Heroine is abducted, enslaved, seduced, auctioned off, bullied, manipulated and deceived - by the hero?

Jul 24, 2001 (Updated Jun 28, 2004)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:It's written in the English language, making it easy-to-read if your standards are low enough.

Cons:It took me a couple of years to get around to finishing it.

The Bottom Line: A romance novel that isn't romantic. A space travel novel by an author who doesn't know basic astronomy. Lots of supposedly erotic scenes and purple prose.

One of Janelle Taylor's earliest works, and the only one I've forced myself to read. I expect it will be the last.

It's supposed to be a romantic book. It's supposed to be set in outer space. It's supposed to have been on the New York Times Bestseller List when it first came out.

I have serious trouble taking any of those propositions seriously. I admit there is some evidence for the "bestseller" part, but I still have trouble believing it really happened.

A few years ago, having read the first couple of chapters in this book in a public library, I bought a copy at a half-price store for used books because I figured someday I would want to write a little piece on how incredibly bad it was. After I forced myself to finish reading it, of course. Recently I forced myself to finish reading it. Now I'm going to share some ramblings with you on the subject. They may seem somewhat disjointed, but what can I say? Reading this novel would have that effect on anyone!

Varian Saar, the impossibly gorgeous and charismatic (and rich and powerful due to his family connections) Commander of the starship Wanderlust, has come to Earth (secretly - our political leaders never notice his starship was in orbit over our heads) to pick up a fresh load of beautiful women to auction off as slaves. One of them will naturally be our heroine, Jana Greyson. In his defense, we should note that a genetically engineered virus apparently killed off a huge percentage of the female population back home several decades ago, and the men of his culture have been finding it necessary to import womenfolk ever since. Accordingly, they drop down to the surface of our planet, use some sort of knockout device on the preselected targets, and carry them back up to the ship. How romantic!

What sort of woman is Jana Greyson? Well, she's breathtakingly beautiful, of course, but she is also alleged to have a brain. Middle of the second page of text: It had not been easy to graduate from the University of Texas with a major in biochemistry, to do graduate work in microbiology and chemistry, and to earn a Ph.D. before turning twenty-four.

No, I suppose it wouldn't be easy to do all that before you had even celebrated your 24th birthday. The next question is why did Janelle Taylor feel it necessary to have her heroine do all that in the first place? After reading the entire book, I still hadn't figured out what the purpose of that paragraph was. Does Jana ever do anything in the developing "plot" (I call it that by courtesy) that demonstrates she is actually expert in biochemistry? No. Microbiology? No. Chemistry in general? No. I suppose it's meant to show us that she's brilliant, but considering that nothing later on in the book requires brilliance on her part, it feels like a token nod to the concept that women are capable of getting advanced academic degrees - but if this book were written by a man, I'd say the concept was being handled in a patronizing fashion. "Yes, she got a Ph.D. at a tender age, but as events turned out, she was so gorgeous that her education was never going to matter!"

So in the Prologue she's knocked unconscious and abducted. Now let me share with you the first two sentences of the first chapter, from the "hero's" point of view.

Commander Varian Saar lifted Jana Greyson in his strong arms. He shifted her body to afford himself a better look at her features, stunned to be looking at the Universe's most beautiful female.

On the following page we learn that his ship has been monitoring earthly television signals recently, and saw Jana in a Houston news broadcast. This, it seems, is Varian's sole basis for calling her the most beautiful woman in the Universe. Is he aware that only a tiny, tiny fraction of all the women on Earth have been shown on television since he started paying attention to what we put on the airwaves, perhaps a month or two previous to this scene? (And has he personally examined the credentials of every beautiful female on all the other inhabited planets we're going to hear about in the course of this story? So that he can compare Earth's loveliest women to the rest of the competition in making the final selection of the ultimate Miss Universe?)

We soon learn that he's grabbed some women from Earth and some from Uranus. Sure, it makes perfect sense that beautiful human females would be living on the surface of a rather chilly gas giant, the same as they do on the surface of our beloved planet Earth. Right? Does Janelle Taylor even know that planets come in different sizes, temperature ranges, and atmospheric compositions?

