Never Love A Stranger
by Ellen Fisher, time-travel/futuristic (2004)
New Concepts Publishing, $5.50, ISBN 1-58608-539-5

Let's see, she has written historical romances (including one of my favorite historical romances The Light In The Darkness), contemporary romantic comedies, and now she serves up a time-travel story. While I can't say I love everything Ellen Fisher has ever written, she has an engaging storytelling style and she always takes the effort to make her characters at least two-dimensional. Can someone tell me one more time why this author is stuck in e-book limbo?

It is easy to be fooled by the cheesy "I Can't Believe Fabio Ate Isimov" cover and assume that this book is yet another paranormal erotic romance filled with cheesy alpha-male and submissive psychic virgin sex. Ellen Fisher's Never Love A Stranger may have some hot love scenes but it owes its existence more to Isaac Asimov than Ellora's Cave. But to get to the good stuff, I have to wade through some slow scenes that may give fans of Dara Joy's Knight Of A Trillion Stars some mild moments of deja vu.

Our heroine Annie Simpson's normal routine is interrupted one day when she encounters a naked hottie in her kitchen. Dang, that never happens to me. All I get are stacks of dirty dishes waiting to be washed. Anyway, this guy, James, talks about being from the future and the sole survivor of a slave race that has been nearly wiped out by the folks in 2025. Annie can't help loaning him her late husband's clothes, however, and later even a room in her house. Even later, a place in her bed (and her shower too). James' enemies are looking for him, however, so our twosome's cozy rendezvous may not be smooth sailing to the end.

I must confess that I am stumped by what seems to be some irregularities in the plot, especially regarding James' ignorance of the present. In a way, things seem to be explained when I realize who he really is. On the other hand, knowing who he really is makes his ignorance about the way life was in his past even more incomprehensible. Then again, I'm probably spoiled by James' know-it-all counterparts in science-fiction movies and books. Also, for James who keeps telling Annie that he is careful not to change the past and the present, he is too willing to tell people that he's from the future. Also, I must admit that I find who James really is more interesting than how James behaves. James is actually quite a dull goody-goody character while Annie is more like a blank canvas that reacts to the situation around her than a character in her own right. I'm still of the opinion that she really overreacts when she finds out who James really is.

Also, the way the author uses her story to form a soapbox for the need of peace and harmony in the world can be quite exasperating, not because of the nature of the sermonizing as much as how banal such sermons have become because it seems that every science-fiction movie and story of the recent years feel fit to preach a peace-and-love message, from Japanese science-fiction animes to Hollywood blockbuster epics. They all want me to hug a tree and advocate pacifism. Of course, I agree to a large extent with these sentiments but Ms Fisher isn't doing anything that hasn't been done many times in a refreshing or new manner to make the whole soapbox worthwhile.

But I really like the fact that Never Love A Stranger is a science-fiction tinged story that feels credible. It doesn't mask its flaws with cheesy jokes or gratuitous sex scenes. While this book won't feel as solidly "scientific" like, say, Susan Squires' science-fiction romances, the story doesn't feel like fluff either. Ms Fisher attempts to create a relationship between two characters and in the process, goes the extra mile to show me why James and Annie can relate to each other on an emotional level. She succeeds very well in this. The only reason why I find the slow scenes at first half of the book compelling is because of this convincing developing bond between Annie and James. The second half of the story has Ms Fisher setting up the development of the external conflict in a manner that brings out the tragic nobility in James' personality. You know, I kinda like him at the end for that aspect of his character, even if I still think he's as bland as white bread at the end of the day (I like my heroes with a little bit of the devil in them, so it's probably a bias on my part).

At the end of the day, while I'm not too impressed with the soapbox (I might be if Ms Fisher manages to make the soapbox a little different from those I've encountered too many times before) and I have my doubts about the hero and especially the heroine, the latter who could use a little more fleshing out, I have to confess that I have a good time reading this book. The reason is simple: it is very hard to find a science-fiction romance that actually places as much importance in the storyline as it does on sex and comedy. Just the fact that Ms Fisher manages to surprise me with the twist regarding James has me leaning towards liking this book already. I have been expecting some cheesy Dara-Joyesque story filled with oversexed shapeshifting vampire-kitty alpha male heroes and shivering tokenly-protesting take-me-now mind-reading virgin-healer pacifist-princess Barbie heroines when I start on this book but Ms Fisher surprises me. And I like being surprised, especially when the surprise is in the form of a story that is well-written, mostly well thought-out, has a credible science-fiction feel to it, and fun to boot. Never Love A Stranger leans more towards Susan Squires and Susan Grant than Dara Joy and Sherrilyn Kenyon in terms of characterization and feel of the story. Fans of those authors or readers looking for some well-written futuristics but tired of the relentless monotony of the oversexed erotic paranormal bandwagon trend of the moment may want to give this book a look.

Rating: 83

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