Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Clean Limbs of Robots
by Francis Marion Soty

Garbage Miners
by Sean McLachlan

All Comms Down
by Anne E. Johnson

Do Stand-Up Bots Dream of Electric Hecklers?
by James Aquilone

by Timothy J. Gawne

Human Faces
by Karl Dandenell

Charybdis Run
by Nathan Ehret

by Jennifer Campbell-Hicks

Halieis Anthropon
by A.L. Sirois

by Richard Zwicker

You Need to Know
by Michaele Jordan


Animated Pictures
by J. Miller Barr

by Eric M. Jones




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips



Perihelion Reviews

Passing Strange Prokaryotes

A SMOKIN’ HOT LOVE AFFAIR in the Antarctic may not accelerate global warming, but other strange and wild things happen in Ann Gimpel’s “Icy Passage.”

By wild, I mean more than the explosive chemistry between two star-struck scientists at the South Pole. At a remote South Georgia Island station, Brynn McMichaels’ cultures of the world’s oldest single-celled organism, archaea, are doing unprecedented things.

Single-celled organisms aren’t supposed to be capable of sound, but Brynn’s start humming “almost as if the samples were trying to lull him into some kind of détente.” And they seem to be morphing into something new. “For some reason quorum sensing isn’t slowing them down one whit,” Brynn observes, “and once the colonies get to be a certain size, they almost have a group intelligence.”

Brynn isn’t the only one questioning his sanity down there in the frigid Antarctic. A colony of one-celled organisms seems to be killing lab techs at McMurdo Station. Biochemist Jack DeVoe calls Brynn about his malevolent prokaryote cultures, only to learn Brynn also has a case of “proks gone wild.” Brynn agrees to bring his cultures to McMurdo to compare notes.

Meanwhile, on a Russian research vessel headed for McMurdo, Dr. Kayna Quan rushes to the aid of a veteran crewman who is the first victim in what is to become a series of mysterious casualties aboard ship. She senses the almost corporeal presence of Death, an adversary she’s encountered before. Paranormal abilities she’s suppressed all her life emerge. Her long dead father, strangely alive in an alternate reality, is also intensely interested in those prok cultures. I can’t say anymore about Kayna’s father without plot spoilers, so I’ll stick to the flesh and blood males in this story.

The good ship Vladimir has its share of blue-eyed “Nordic poster boys with broad shoulders, blond good looks, and sharp features,” but Kayna has eyes only for Brynn, who comes on board (in more ways than one) with his colony, heading for McMurdo (I can’t help thinking “you show me your proks gone wild, I’ll show you mine”). The attraction between Brynn and Kayna is instantaneous and mutual, far exceeding anything either has ever experienced before. Does this foreshadow what will happen when Brynn’s colony meets the McMurdo cultures?

On a ship with tiny bunks, no privacy, and hideous sub-zero wind chills on deck, amorous naked antics among humans may seem improbable. Ah, where there’s a will, there’s a way. The antics of the prokaryotes are put on hold for pages at a time while two brilliant, good-looking scientists explore soul-binding, mind-bending sex.

Squeamish readers might want to blitz past lines like these: “Semen juddered out of him in slow, tantalizing bursts as her muscles milked him.”

The scenery is as mind-blowing as the sex. Ann Gimpel spent two months at the South Pole in 2014, and her prose is so descriptive, vivid and authentic, you’ll have no need to check out her photos on Facebook—but you should. They’re stunning.

“I had no idea I’d ever see Antarctica,” Gimpel posted. “I’d lusted after that part of the globe forever.” Few people may be that eager to visit the South Pole, but Gimpel is a “vagabond at heart,” a wife, mountaineer, best-selling author, clinical psychologist with a Jungian bent, owner of three wolf hybrids, and a “lifelong aficionado of the unusual.” When a mountaineering buddy called about a rare opportunity to hike South Georgia Island (“Apparently a large group had cancelled out at the last minute”), Gimpel and her husband seized it—with “a whopping twenty days to get everything ready to go.”

