When you hear the words ‘Science Fiction Romance’, what type of scene automatically springs to mind? Is it two lovers floating in zero-g, with or without sparkly bedclothes, for a well-earned HEA? Is it a pair of doomed friends-turned-lovers aiming their cripped flier into the munitions hold of an enemy base ship? Is it a meet-cute in an alien bar?
In Nathalie Gray’s Agent Provocateur, the genetically enhanced hero and heroine, Troy and Mercury, fall in love all right, but it happens while they’re kicking the absolute s#%! out of each other in dystopian Montreal. It’s one of the funniest foreplay scenes ever, and is probably the scene that springs to my mind when I think of hi-octane SFR.
Perhaps more than any author in this subgenre, she really “gets”—and revels in—the action-packed, down ‘n’ dirty side of science fiction romance. Her protagonists are often outlaws, assassins, ex-military. Anti-heroes/anti-heroines who operate in the shadows; the only time they see the light is when they’re blowing shit up. But, unlike a lot of the SFR authors I’ve tried, Ms. Gray isn’t merely playing at hi-octane, she has a genuine passion and talent for it. In fact, she writes action as well as any author, male or female, that I’ve read.
There’s a fascinating frisson at work here between the male/female elements in her approach to SFR. The fights/shoot-outs/chases are gripping. Her SF world-building is inventive and leaves me grinning, probably because it embraces the pulpy side of the genre, which I love. I’m pretty sure guys would dig her writing, if they were okay with the sex scenes, which are scorching hot. Also a little indulgent. In The Smiling Assassin, the heroine embarks on an obsessive romantic quest to track down the killer who saved her life. It’s a well-crafted, poignant tale, up to a point. Says Ms. Gray:
“Once in a while, you have to redeem one of them, the anti-hero, the near-villain, the killer with a conscience. And sometimes, all it takes is the love of a good woman. That’s the story of Uriel and Amelia.”
But the centerpiece of the story is a sex scene that goes on and on and, while very well-written, almost overwhelms both the SF and Romance elements of the novella. It’s always a tricky balance to achieve because readers have so many different ideas about where that balance should lie. And writing for a publisher that demands a certain quotient of sex doesn’t leave much leeway, especially in shorter works.
In Metal Reign, her love story is sweeter in terms of heat, aims for more of a repartee between the H/H, and has a stronger external SF plot. It’s an excellent all-round SFR, not as giddily OTT as Agent Provocateur; here the tone’s just right for the situation—a suicide mission to save humanity.
Full Steam Ahead expands the action, attitude, sexuality, and world-building of her other works into the world of steampunk. The result is a wildly fun (mostly airborne) swashbuckling ride. I gave it five stars. The writing, too, so often overlooked in reviews these days, is first-rate.
There are many, many talented authors writing SFR now. You only need look at the contributors to this blog! It’s becoming harder and harder to stand out. But I’d like to urge everyone to check out one of the unsung stars of the genre. Put simply, if you want your pulse to race, you’ll want the hi-octane SFR of Nathalie Gray.
Robert Appleton is the author of many science fiction and steampunk works, including Sparks in Cosmic Dust, Prehistoric Clock, and Pyro Canyon. He lives in Bolton, England.