Thursday, April 11, 2013

Susanna reads the Ritas: Best First Book

A few weeks ago Romance Writers of America announced the 2013 finalists for the Rita awards. I judged four entries this year, and thought two of them so strong that I was disappointed not to see them among the finalists. And I was a bit dismayed to discover I hadn't read ANY of the books that made the cut.

I figured that as a romance author, I should educate myself about what a jury of my author peers has judged the best the genre had to offer in 2012. I'm not going to read ALL the finalists. I counted 81 on the list, and I'm just too busy between the day job and my own writing commitments to take that on. In a typical year I finish about 100-125 books, not counting re-reads, and I'd like to leave a certain amount of room for books chosen just because they sound cool or intriguing or are the latest release by a beloved author, you know?

So I'm going to read one book per category, one category per month. There are 11 categories, so I should finish up just in time to see how many of the 2014 finalists I've read...

Since alphabetical is good an order as any, I started with the finalists for Best First Book and chose Ghost Planet, by Sharon Lynn Fisher. I enjoyed it, though the romance is better developed than the science fiction premise. It's not that I'm asking for plausible science, per se--I was happy with the premise that a newly discovered barren world was spontaneously generating an Earthlike environment, even down to Earth life forms that hadn't been imported there, and intrigued that it went as far as providing each human with a "ghost"--a corporeal revenant of some dead person from their past. It's the kind of premise I'd expect for, say, a Star Trek: Next Gen episode, and I loved Next Gen. No, my only problem was that after setting up such a cool premise, the second half of the book is almost all romance and action plot, when I would've liked a little more exploration of the wonder of seeing a fresh, unpolluted Earth springing to life and more exploration of the philosophical issues and long-term implications of the ghosts. E.g. if a ghost is killed, it comes back, at least if its human host still lives--what are the limitations of that? Will they age normally and die natural deaths? Will the planet be swamped by colonists hoping to get their dead children/lovers/etc., and how will that shape the society? Can the ghosts visit Earth? If they do, will they still regenerate if killed? At least at this point there's no sequel in the works, so the loose ends that bugged me won't be tied anytime soon. That said, I do think this is an excellent debut, and I can definitely see myself reading more books by Fisher.

Next month, Contemporary Single Title.

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