Collision Course
by Zoë Archer, futuristic (2011)
Carina Press, $3.99, ISBN 978-14268-9145-8


Collision Course is about an unlikely partnership between Mara Skiren, a hardened veteran of black market dealing, and Kell Frayne, the law-abiding Commander of the important-sounding 8th Wing of the Black Wraith Squadron. Kell has strong-armed Mara into using her familiarity with the lawless region of the Smoke Quadrant to help him locate and rescue a missing ship before the evil PRAXIS (not a brand of tampon, really) beat them to it. It's helping Kell or spending time in the can with her ship impounded - the usual, in other words. Despite her resentment at what she perceives to be blackmail on the so-called good guys' part, her libido gives an hallelujah when she sees how hot her new partner is going to be.

Yes, this is another "Close Encounters on a Spacecraft" story, with plenty of mental lusting and galactic boinking as well as action scenes here and then to give everyone a break from the physical exertions. There isn't anything here that I haven't read before, but Ms Archer manages to present familiar tropes and conventions in a manner that is still fun to follow. Both characters are familiar "survivors of unhappy past" types, nothing new, but given the limitations caused by the novella length of this story, there is enough depth to each character to prevent them from coming off as flat as a landing strip.

If you like strong and competent heroines, you may be happy to know that Mara is one such heroine. She can walk the talk, and "capable" in her personal dictionary is not interchangeable with "reckless and stupid". Kell isn't an overbearing alpha male - in fact, when he needs Mara to do her thing, he lets her do just that without trying to take over or be the boss. Have to love a man secure in his masculinity to step back and let a woman take over when she's the better person for the job, really. Both characters work well and have good chemistry together.

Ms Archer has a good thing going in the story too: unlike many authors, she doesn't go overboard with dumping information on me. When it comes to integrating details into the story in a smooth and non-disruptive manner, Ms Archer makes it look so easy. Furthermore, I am most grateful that the made-up names in this one are readable without my tongue tripping all over the X's and Y's. Unfortunately, the shorter length of this story also means that the author has to let up some space for the obligatory bump and grind moments, and I can't help feeling that those scenes could have been replaced by some non-sexual scenes that could have further developed the plot or the relationship.

Still, Collision Course is a most entertaining read. This is a pretty nice dessert of sorts between the author's full-length works.

Rating: 87


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