A fur seal who makes a cameo appearance in the novel shows up on Gimpel’s online photo journal. One Facebook friend commented that the massive creature appears to be channeling the “I’m Too Sexy” song by Right Said Fred. I’ve been replaying the song on YouTube ever since. What? I have a review to write? Right! Back to Kayna and Brynn ...

The ship faces a terrible storm, but another kind of storm is swirling farther up the globe, and if ice doesn’t immobilize the Vladimir, a political crisis may prevent this ship full of Russians from docking at McMurdo. Ooh, and that means the two bizarre bacterial colonies may never meet.

If you think communicative bacteria are the province of fantasy, not science fiction, try following Anthony Melchiorri on Twitter. “Bacteria can be quite chatty,” he tweeted January 21, “and sometimes you just need to get them to shut up.” Ooh! Had he read “Icy Passage?” —No, the novel hadn’t even been released yet.

The synchronicity and uncanny timing of his tweet led me to the January issue of the journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Science,” which affirms that bacteria communicate by means of chemical signals. They modulate their behavior toward one another through some kind of “quorum sensing” (yes, the same term that Brynn used). According to researchers at Goethe-Universität, this hitherto unknown communication pathway “appears to be widely distributed,” and the sneaky little creatures can become pathogenic to humans.

Then again, the chatty bacteria “may offer a possible therapeutic target for new medicines.” And that’s where Ann Gimpel ultimately leads the microorganisms in “Icy Passage.” We know that nothing short of tragic, untimely deaths and epic disasters ever get people to give crazy ideas a chance. No, I’m icy passagenot telling you how Brynn’s ancient archaea may save the human race from global catastrophe.

“I did boatloads of research as I wrote this book,” Ann commented at Facebook. “So much, it was a relief to get to the paranormal parts. Smiles.”

Ah, yes, the paranormal parts!

All her life Kayna has been hiding her extraordinary gifts of intuition and, well, magic, until her dead father starts stalking her, not just in her dreams, but in the physical world. Her dead grandma and her spirit guide, a raven, try to intervene. Brynn must conquer his skepticism to save Kayna from a fate worse than death. He’ll have to summon his latent psi powers to save his true love from a dark, megalomaniac version of Deepak Chopra with a ninja sword.

“Genetics 101, sweetie,” Kayna tells him. “It just so happens Chinese, Japanese, Scottish, Irish, and Russian bloodlines have a proclivity for paranormal ability. Oh, yes, and the Jews.” Oh, yes, and it so happens her father is Chinese, her grandma Irish, making Kayna extra extraordinary. Brynn happens to have the right bloodline, too. If you’d rather read about spaceships, alien invasions and armies of endless killer robots, this isn’t the novel you should buy today. If you love seeing one genre morph into another, as wild and unexpected as those mutant cell cultures that “speak” to Brynn, this is your kind of story.

Before anyone says magic has no place in science fiction, consider the three laws in Arthur C. Clarke’s essay “Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination” (“Profiles of the Future,” 1962). Law 1: when a distinguished scientist says something is possible, he is almost certainly right; when he says something is impossible, he is very probably wrong. Law 2: the only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible. Law 3: any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Kayna’s “magic” may come from her gene pool, rather than from technology, but I’m trying to build a case here for “magic” in science fiction. Those chatty bacteria have surprised real-life scientists, not just Gimpel’s fictional versions.

“I suspect that there are more things in heaven and Earth that are dreamed of, or can be dreamed of, in any philosophy,” said award-winning scientist J.B.S. Haldane. “Now, my own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.” Haldane was a mathematician and a polymath known for his contributions to physiology, genetics, evolutionary biology, statistics and biometry education in India. I have no idea what I just wrote, but if I can place my trust in the high priesthood of science, I’ll concede willing suspension of disbelief to science fiction authors—as long as they tell a good story. And Gimpel does that, in spades, or should I say exponents?