Probably not, because a few paragraphs later we are given serious cause to doubt whether she has any conception of what a galaxy really is. Varian is here in our solar system on special orders from the Supreme Council that rules his native Maffei Galaxy, and here's why:

An enormous meteor soon to enter the neighboring Milky Way Galaxy would gradually increase its speed due to the gravitational pull of the Sun and would head straight for a collision course with Jana's world.
[Snip a bit here]
By plotting the course and speed of the meteor, which would enter this solar system in nine weeks, decisions could be made by the Supreme Council on whether or not to interfere in this impending catastrophe, if intervention was even possible.
[Snip some more]
As he returned the
Wanderlust to Star Fleet base on the capital planet of Rigel, Varian was to stop and hold an auction on each of the thirteen planets in his home galaxy.
[Snip some more - wherein we are told he will report on the giant meteor situation to the ruler of each of those thirteen worlds he visits.]
The thirteen planetary rulers were to study the facts and meet with the Supreme Council on an agreed date to discuss the fate of the Milky Way Galaxy and any actions to taken.

So Varian's people can travel from one galaxy to another very, very quickly, which means of course that it would be an even shorter trip to travel from one star to another within a single galaxy. And in all this time they've only managed to colonize thirteen planets in the Maffei Galaxy, wherever that is? (I just now ran an online search to see how many stars are supposed to be in the Milky Way Galaxy. It appears that the Encyclopedia Britannica of last year, as well as other sources, endorse the estimate of about a hundred billion. Some sources seem to feel it is more likely to be at least two or three times that number. Assuming 100,000,000,000 to be fairly typical for galaxies, why would anyone want to take all the extra trouble to travel to another one when his civilization still had so many other stars right there in their back yard, figuratively speaking, to search for useful real estate with a breathable atmosphere?)

Also, permit me to point out that from my own readings of science fiction novels by people who actually know what a light year is (Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Poul Anderson, and so forth) I've gathered that our own solar system is not at the outer edge of the Milky Way galaxy. I believe we are surrounded by other stars in all three dimensions for many, many light years any way you turn. If this huge, potentially planet-busting meteor is about to enter our galaxy, then even if it was moving at the speed of light it would probably take several centuries minimum (as opposed, say, to nine weeks or less as suggested in the text quoted above) before it was anywhere near Planet Earth. So what's the hurry? And I find it really, really hard to believe that a great big rock that didn't have its own rocket engines built in would ever be moving at anything remotely resembling lightspeed, in which case we may have, say, a hundred thousand years or more to work with from when it first enters the galaxy to when it actually enters our own dearly beloved solar system.

Someone must have told Janelle Taylor that our solar system is part of a larger region called the Milky Way Galaxy, without managing to impress upon her just how much larger they were talking about. If only she had thought to consult me while she was writing this novel! Granted, I was probably still in junior high at the time (mid-80s), but I already knew enough about astronomy to save her from the worst bloopers! Of course, what's really shocking is that her editor, whoever that was, evidently didn't know any more about the subject than she did, and didn't have enough sense to call in a consultant to proofread.

On a similar note: On page 25, we learn that Varian Saar owns a private planetoid called Altair which orbits the capital planet of Rigel - presumably back home in the dear old Maffei Galaxy. Altair and Rigel are both stars visible in our own night sky. If Taylor wanted to pick out names for imaginary stars and planetoids in a faroff galaxy, she could at least have invented new ones instead of completely confusing her readers.

Well, having disposed of any lingering hope that this novel was worthy of notice as "science fiction," let's go back to examining how inspiringly romantic it all is! Brace yourselves for the worst!

In Chapter Two, Varian Saar goes into the laboratory where Jana is still unconscious on a stretcher. He starts admiring her. Ogling her, perhaps I should say. I admit that he's trying hard to be poetic about this. Assuming you have a strong stomach for purple prose, I'll quote some to you.

His hand reached out to stroke her tousled champagne tresses. It looked as if a magician had stolen color from the two moons of Zamarra and had painted her hair with the silver and gold mixture. He chuckled and warmed at the way the soft curls encircled his fingers. He was reminded of Mailiorcan silk, a sensuous and costly gold material shot with threads of expensive silver and which had the trait of clinging provocatively to the figure. Her hair was very long and wavy on the sides and back, but shorter on the crown. From the tapes he'd seen of her, he knew it could hang luxuriously in controlled curls, or it could fly wildly in the breeze. It was thick and lush, and enticed a hand to wanter into it or a nose to bury itself in those fragrant tresses. Presently, Jana's hair was spread around her head like a radiant halo. Varian couldn't resist lifting a curl and teasing it beneath his nose. His pulse quickened.

