One of the ladies over at Dear Author, which had delightfully mean things to say about Fifty Shades of Grey, called Heat “probably the best independently published book I have read…this sort of book was [sic] the reason I read indie books. I’m constantly hoping for that one read that will probably never be published by a mainstream publisher, yet is intense and consuming and surpasses all my skeptical misgivings.”
I tried Heat out of curiosity about this intense and consuming thing that could never be published by a mainstream publisher, and I agree that it has a certain je ne sais quoi. Science fiction and erotica generally don’t mix, but here we have a solidly crafted, well-written novel with levels of graphic sex, violence, and sexual violence usually seen only in Japanese anime.
This is about as hardcore as erotica can get, but I was most shocked to discover that Heat is genuinely character driven. Smith writes four main characters, each with a distinctive vantage point and spot-on diction. The stars are Kane and Raven, who have an explosively dangerous Hannibal Lecter/Clarice Starling power imbalance. Kane is a criminal from the planet Jota who has come to Earth to harvest human brain chemicals to make drugs. Like Dr. Lecter, Kane fairly vibrates with self-awareness and maturity, yet you never know when he’s going to eat someone’s face.
Raven, a purple-haired teenage runaway, is probably my favorite of the characters. She’s a survivor who doesn’t expect the world to hand her anything for free, which is a good thing because Kane’s not a nice guy. “Even in this light, she could see the look on his face–a look that said he was about to kill everything in sight, ending with things that don’t even die, like rocks and trees, but beginning with her.”
Tagen is the lone cop who has been dispatched to bring Kane to justice. Kane has been to Earth many times with his loving, criminal father and his loyal, criminal crew of slavers and drug dealers. Tagen, on the other hand, is working from a 500-year-old briefing file because the Jotan government officially quarantined Earth centuries ago. Tagen’s not as sexy as Kane (because who, who, who could be as sexy as a young, well-muscled, alien version of Hannibal Lecter whose hormones are in spectacular overdrive?), but his chapters are unexpectedly funny. Tagen is fluent in Panyol, also known as español, and listens to some English language tapes on the flight over. Then he keeps trying to speak to humans in Spanish because, hey, it’s what he knows. Maybe if he just says it slower or louder…
As a newcomer, Tagen has a lot of tourist insights, such as quirking at why the humans’ orbital weapons are all aimed at their own planet. Smith doesn’t overseason this soup, so it’s fun.
Both Kane and Tagen are blindsided by an unusually hot summer as they land their ships in a national park “with the kind of high-summer insect noise that made sane men butcher their families in their beds.” Summer, which lasts only 9 days on Jota, triggers the mating season and causes extreme pain unless Jotan boys can get their rocks off. This novel is erotica, so it dives into scenes of sex, violent sex, and imaginary sex. The imaginary sex comes from Tagen, who has to actually woo a human female rather than just commandeer them the way Kane does.
So this is where we meet Daria, the main character most like the reader (unless you happen to be a teen prostitute or an alien). Daria is not especially nice, but as Tagen observes, “Niceness is a quality often at odds with sincerity.” Witty and resourceful, Daria tries her damnedest to act unfazed by the almost 7-foot tall alien who shows up in her home and demands help in tracking down an alien criminal. And then it turns out that Daria is pretty damn good at detective work, and Raven is pretty damn good at evading the law, and this is as much a girl show as a guy show.
I’m giving a bonus star because this is exactly the risk-taking kind of book that I would love to see more of, but I’m retracting a star because there’s a pacing slowdown in the middle. I doubt a NY editor would have made a difference, since I see these pacing problems all the damn time, so I guess I’m glad Smith is getting 70% royalties by going the self-published route. Any professional would have advised her to change the title of the book, though, because one-word titles have signal-to-noise ratios that make it near-impossible to actually find this book on Amazon. To say nothing of the cover art. Here’s the Amazon link if you want to try the sample pages for free.