You can skip the magic, skip the sex, and still find a lot of great reading here. Visiting Antarctica from the warmth of my living room, for one. I love the world’s oldest one-celled organisms showing how good it is for us, not just for them, that they didn’t go extinct. With a mystery illness that would defy the diagnostic team on TV’s “House,” a romance, and a cast of interesting, well-drawn and believable characters, “Icy Passage” is much more than a quick and enjoyable read. (“Icy Passage,” Ann Gimpel, Amazon Digital Services) 4 stars —Carol Kean


Attack of the Big Empty

MOBILE-PLATFORM GAMING REALLY has some advantages over PC and console-based gaming both for gamers and production studios. The games run much cheaper, bringing in larger audiences. In app purchases, expansions can be as pricey as their DLC counterparts but have a wider acceptance due to ease of use and a low initial price. And finally, the games don’t need to be nearly as advanced as their siblings on other platforms. However, as mobile games grow more and more popular, their quality needs to match their asking price.

In “Exiles: Far Colony,” the year is 2375. We find ourselves on Aurora 9, a desert world with one large human colony. Humanity has arrived on the planet to mine a number of resources for an Earth that badly needs them. The human colony is run by a power hungry governor who sends “our character” out to stop a rogue faction in the exiled far colonies. However, through a few twists and turns we learn that there is a human-made virus that will make slaves of all on Aurora 9. In order to save the planet’s denizens, we’ll have to overthrow the government.

That’s the whole plot in a nutshell; you can complete all of the main missions pretty quickly. Once I was finished, I was actually shocked at how short the main game play is. And after a brief bout of playing, I discovered that I had run through all of the side missions as well. Overall, “Exiles: Far Colony” is a bit of a disappointment.

The look of the game is probably its best selling point. You can customize your character to a satisfying extent; unfortunately, the camera angle is limited to the back of the head the whole game. The scenery and various aliens you have to fight are well designed, something you’d see in a sixth generation console, but far behind the capabilities of current mobile operating systems. Although the scenery is stunning, the game still has too many bugs in it. At times you can see through, and even walk through, solid walls! There was a lot of thought put into the design of this world; however, there are tons of things that the developers could have done and should have. For instance, there could have been a bit of dialog with a non-player character (NPC) about the abandoned buildings by the bridge.

There are a handful of cut scenes, but they are nothing to write home about. The scenes are a bit choppy and very short. The same goes for the interaction between your playable character and NPCs. Sometimes there is audio to accompany the conversations, but it tended to cut out on me. Other times there was no audio, leaving me wondering if something was wrong. The game has been compared to the “Mass Effect” series, but “Mass Effect” gave players dozens of options in conversation that actually changed events later in the game. In “Exiles” there are no options when you converse with an NPC. You basically just agree with everything they say. “Exiles” also lacks the rich, layered story that existed in “Mass Effect.”

As far as game play goes, “Exiles: Far Colony” has a variety of elements mixed together:

The game is a shooter. That allows players to switch back and forth between first and third person. The controls are similar to other mobile shooting games such as “Deus Ex: The Fall,” and runs into the same probability of accidently shooting exileswhen you are trying to look. This happened to me often, but it could have been the platform I was using (Kindle HDX) versus an actual problem with the controls.

It also has some RPG elements in it. You can choose between different classes, and the character can be leveled. The different classes give you various special abilities, which are equally useful, making the choice a bit moot. Leveling is simple—you can actually max out your character before even embarking on the main mission. Each time you level up, you are given a talent point that can be used to increase health regeneration, speed, jumping ability, and special ability. The weapons can be leveled as well through blueprints. Unfortunately, the leveling increases damage only; you can’t change things like acquiring better scopes or sights, or different ammo. You can buy different types of weapons and ammo from several people, however. And you acquire cash by killing the vicious alien animals in the desert. When the creatures disappear they leave behind something that looks like alien dung you can sell to people ... for some reason they buy it.

The game also tries to be an open-world game. This turns out to be both an accomplishment and a failure. You don’t see many open-world games in mobile format, and “Exiles: Far Colony” truly is one. However, it is a big empty world. You run into the same type of alien animals that attack you over and over but, for the most part, it is just a big empty desert. There is no map of any kind so the only real danger in the game is getting lost in the desert and running out of supplies.