All right! You can stop screaming for mercy now! That's all I'm going to quote from the several pages that make up this tender scene! Actually, I went easy on you. The parts where he admires her bosom and other anatomy are much worse. So far he's only been admiring her from the neck up. Now he tugs off the sheet that was covering her naked body and really starts ogling. Then he kisses her. Naturally, the sedative is finally wearing off, just enough for her to react somewhat and kiss him back, but not enough for her to do anything inconvenient such as fully awaken, scream, demand to know what's going on, and so forth. (That will come later.) They kiss lots and lots, but Varian finally nobly restrains himself from "possessing" (read: raping) this poor semiconscious defenseless captive right then and there. I suppose this was supposed to get me all excited and anxiously waiting the moment when she would throw herself into his arms of her own free will and they would make beautiful music together. It didn't work that I noticed. And it's going to be a long wait, actually, so it's a good thing I didn't hold my breath.

After she wakes up, she naturally throws a fit when told what is in store for her. Showing the sort of sensitivity that has always given guys such a terrible reputation with the distaff portion of the human race, Varian snaps, "Behave yourself, Jana! This conduct is silly and dangerous. Don't act like a spoiled brat!" And so forth. You can tell they're going to fall in love, all right.

Medical examination when she was taken on board confirmed that she was still a virgin. I think that's nearly mandatory for heroines in slushy romance novels, at least as the story commences. By page 193, however, Jana has beaten Varian at a strategy game (resembling chess, I take it), and is told she can pick her own reward (within certain limits, obviously, such as not being given a ticket back home).

"I decided I want a sexual education as my prize," she calmly stated.

As you can tell, they were on somewhat better terms at this point, or she never would have said that. Even so, it seemed like a ridiculous effort to put in some male wish-fulfillment stuff. Most beautiful female in the universe begs you to teach her all about sex? I had previously assumed this book was targeting the female audience, but after reading that bit I started wondering if Taylor was trying hard to pander to male fantasies as well. Butter her bread on both sides, so to speak?

After giving her what she wanted over the next two weeks, Varian goes ahead and sells her off to the highest bidder. He feels it necessary for political reasons to convince his enemies that he isn't really obsessed with her at all, even though he is. Actually, the man who wins the auction (sealed bids - each person only got to bid once) was an old buddy of Varian's and was spending Varian's own money, in order to keep Jana out of the wrong hands - but Varian didn't bother to tell Jana this. As a result, she felt betrayed. She also felt confused as it gradually dawned on her that her new owner only expected her to serve as a hostess as social events and otherwise she could do her own thing, i.e. sleeping alone in her very own bedroom at night, which was not at all what she had thought the whole purpose of this auction was.

On page 344, Jana finally does something brave and constructive (as opposed to complaining about how she's being treated, which was certainly justified). I'd been waiting and waiting all through the book, and had almost given up hope. Naturally Varian snarled at her and insulted her because what she had done had jeopardized one of those cunning plans he never bothers to explain to her in advance even though he supposedly treasures her . . .

Much of Varian does in this book is done because of his terrible feud with his evil half-brother, Ryker Triloni. We are supposed to accept that Ryker is the villain (along with some other allies of convenience) and therefore Varian is the hero, being opposed to Ryker. I admit that this effort was half-successful. From what we saw of Ryker, I freely admit that he is a thoroughly evil man. I have more trouble with the concept that this means all of Varian's actions are excusable, though.

Jana Greyson sees it differently, of course. They go into a clinch as the novel ends.

Time seemed to cease for the Earthling beauty and the alien starship commander as they succumbed to the intensity, magic, and power of a love which reached above the planets and stars themselves.

Final sentence of the novel, except for a little poetry which I will spare you. I'm not sure I was ever convinced that Jana and Varian had sorted out the difference between love and raging lust, but at least they seem to be happy. (I guess when your brain is the size of a pea, happiness is easy to come by.)

I am told that Janelle Taylor's various novels have sold millions of copies. Is this the real answer to the age-old question of "What Women Want" and never mind the Mel Gibson movie? If so, I can see my previous assumptions on the subject were all wrong. Excuse me while I go find a tranquilizer-dart pistol so I can get started on a promising career in the Varian Saar School of Courtship!

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