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Wednesday, June 21, 2017


Author:  Vivien Jackson
Series:  TETHER 
Plot Type: Post-Apocalyptic Soul Mate Romance (SMR)
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality4+; Humor—2   
Publisher and Titles:  Sourcebooks Casablanca
          Wanted & Wired (4/2017)
          Perfect Gravity (11/7/2017)

     The series is set in the U.S. in a post-war world in which Texas has seceded and established its own republic run by the Texas Provisional Authority (TPA). The rest of the country now calls itself the United North American Nations (UNAN). Currently, a hot/cold war is going on between Texas and UNAN. Both Texas and UNAN are staggering under catastrophic climactic conditions (like extreme drought). Additionally, at one point, when a character mentions the scarcity of fresh fruit, Jackson tells us that this is a post-insecticide world—but never explains the cause of that situation. 

     Central to the series is futuristic cyber-technology, including both robotics and nanoscience. Four very different types of "people" populate this world:
Whole-organics are regular human beings with no technological modifications.
Post-humans are people who were born wholly human but have been "technified" by various modifications to their brains and internal organs and by the insertion of various implants. The modifications can be simple or extremely complex and can be programmed by their creators.
Mechs are human-shaped robots created in laboratories. They can be programmed to do a variety of tasks, but they can never truly experience human emotions (although they can be programmed to mimic those emotions). A mech-clone is a special type of mech that has been shaped as an exact replica of a specific human. These mech-clones are indistinguishable from the human they are imitating. You can imagine how this would come in handy during a time of war when each side wants to infiltrate the other.
Free-fae collectives are holographic beings that work like walking, talking databases for the person who created them. They are highly illegal and are sought after by both law enforcement agencies and the underworld. Free-fae collectives can take any shape, including that of the human body. Although they appear to be solid, they are not. If you try to touch them, your hand goes right through them. They are made up of a large swarm of nanos that can change form as needed. Although free-fae collectives can look just like humans, they cannot experience most human senses. Unfortunately, this is one of the areas in which Jackson's mythology goes awry. Jackson never explains why her free-fae collectives can hear and understand human voices but cannot hear a number of other sounds. She doesn't explain why these entities without solid form can pick up something but cannot sense itcannot feel its texture, smell it, hear it, or taste it. For example, one free-fae collective picks up a dress but cannot hear the rustle of its fabric or feel its softness. It is difficult to understand why Jackson never bothers to explain any of these inconsistencies.
     The series title—TETHER—has several meanings. On a literal level, it refers to a tether that connects an outer-space station with the Earth. "The station connects to the ground using a space elevator. Planes...can dock with it up near the top, and then we can ride up to the station. We call it the tether." On a metaphorical level, "tether" refers to human connections—the emotions and needs that bind us to our loved ones. The thematic questions asked by the series are these: What is it that makes us human? Is it our bodies? Our connections with one another? Can a mech or a robot be considered part of humanity? And what about evil humans—are they as "human" as a good-hearted mech or robot or free-fae collective?

     On her web site, Jackson calls TETHER a cyber-punk series. Certainly, she has crammed it full of futuristic technology and cyber-speak—sometimes to the detriment of the forward motion of the action. In the first book, Jackson inserts many world-building details into the first few chapters, but she holds back some crucial information so that she can scatter it in bits and pieces all the way to the end of the book. This is particularly true of her lead characters' backstories. We learn much about their physical appearances and personalities in the first chapters, but we don't get any information about their pasts until the final chapters. Although this approach can work if the author judiciously doles out the details as a means of building suspense and drama or, even better, if the information emerges organically in the course of the story, but Jackson doesn't really handle it that way—at least not in the first book. In Wanted & Wired, she brings the story to a halt about half-way through and sets up an information dump scene by giving the hero and heroine some downtime away from the action so that they can peer into each other's eyes, confess a few of their darkest secrets, and finally let loose their lust. 

                         NOVEL 1:  Wanted & Wired                          
     A rip-roarin' snarky, sexy sci-fi paranormal romance series with the perfect balance of humor, heat, and heart. Now that Texas has seceded and the world is spiraling into chaos, good guys come in unlikely packages and love ignites in the most inconvenient places...

Rogue scientist • technologically enhanced • deliciously attractive
     Heron Farad should be dead. But technology has made him the man he is today. Now he heads a crew of uniquely skilled outsiders who fight to salvage what's left of humanity: art, artifacts, books, ideas—sometimes even people. People like Mari Vallejo.

Gun for hire • Texan rebel • always hits her mark
     Mari has been lusting after her mysterious handler for months. But when a by-the-book hit goes horribly sideways, she and Heron land on the universal most-wanted list. Someone has set them up. Desperate and on the run, they must trust each other to survive, while hiding devastating secrets. As their explosive chemistry heats up, it's the perfect storm.   xxx—xxx (em dash) xxx–xxx (en dash)   über-alpha själsfrände Ragnarök clichés
    In the opening scene, Mari, a for-hire mercenary and skilled sniper, is on a mission to destroy a mech-clone. Her partner Heron, a heavily implanted post-human, is in the get-away car providing on-scene data and watching her back. "They were working partners, sharing a contract but not much else. On this particular job, she functioned as shooter to his operations planner, but he had lots of other assets in play: drones, cameras, software bots, you name it."