The Android version runs $6.99 and the iOS is a little cheaper at $4.99, but there just isn’t enough game there to justify the expense. If the developers release some free new missions or drop the price it may be worth trying, but I say pass on it. Unless you want to be an alien dung trader in a big empty world where all of your problems are solved through murder. (“Exiles: Far Colony,” Crescent Moon Games, iOS, Android) 2stars —Adam Armstrong


Sexy Lexi in the Future

NO DESIRE IS LEFT UNHEEDED IN LEXI MAXXWELL’S “The Future of Sex,” a bold, bawdy, Brave New World of sybaritic, cyber-enhanced sexcapades.

“I dip my quill in anonymous ink so I can splatter the pages with the impure thoughts we all think, yet few have courage to ponder,” Maxxwell writes in the foreword.

Hey, I ponder. I even think; therefore I had to use that word “sex+escapades” because a guy on Twitter keeps posting the latest term he invented, only to Google it and find someone else already beat him to it. I feel your pain, @EisenFeuer. How humbling to “invent” a new word and learn Sexcapades is the name of a TV show and a song.

“Sybaritic” is an old word, but a good one. It’s a shame so many Americans are stuck at a sixth-grade reading level. Think what it would do for authorial word economy if everyone knew that a single word, sybaritic, could summon all these connotations: pleasure-seeking, sensual, self-indulgent, voluptuous, luxurious, extravagant, lavish, hedonistic, epicurean, lotus-eating, libertine, debauched, decadent—wait a minute, lotus-eating? Never mind: sybaritic is a great word, and this story celebrates it like no other I’ve seen in the annals of recent science fiction.

Maxxwell’s story is a spin-off of “The Beam,” a groundbreaking science fiction serial that I haven’t read (okay, I hadn’t even heard of it until now), co-authored by podcasting duo Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant (not their real names, of course). In the world of the Beam, AI enhancements and hyperlinks bring the unimaginable to life, and if you can’t even begin to imagine it, Maxxwell is here to help.

The entrepreneurial young podcasting duo, Truant and Platt, have apparently coined the term “open-source fiction”—an open story world in which “any author may write and publish without requiring permission and without paying royalties to the world’s creators.” Maxxwell’s “The Future of Sex” is a science fiction and erotica hybrid series, with explicit sex scenes. She even has her own bedroom, so to speak, or genre, in the publishing house Platt and Truant founded—Sterling & Stone.

Are you still waiting for me to post juicy excerpts to help you decide whether to invest three dollars in a smokin’ hot ebook that might fry your fingers? All right. Here’s one: “The man’s reaction was more than subtle, but Chloe saw it immediately. He liked attention there, and had probably never received it fully. And while a powerful man such as Mister X wouldn’t hesitate to tell a girl what to do, he’d stop short of requesting anything that made him vulnerable in such a tiny way. Again: men. They’d ask to be whipped, but somehow felt that wanting a favorite spot treated delicately was beyond mention. But if a girl could find it? Well. She could rule his world.”

Futuristic science enables Chloe to treat those favored spots delicately, all right. She instinctively knows how to exploit new gadgets beyond what any instruction manual might teach (unlike me and my failure to utilize even a fraction of all the cool things smart phones and e-books can do). Left to her own devices with these revolutionary new gizmos (they come without icons, buttons or clues how to use them), Chloe—

A little more scene-setting may be in order. Late in the 21st century, the civilized world is walled off from the barbarian East and rising sea levels. In a hyper-stimulated dystopia, an AI entity known as “the Beam” bestows us with a wondrous techno-treasure of nanobots, bodily enhancements, and computer-simulated immersive porn, turning human sexuality into a commodity. A monolithic corporation has mainstreamed sexuality through social engineering and political manipulation, with the lofty humanitarian goal of monopolizing the market.

Chloe Shaw, almost twenty-one, applies for a job at an elite vacation-spa run by the monolith known as O (ooh, wonder what the O stands for). Chloe is unqualified because of her age and inexperience, but she’s a “maxxwellnatural,” unenhanced by plastic surgery or current advances in nanotechnology.

“All sexually active characters in this work are eighteen years of age or older,” Maxxwell reassures us with a (dare I say tongue-in-cheek?) aside in the foreword.

