, Kaje Harper, Amy Lane, Piper Vaughn, May Calmes, Jay Bell….I could go on forever.  This site actually started me on m/m novels and I haven’t looked back!  I hardly read an f/m books anymore.

  13. 13
    Amy Raby says:

    I hope you don’t mind my mentioning my own book, but since someone asked about romances featuring a disabled hero or heroine, the hero in my fantasy romance ASSASSIN’S GAMBIT is a disabled veteran. The heroine doesn’t have a physical disability, but she suffers from PTSD. Gambit is a 2013 release published by Signet (Penguin).

  14. 14
    Rebecca says:

    It’s not technically a romance in that in doesn’t have a HEA, but James Baldwin’s last novel, “Just Above My Head” has one of the sweetest m/m relationships I’ve ever read.  It’s very much NOT about domination but about two young men falling in love.  Although their relationship ultimately doesn’t last, one of them goes on to another equally loving and stable relationship, that blossoms against the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement.  (e.g. It’s like real life where sometimes your first relationship doesn’t work out, and then you bounce around a while, and then you find one that does.)  The only warning, for those who (like SB Sarah) don’t like to think of characters dying, is that it’s told in the form of an elegy for the main character.  (We find out he dies on the first page, so it’s not a spoiler, but it’s still sad.)

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