So I went to a fair a few days ago and found a bundle of SF books for £5. I hadn’t read any of them before apart from a rather battered copy of The Reality Dysfunction, so I decided to take a chance on them and splash out. The Ultimatum, by Susan Kearney, was one of them. It turned out, after a more careful look at the book, that it was actually a romance novel disguised as an SF book. I swallowed the temptation to hurl it across the room and read it. After I had finished it…I fear I did throw it across the room.
The Ultimatum – which is apparently book three in a series, although it stood alone – stars a semi-alien (I say semi-alien because it isn’t clear if she is actually human) called Dr Alara Calladar. Alara’s near-human race has a curious biological quirk; every second year, the women go into heat and must have sex to regenerate their cells – or die. If this wasn't bad enough, a woman who spends all of her mating period with one man finds that her cells have adapted to him alone, meaning that when their mate dies, so do they. Because of this biological imprisonment, the treatment of women in their society is poor, even though generally better than certain human cultures. Alara – a biological researcher – is on a private quest to defeat this biological quirk after her father abused her mother. This has not found favour with her homeworld’s male masters.
Enter the romantic male lead, stage right. The Gallant Barbaric Space Captain needs the help of someone like Alara and effectively kidnaps her from her homeworld (women of her race are not allowed to travel; her homeworld’s leaders have agreed to this on the theory that she will die out there without a male of her race.) He hated Alara’s race for what they did to his homeworld long ago and doesn’t know anything about their biology, or the fact that Alara is on the verge of going into heat. You can probably guess where all of this is going. In order to satisfy Alara’s urgent needs – and I cannot believe that I just wrote that sentence – he sleeps with her. Oh, and there is a great deal of spanking and other forms of dominance as well.
Luckily, there is a plot of sorts in this story; it just doesn’t make sense. Space is threatened by a deadly plague and the Captain and his crew are on a mission to find the Perceptive Ones, Q-like aliens who might be able to help. The plot swings from world to world and makes no sense, as if the author was constantly revising her outcome from day-to-day. The biology doesn’t help – frankly, she seems not to care that much about internal consistency. It is literally impossible to spoil the ending – they fall in love and live happily ever after.
The story does have good ideas; I’ll give it that much (even though part of the plot is lifted directly from Star Trek). The problem is that none of the really interesting ideas are addressed. It swiftly moves from a story about sexual exploitation to a romantic comedy and doesn’t do very well at either. The author might have done better just writing an XXX book and not trying to bother with a plot. The use of cute little names for certain body parts – I suspect they were intended to give an impression of foreign cultures – doesn’t amuse. And, worst of all, Alara’s society makes no sense.
You want my advice? Skip this book