Humor is not the most prominent feature of this novella, but the young dominatrix is. Chloe rises to unprecedented heights, much to the surprise of O’s interviewers, who test her with their most difficult, hard-to-please customers. Performance anxiety doesn’t afflict this girl, who thinks she’s applying for an ordinary job as a call girl. With client after impossible client, Chloe’s intuition and aptitude, her affinity with AI and electronic gizmos, amazes the skeptics. Indeed, she may be the protégé O has been looking for. She may be The One. (Think “Ender’s Game” with an XXX-rated young superhero whose conquests are sexual, not military.)

Some of the new tech is old hat to Chloe, but all of it should be new to readers (or Luddites like me, anyway). E.g., “Stimulex creates an artificial feedback loop between muscular contractions in the genitals and the nerve signal that created the contractions. The result was an orgasm that fed on itself and could last for minutes,” and a new Stimulex formulation (bleep, bleep, bleep, censored! you’ll have to buy the book for all the sick, sick, sordid details!) could enable a nonstop sort of “purely pleasureful loop a person could become lost in until they died of starvation.”

I have no idea how plausible or scientifically feasible Maxxwell’s futuristic technology might be, but I get the sense she’s the kind of author Susan Stepney commends in “The Guardian” (21 January 2015). Science Fiction authors “tend to read widely, to generate ideas, and then think deeply, to focus in on the details,” Stepney writes. “A lot of research can go into a book, much of it hidden, or even discarded. Inferior authors will info-dump every little last detail they’ve discovered; better authors weave their research seamlessly into the story, discarding what doesn’t fit.”

Maxxwell spares us the info-dumps, and she seems to respect science. (And venerate it. And imagine incredible future applications with it.) She may not respect pronouns as much (“a person could become lost in until they died”), but no matter. Innovations in molecular nanotechnology will have all manner of applications in the near future, and no bureaucratic regulations seem to prohibit the use of science to enhance sexuality and pleasure. After all, it’s legal for doctors to surgically transform a man into a woman, or vice versa. Could an infinite loop of electronically enhanced sex be far behind?

Chloe’s story comes to a satisfying close, but the door is wide open for sequels. This is how the website lists them:

“The Future of Sex”: Set in the world of the Beam.
“A Temptation in Time”: A powerful look at regret.
“Together Apart”: A stunningly beautiful heartbreaker.
“The XXX Files”: A naughty, campy play on your favorite ’90s serial.
“MILF”: Like “Weeds” or “Breaking Bad,” but with the world’s oldest profession.
“Filthy Fairy Tales”: Classic fairy tales, not so classically told.
“F#@* HIM!”: Kill Bill ... but for grownups.

And that’s all I have to say about that. (“The Future of Sex,” Lexi Maxxwell, Sterling & Stone) 4starsCarol Kean


Reputation Descending

THE WACHOWSKIS (ANDY AND LANA, the directors/siblings who once gave us “The Matrix”) deserve a round of applause. Their latest entry, “Jupiter Ascending” may not be a very good film. In fact, it’s an abysmal one. But the act of getting something this insane—an insanity where Channing Tatum plays a half-man, half-wolf with bleached blond hair, elf ears and a pair of flying rollerblades—into a major theatrical release is certainly admirable. Even more so when you add in the over $175 million the Wachowskis were able to wrangle for the budget.

But yes, “Jupiter Ascending” is not what you’d call quality cinema. Here’s the setup: an ancient entity known as the Abrasax Corporation has been seeding planets with life, waiting until the population peaks and then swooping in, harvesting every last being and melting them down to make an elixir that grants everlasting life. Earth, of course, is one such planet. But there’s a wrinkle in the Abrasax business model—its CEO has just passed on, and she’s bequeathed her shares, her fortune and the planet Earth to a random Earthgoer, Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), as Jupiter’s DNA is a 100 percent match for her own. That doesn’t sit well with the CEO’s children (Eddie Redmayne, Tuppence Middleton, Douglas Booth) who see themselves as heirs to the corporate throne and Jupiter as a fly to be squashed. Now Jupiter, aided by Tatum’s baffling (yet played completely straight) Caine Wise, finds herself at the center of an intergalactic war.

