Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for June 9th, 2012

Just reviewed Koch’s “Alien in the Family” at SBR

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Folks, if you’re looking for a funny, light book about love between a human and an alien from Alpha Centauri, you might want to read Gini Koch’s ALIEN IN THE FAMILY.  This book amused me to the point I read it three times; I thought the romance between Katherine “Kitty” Katt and Jeff Martini (AKA “the alien” who looks and acts like any human, except he has two hearts and can move at hyperspeed) was quite good.  I liked Kitty’s friends, especially her BFF, international male model (retired) James Reader.  And I thought the stuff about the A-Cs (what Koch calls her aliens) made sense, was well thought out, and added greatly to the book.

Before I forget, here’s the link to the review:

Now, back to the commentary.

So with all that, you might be wondering, “Why did Barb give this book only a B-plus?”  (Not that this isn’t a good grade; it is.)  Simple — every person in there is just too good-looking for words.  And that’s not plausible.  Not even in SF/romance.

Here’s the deal, folks; Koch says her A-Cs are mind-bogglingly, stunningly gorgeous.  I buy that; they’re aliens.  (Who knows how much genetic engineering they’ve been through in the recent or not-so-recent past?)  But then, all of the people Kitty’s around are great-looking, too, including CIA agents, her sorority sisters from college, etc. — and I just do not buy this at all.

Further, it weakens a romance when there’s even the hint of the thought that normal-looking people  (or those like me, attractive but “big, beautiful women”) maybe don’t have the right to fall in love.  Or at least in this capacity, Kitty would rather not see them fall in love, or have anything to do with them — which is really quite distasteful, if you think about it overmuch.

That being said, this is a humorous SF romance so of course it’s not to be taken overly seriously.  (That is, if Kitty really were in the CIA or affiliated with them, she’d have to expect that a few of them wouldn’t be stunningly gorgeous; actually, most of them would probably be nondescript sorts, all the better to blend into the background.)  But as it was something that just kept hitting me across the face as there aren’t any normal-looking (or under) people that Kitty references in ALIEN IN THE FAMILY at all — certainly not among the primary, secondary, or even tertiary leads — I had to mention it.

If not for this really odd quirk (something I wish more romance writers would get beyond, especially if they’re writing SF/romance like Koch; she needs to study Lois McMaster Bujold for a while, who’s succeeded brilliantly at writing quirky characters who aren’t drop-dead gorgeous, but have extremely strong and believable romances anyway — I’d say “in spite of this” except that it’s because of who they are, warts and all that the romances work), this novel would’ve been an A-plus.  But because of it, the best I could do is a B-plus, as it strains credulity way past the breaking point when there aren’t any characters who are worth a damn in a book that aren’t at least average looking (or below).

Mind you, Koch understands that her characters are must be extraordinary on the inside and have inner beauty, otherwise we won’t care about them no matter how glitteringly gorgeous they’re supposed to be on the outside.  But her over-reliance on external beauty is extremely puzzling, not to mention off-putting; that I could get beyond this problem and enjoy her book so much anyway speaks to the fact that she really does write extremely well.


One final thought: for those of you writing romance of any sort, please remember that ordinary-looking people can be great characters, too.  Ordinary-looking people deserve great love stories, especially as it happens all the time that people meet, fall in love, and get married — with most people looking completely ordinary on the outside, but being completely extraordinary on the inside.

In other words, please try to let art imitate life, at least in this one, small degree.  OK?

Written by Barb Caffrey

June 9, 2012 at 11:22 pm