Why I Read It: I first heard about this one on Tor.com’s Fiction Affliction column that Suzanne Johnson painstakingly puts together every month. I was glancing through the titles, and the title (no, not the cover, I didn’t see the cover until I clicked the link to BN.com) caught my attention, as did the fact it was written by a woman. Debut woman SF writer? Yes, please! The premise seemed interesting, and reviews were promising, so once I had a slot available for a new purchase, I finally buckled and downloaded it to my Kindle.
The premise: ganked from BN.com: Psychologist Elizabeth Cole prepared for the worst when she accepted a job on a newly discovered world — a world where every colonist is tethered to an alien who manifests in the form of a dead loved one. But she never expected she’d struggle with the requirement to shun these “ghosts.” She never expected to be so attracted to the charming Irishman assigned as her supervisor. And she certainly never expected to discover she died in a transport crash en route to the planet.
As a ghost, Elizabeth is symbiotically linked to her supervisor, Murphy—creator of the Ghost Protocol, which forbids him to acknowledge or interact with her. Confused and alone—oppressed by her ghost status and tormented by forbidden love—Elizabeth works to unlock the secrets of her own existence.
But her quest for answers lands her in a tug-of-war between powerful interests, and she soon finds herself a pawn in the struggle for control of the planet…a struggle that could separate her forever from the man that she loves.
Spoilers, yay or nay?: Yay. For those of you who want to remain surprised, please skip to “My Rating” and you’ll be just fine. Everyone else, onward!
Discussion: I started reading this book before bed. I’d gone to the living room to read, so that I wouldn’t have to listen to my hubby complain about the light, and ended up reading a solid handful of chapters before I realized how late it was getting. The style of Fisher’s Ghost Planet is very accessible: first person, past tense, very familiar for readers who are fans of, say, the kick-assitude of urban fantasy. But Elizabeth isn’t really a kick-ass heroine. She’s on a brand new planet, starting a brand new job, and first thing she finds out is that she won’t be assigned to the post and boss she’d applied for. Instead, she’s got a hot new boss in Grayson Murphy, whom she realizes she meant once before rather briefly, during a tour of a college campus. Through-out this first chapter, the focus is on the planet and the nature of its alien life-forms, the ghosts. It’s focused on the Ghost Protocol (not of the Mission Impossible variety), and the reader is wondering, who will Elizabeth’s ghost be? She’s never known anyone to die, so it’s an interesting question, especially if you could care less about the flirtation between Elizabeth and Murphy.
Yet while reading, it didn’t take me long to remember the premise, that Elizabeth dies. I thought she’d die during the course of the book, but during the first chapter, it struck me that she might be dead right now, and by the end of the first chapter, I was proven right. Yay me! I can’t give myself too much credit, since, after all, it all but reveals that in the premise (this is why NOT reading the backcover copy is a good idea!). But killing one’s heroine takes balls, and it kept me reading to see what would happen and why.
There’s a lot I really, really enjoyed about this book. The world-building was great. The connection between ghosts and their hosts, the connection between how ghosts are treated and what’s happening on the planet, all of this was fascinating. I loved having a heroine, an example of a good scientist (forget the fact I kept forgetting that she was one), actively working to solve the problem. The tension between her and Murphy is great too, because they’d already had a flirtation before he learned she was a ghost, and him trying to ignore her while she’s actively trying to engage him is rather fun, especially when there’s so many other characters determined to follow the protocol and put Elizabeth in her place.
But what I found myself not enjoying was the actual romance between Elizabeth and Murphy. Once he gives into his feelings, he becomes a far less interesting character. He basically turns into a horn dog, wanting sex every chance he can get, and while we can joke all we want about how typical that is of men, the pillow talk and sex scenes were boring or weird (seriously, planet sex?). That’s not to say that Murphy has nothing to do: he actively helps Elizabeth find the answers she’s looking for, a way to detach, and to help others see the folly in allowing one person (host or ghost) be dominant over the other. But really, he’s all about being the main guy in charge, Elizabeth’s main man. He’s all about sex.
The nature of detachment and the equilibrium that must be achieved between a ghost and its ghost is also an interesting question. It would’ve been far more interesting if Murphy and Elizabeth weren’t a couple. Yes, I know, the romance is an integral part of the story, in that if you remove it, the whole plot falls apart. BUT! Not every human/ghost pairing is a couple. One of the male characters has a ghost who’s a lesbian, so no sex there. Some pairings are brother/sister, or father/daughter, or friend/friend. How much more interesting would it have been to explore one of those pairings instead? It would’ve been more interesting for me, that’s for sure, but then I don’t think detachment would’ve been discovered quite so quickly, so essentially, the sex and romance is a shortcut for further plot development.
That sounds like a slam. It’s not meant to be. It’s just me wondering “What if?” because the romance itself did not really engage me the way romances should. I’m not saying Fisher did a bad job on the romance, but I also think she could’ve done better (i.e., not turning Murphy into a sex hound).
A nice twist was the introduction of Elizabeth’s ex into the cast of characters, but that triangle felt a little forced. I liked the role he ended up functioning in as an activist, yet that wasn’t enough for me to really get on board. It also pointed out one of the weaker parts of the plot: if that rebel group was so secretive, why was it so damn easy for outsiders to find? Especially for people, like Peter, who are new to the planet.
Yet there’s some nice plot developments, and while the story does end a wee bit abruptly in terms of the big picture (will the humans/ghosts find equilibrium and therefore save the planet?), the immediate story of Murphy’s and Elizabeth’s romance feels complete. There were definitely some strange bumps along the way, and I’m still a bit weirded out by Elizabeth’s pregnancy and the why of it all, but it wasn’t so horribly offensive that I wanted to toss the book across the room (good thing, since I was reading on my Kindle).
And a random aside, there were several things about this book that disturbingly reminded me of my own novel. So many little things, like a journalist trying to blow the lid off a story, a group of people seeking detachment but also having some kind of mind meld available to them. Eerie similarities, those are. That’s the second time that’s happened this year, yet for the life of me I can’t remember the other book that raised that flag for me.
My Rating: 6 – Worth Reading, with Reservations
While I personally had a hard time putting this book down (seriously, it’s a super-fast, engaging read), and while it’s a good book, my reservations outweigh some of the good vibes. I’m not a huge fan of the romance elements in this book, as they bore me pretty easily and those diminish the love interest as a character. Yet if you’re a fan of SFRs of any sort, you’d be totally remiss if you didn’t check this book out. The SF storyline is quite good, quite engaging, and if you don’t want to keep reading after the end of the first chapter, I don’t know what’s wrong with you. Ghost Planet is a fun, engaging read, and while I know this particular book is a stand-alone, if the author ever returns to this world, I’ll be happy to follow along.
Cover Commentary: Cover’s pretty striking, actually. I like how she’s reflected in the lake water, and therefore more ghostly looking. It does startle me though, because the cover reminds me more of a poster for a movie or television show, but I like the coloring a lot, and the whole image really draws my eye.