“Jupiter Ascending,” with its pedigree directors (whose creative output has seen better days), massive budget, and bloated, frame-stuffing spectacle, bears a cutting similarity to another science fiction dud: “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.” The list of similarities runs long. Both films are overloaded with ideas—“Jupiter Ascending” will, at differing points, attempt to skewer government bureaucracy, capitalism, and gene splicing. None of those concepts get more than a few minutes of attention, so none say anything of value or add any depth to the film. Especially the splices (a lower-class species that are half-human, half-animal). Tatum’s character is mixed with wolf DNA, yet his only distinguishing feature is a pair of elf ears. Sean Bean appears as a man-bee, which you’d never guess because he neither flies nor stings nor buzzes—there’s not a single insect feature to his design. Curiously, a half-elephant starship pilot has a perfect elephant’s head where his own should be (a design choice that’s completely nuts, and—whether intentional or not—by far the funniest part of the film).

Like “The Phantom Menace,” “Jupiter Ascending” leaps between different tones at a moment’s notice. One minute it’s bone-crunching combat, the next we’re on Earth with Jupiter’s extended family—a pack of kooky Russian stereotypes that troll for cheap laughs with phony accents (very few, if any, of the actors involved hail from anywhere near Russia).

Visually, “Jupiter Ascending” can be a treat—the CGI is terrific and proudly displays every penny of that $175 million budget. The costumes are lavish (one wedding sequence boasts Kunis in a dazzling dress of extraterrestrial design) and a few of the hybrid characters offer the Wachowskis some room to play with the same practical makeup effects they spotlighted in “Cloud Atlas.” Still, that sense of modern George Lucas bloat prevails whenever our characters step into a spacecraft. The film contains two major dogfight sequences, and both are so cluttered with moving parts and flashing lasers that following ajupiterlong is an impossibility. In the first, both Caine and four or five of his enemies are piloting ships of the same make and model. You’d think the Wachowskis would throw in a quick visual clue, so we’d know which of these many identical speeders contains our hero. Such a clue never comes.

If there’s a single saving grace in “Jupiter Ascending” (besides poor Elephant Face), it’d be Eddie Redmayne as the eldest Abrasax heir and the film’s lead villain. Unlike his fellow cast members, Redmayne seems uniquely aware of the film he’s been cast in. Kunis and Tatum do not. Despite their comedic backgrounds (neither one’s particularly versed in action or science fiction), they play up the “I’m in love with a space wolf” routine with total sincerity. Redmayne, on the other hand, realizes that “Jupiter Ascending” isn’t half bad when viewed as “so bad it’s good” camp, and overacts his heart out. Nearly all of his dialogue is spoken in a weird, quavering whisper, but once per minute or so he’ll pick a word (seemingly at random) and shriek it until his veins pop and it looks like parts of his costume might come undone. And after long, ruinous stretches of “Jupiter Ascending,” Redmayne is a welcome treat. There’s a reason the man’s a frontrunner for this year’s Oscars, after all.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of “Jupiter Ascending” contains neither Redmayne nor a man with big floppy ears and a trunk. Mostly, it’s flat and bloated, although the few scenes of hand-to-hand combat raise the excitement levels significantly (fifteen-plus years since “The Matrix” and the Wachowskis haven’t lost that particular spark). But one has to wonder what “Jupiter Ascending” will do to the siblings’ Hollywood standing. This is the third film in a row (coming after “Speed Racer” and “Cloud Atlas”) that’s failed on both the critical and the commercial fronts. Perhaps now, studios will stop throwing nine figure budgets at these two—a little adversity might do their art some good. But maybe not. Perhaps, like George Lucas, the Wachowskis will shrug their shoulders, retreat to a ranch somewhere and comfortably live off the profits from old “Matrix” royalties. (“Jupiter Ascending,” directed by The Wachowskis, Warner Bros.) 2starsAdam Paul


Wanton Wanted Woman

WHY WOMEN AUTHORS PUMP more explicit sex into their science fiction than men do might be a worthy phenomenon to examine. Men respond to visuals, women to words? There must be more to it than that. After two novels in a row of vivid conjugal verbiage, a fit of nostalgia sent me on a quest for an old-fashioned romance. Amelia Grace Treader offered just the antidote I needed with “Cynthia the Invincible.” A futuristic space pirate who loves a Jane Austen video game? I downloaded the book at once.

