Sunday 14 April 2013

#CBR5 Book 36. "Ghost Planet" by Sharon Lynn Fisher

Page count: 352 pages
Rating: 2 stars

Elizabeth Cole is a psychologist who's just arrived on a recently discovered alien planet, where all the colonists have an alien tethered to them. The alien takes the form of a dead loved one, so the colonists call them Ghosts (even though they're corporeal and eat and sleep and have emotions and can even be injured) and Elizabeth's supervisor is to be Dr. Murphy, the man who developed the Ghost Protocol, which states that the Ghosts are to be shunned and ignored completely. Elizabeth and Murphy hit it off immediately, and even start to flirt briefly, before they discover that not only did Elizabeth die in a shuttle crash when arriving on the planet, but she's now Murphy's new Ghost. So they go from sexy banter to complete silent treatment, while Elizabeth has to process her own demise and new and unwanted situation.

Elizabeth, who was dubious about the wisdom of the Ghost Protocol even before she discovered that she herself was a Ghost, and thus on the receiving end of it. She refuses to be a biddable little shadow who doesn't speak and slowly wastes away while trailing her host, and instead spends much of her time doing research. Her unconventional behaviour starts influencing other Ghosts, and Murphy is having trouble following the protocol he himself devised, something that was never a problem when his ghost was an aunt he had no particular strong feelings towards. Soon his supervisors are warning him to get Elizabeth under control, or they might both be in danger.

Ghost Planet is Sharon Lynn Fisher's debut novel and this month (April)'s main pick in Vaginal Fantasy Hangout. It's been nominated for a Rwa RITA award for First Book, and seems fairly highly rated on Goodreads. The initial premise of the book is a good one. I was pretty engrossed throughout the first part of the book, and while there were niggles, it was easy to keep reading to see what would happen next. Unfortunately, it all started going downhill fast in the second half. By the end, I was less than impressed, and instead of living up to the promise showed in the beginning, the book sort of fizzled out and left me fairly indifferent to the whole thing.

An alien world where colonists are tethered to an alien that looks like a loved one is an intriguing one. Of course, it's established that Murphy and Elizabeth met once before, about a decade ago, when Murphy was guiding a tour group at Trinity College, Ireland, back on Earth, in which Elizabeth and her fiancee were two of the participants. There are also other characters where the Ghost turns out to be someone whom the host had only the briefest of connections before they were linked by the strange planet. I kept waiting for some explanation of the phenomenon to be offered, but it's never really explored in any depth, there's some hand-waving, and it seems that Murphy and Elizabeth are chiefly linked because the author needs them to be.

Considering most of the Earth colonists on the alien planet are scientists or researchers, they're also fairly dense about what's causing the worsening environment on the planet. Even before the author reveals that there are freak weather storms, earthquakes and that crops are dying, the Ghost Protocol, which states that the Ghosts (who the colonists have decided are dangerous parasites leaching onto them for nefarious purposes) are to be ignored and shunned completely, until most of them become miserable and biddable. The people who are unable to follow the protocol are counselled and treated with medication, and in the most situations, sent back to Earth, so the relationship with their Ghost is severed. The fact that none of the many scientists seem to connect the worsening and more hostile environment on the planet with the increased use of the Ghost Protocol just makes it seem as if they're all idiots.

While I liked Elizabeth and Murphy at first, they sadly aren't really developed that much as actual characters. Murphy is handsome, charming and has an Irish accent. He extremely quickly ditches his own protocol when he falls in pretty much instant lust with his sexy new Ghost. Elizabeth is supposedly very clever, and does a fair bit of research throughout the story, but her secondary superpower seems to be that all men want her. No fewer than three male characters claim that they're in love with her, and most of the other male characters either lust after her or want to rape her. She also ends up being girl hostage a whole lot. Then there are the villains, who are pretty much all of the evil scientist and/or moustache twirling variety. Le sigh.

The relationship between Elizabeth and Murphy starts with flirtation, and then switches quickly to the silent treatment when they discover that she's his Ghost. However, it doesn't take long for Murphy to 180 his decision, and want to skip straight to smexy times with his new involuntary roommate. Elizabeth, while she finds him attractive, has reservations at first, and points out that it's not like they can avoid each other if the relationship turns sour. All her reservations go straight out the window once they start being in danger, and once the two of them start doing it, it seems like they pretty much do nothing else but develop new and exciting super powers, and having more sex. I hate it when relationships are built mainly with successive love scenes. It would have been nice to have more scenes to show why they actually fall for each other, not just "Elizabeth doesn't blindly accept the status quo of the planet (mainly because she herself is adversely affected by it)" and "Murphy is such a good cook that he can charm the pants of women with it". There's no proper relationship development, just them jumping each other, regardless of whether they were about to be interrupted, or people could walk in on them (and do, at one point). This got boring really fast.

The second half of the book spirals out of control, and the end was far too convenient. Elizabeth and Murphy seem to develop new powers as the plot requires it. Ignoring the ghost protocol seems to give the colonists and their ghosts all sorts of convenient powers, but Elizabeth and Murphy get more than most, and are such special snowflakes that they can even cheat death, without any real explanation being given for any of it. I was sad that the initial promise of the book ended up being wasted. As this is a first book, hopefully the author will be able to follow through on her interesting concepts better in the future, though.

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