     When Mari makes the kill shot, she is shocked to discover that she has actually murdered the whole-organic (human) that the mech-clone was imitating. Obviously, someone has set her up, and now she's in big trouble. The next chapters follow Mari and Heron as they attempt to escape from an army of UNAN law enforcement organics, mechs, and drones. And just to spice up the action, some mysterious post-human hit-men are also trying to capture them. During these chapters, we learn that Mari and Heron have been working as partners for about six years, that each has romantic feelings for the other, but that both keep the attraction a secret because they fear rejection. 

     Heron believes that Mari hates tech-enhanced humans so much that she would never consider him as a romantic partner. "He knew what she thought about people with implanted tech. Cyborgs. No better than machines." And Mari believes that Heron is so much smarter than she is that he looks down on her for being so ignorant about his technological world. They have other differences and other doubts, but these are the main ones.

     Both Mari and Heron are keeping deep, dark secrets from one another—secrets that each believes could destroy their partnership and their friendship. Oddly, though, when the secrets spill out, there are no heart-breaking emotional repercussions for either of them: no big, dramatic, angst-filled, hurt-feelings moments at all—just a low-key reaction of surprise and immediate acceptance. So all of the secret-keeping drama ends with a whisper, not an explosion, and that is quite a letdown given the fact that the secrets are the basis for much of the suspense on which Jackson has built the romance plot.

     Mari has two living relatives: Aunt Boo, who raised Mari in Texas and still lives there, and her father, a rogue nano-scientist captured by the TPA after the Austin riots during the beginning of the secession. The primary reason that Mari took the contract with the TPA to destroy the mech-clone was that they promised to tell her where her father was and, perhaps, to let her speak with him. The father-daughter relationship becomes more and more important as the action plot advances.

     Eventually (about halfway into the book), Mari and Heron reach safety in his spaceplane and eventually seek sanctuary in Chiba Station, "a privately owned space station run by an entity who calls herself the queen of Chiba." Jackson's next books will tell the love stories of his friendsthe crew members who fly his futuristic spaceplane:
Kellen Hockley is a lean, lanky, jeans-clad whole-organic who was a veterinarian in pre-war times. Now, he is Heron's chief medical officer and provides vital tech support. Mari nicknames him "cowboy" for his looks, his Stetson, and his Texas drawl.
Chloe is a gorgeous free-fae collective. Mari nicknames her "perky blond." Mari muses that, "Chloe could look like anything she wantedher whole existence was just a loose confederation of nanites and light particles held together with digital willbut she wasn't real, couldn't know smells and tastes and touches...Chloe would never stroke that sweet kitty down the corridor, never smell flowers or sex or ghost peppers. Never taste Jamaican rum or her own tears."
Garrett is a whole-organic mechanical genius who is in charge of all of Heron's hardware, on the ground and in the air. Mari nicknames him "squirrel-nervous mechanic." Garrett is obviously in love with Chloe, but she is unaware of his feelings because she can't feel emotions.
     In the final hundred pages, the pace picks up considerably as Jackson builds up the action and suspense on her way to the inevitable showdown scene that resolves much of the conflict. 

    I'm sure you want to know more about the 4+ sensuality rating I have awarded this novel. Let's just say that this is the first novel I've read that includes techno-sex (and lots of it). When Heron is driving his James Bond-ish car or his spaceplane, he is actually wired into them, so whatever Mari touches (or fondles), Heron feels it in various sensitive body parts. Mari is an extremely sexual being, so she takes full advantage, and when he turns the tables and begins using his personal techno-sexual abilities on her, things get really hot, hot, hot!

     I have to say that I have mixed feelings about the future of this series. Although Jackson has established most of the techno-mythology, she hasn't done a top-notch job at integrating it into the plot. The reader needs to truly understand this complex technology-based world in order to make sense of the plot, and Jackson's explanations are frequently incomplete, inconsistent, or utterly lacking. Also, Jackson gives no background on the causes of the Texas secession or on the horrific climate conditions that are affecting the world. Most importantly, though, her big reveal about Mari is problematic to the extreme. There is no way that secret could have been kept from Heron or from Marino way at all. It is so implausible and disappointing that it spoiled the entire book for me. I'll probably read the next novel just to see if Jackson gets a better handle on her mythology and her plotting, but after that...we'll see.

    The second novel will tell Kellen's story, which has a direct connection to Wanted & Wired. You see, Kellen's soul mate is the widow of the man Mari accidentally murdered back in the very first chapter when she shot the human instead of his mech-clone. In fact, the action in Perfect Gravity overlaps the action in Wanted & Wired, beginning with the scene in which Kellen has to tell Angelo Neko that her husband is dead. Parts of this scene appear in both novels.

     To read an excerpt from Wanted & Wired, click HERE to go the book's page and click on the cover art.

                   NOVEL 2: Perfect Gravity (pub. date 11/7/2017)                    
     Second in a snarky, sexy sci-fi romance series with the perfect balance of humor, heart, and heat. When someone tries to kill powerful continental senator Angela Neko, Texan outlaw and old flame Kellen Hockley is the only man who can keep her safe...and help her save the world. 

     Kellen Hockley usually keeps quiet about his past, but once upon a time he loved a girl named Angela. He hasn't seen her in a decade, but now he has to break the news to her that his team of rogue treasure hunters accidentally killed her husband. He's had better days.

     It's not the news that's delivered to Angela Neko that breaks her apart—it's the rumbly, Texas drawl delivering it. She can't believe she's hearing Kellen's voice again. But there's no time for distractions. When Angela's own life is threatened, yielding up all of her lies and secrets, she and Kellen must figure out how to reverse the geopolitical firestorm she lit to save the world, to save Kellen's cat...and just maybe to save each other.  

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