Cynthia is a thief, a sneak, and a wanted woman, but her sins are not an aberration from the enduring genre of Regency Romances. Even Jane Austen had no time for flawlessly virtuous heroines; their failings and foibles are what get readers to notice them in the first place. Cynthia has been known to ignore a crisis rather than set aside her “Jane Austen World” game, in which her goal is ... to seduce Mr. Darcy? Not marry, but merely seduce?

So much for my little flight from the sudden spate of X-Men hooking up with XXX-Women in my science fiction.

It’s all good, though. Cynthia plays the field with no thought of enduring the shackles of marriage, and if she ever does get her hands on Mr. Darcy’s trouser buttons, it’ll only be in a video.

“That Jane Austen game, again?” laments Chris, the disembodied AI who can’t seem to get Cynthia to focus on more serious matters, like dodging enemy fire or evading warrants for her arrest. “Why don't you play something wholesome, like Battle for Mars or Kabul Shootout?

A wanted woman throughout several solar systems, Cynthia is on the run from the Cataxi, having just purloined a ruby necklace that enticed her. She and Chris must escape the planet before the Cataxi shoot down her spaceship. What’s so special about one old necklace that they’d blow up an entire planet in their efforts to stop her?

Her ship is not downed, but damaged. The planet is, in fact, destroyed.

A hit to the jump unit sends her off course to planet Earth, and off the clock as well. What a stroke of luck: Chris lands them on the moon and determines that a trip to Earth will not yield an easy fix to their ruined jump drive. Not without Chris stationing himself on Iceland, working in secret to gather what he needs to fix a ship built witcynthiah technology that doesn’t exist in 1810. Cynthia, meanwhile, will get to occupy herself in a real-life version of her Jane Austen game. Chris finds a lord who in real life never married, which makes him a fairly safe target for Cynthia’s diversion.

Lord Wroxham is everything a classic Regency Romance hero should be. He’s opposed to the stifling concept of marriage. He’s annoyed by the attentions of husband-hungry women. Much better to hire the attentions he needs without any strings attached.

The dialogue between Chris the AI and Cynthia the pirate is witty, fun, and sometimes hilarious. Profane and bluntly outspoken, Cynthia must be equipped with an AR that ensures her English and manners are correct for the period. Oh, how I wish I too could buy this futuristic AR, this social filter disguised as pearl earrings! I’d even settle for a damned tongue stud (ouch, ouch). Cynthia occasionally gasps in astonishment when she hears herself saying things like “a crib worth cracking” or “a flutter in my maiden breast.”

Settling in at a lordly estate, dressed in gorgeous garments with ... no underwear? Because of ... chamber pots? Cynthia gets a history lesson that her Jane Austen game never mentioned. A weekly, not daily, bath is another reality check for her.

The plot wobbles a wee bit when the Cataxi find Cynthia on Earth, and the usual abductions and rescues that characterize the historical romance genre make this novel fit its genre.

But you’ll never guess why that necklace matters so much to the Cataxi.

I enjoyed the diversion of this simple, light-hearted romance filled with meddling matriarchs, star-crossed lovers (galaxy-crossed and time-crossed as well), engaging minor characters, and a classic AI who is wiser than his human charge.

“Cynthia the Invincible” is Treader’s fifth work, but her first foray into science fiction. The science is a little soft, and so too the pacing, plotting and prose. It’s one of the downsides of sampling unknown indie authors. This is a clever story, but it could have used one more round of editing, tightening and developing the theme with greater depth. On the bright side, I absolutely love Chris the AI, and I would read more from this author. (“Cynthia the Invincible,” Amelia Grace Treader, Amazon Digital Services) 4starsCarol Kean