Title: Changing Worlds
Author: Cari Z.
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Length: 236 Pages
Category: Science Fiction
At a Glance: Changing Worlds is a sweet sci-fi romance that AWESOMELY avoids every single pet peeve cliché I have with the sci-fi sub-genre. I will be reading this author again!
Reviewed By: Cassie
Blurb: Their love will either inspire change in the world or tear it apart.
Former starship captain Jason Kim and his lover, Ferran, are starting a life together on Ferran’s native planet. The Perel matriarchs reluctantly allowed their marriage in the hopes of securing better diplomatic relations with humanity, even though the decision ignites anger from traditionalists. Ferran’s family accepts Jason and the love the two men have found, but other influential families are less accommodating and much less willing to welcome an outsider to their isolated, subterranean world. Some of their enemies are willing to go as far as eliminating Jason permanently. Tensions are quickly building toward a breaking point that might push Perelan into a bloody civil war.
If Jason and Ferran have any hope of surviving the coming conflict, they’ll have to rely on their devotion to each other more than ever before. But that won’t be easy when a figure from Jason’s past reappears to make them question everything.
Review: I LOVE aliens and space opera stories. I dig sci-fi, I love how creative and strange an author can get with a new culture, and I really enjoy watching how cultures colliding can play out when humans get thrown into the mix. I even like when a romance comes into it; the confusion and minor miscommunication mishaps as the two different species sort themselves out can be amusing and a lot of fun. But there are also days that I HATE sci-fi as a romance sub-genre, both M/M and F/M, because there are some deeply ingrained thematic clichés involved in the romance end of the sci-fi pool. Some of them I just find annoying and lazy, but others I seriously, seriously loathe. So, I usually end up kind of cringing my way through sci-fi/romance books because I’m afraid these awful tropes are going to pop up and ruin something I want to love, kind of like a razor blade in a trick-or-treat candy bar.
While it may seem strange to put a list of things that a book is NOT in a review about that book, I’m about to do it with a list of these clichés because Cari Z. managed to avoid EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. in Changing Worlds, and I am so impressed and happy about it that I want to share with you what a serious accomplishment that is. So, without further ado, a list of five terrible sci-fi clichés NOT found in Changing Worlds. (In the order of my loathing.)
Cliché 1 – Rape without consequences for the rapist, or any effect on the victim. Uuuuuuuugh. This. trope. sucks. Not only is it just awful, but it is flipping EVERYWHERE. And it pretty much fully buries the needle into the LOATHE end of my cliché-o-meter. I have a full-on rant about it if anyone’s interested, but I’ll summarize in this review space. Unless there are consequences for the rapist and the relationship, some kind of believable impact on the victim, a thematic understanding of rape as wrongdoing, and—if the rapist is also the love interest—an apology and expression of shame on the part of the rapist, I do NOT want rape themes in my books. Every freakin’ time the human mate just ends up LIKING it, I have to stop reading to rage scream into a pillow for at least ten minutes.
There’s not even a whisper of a rape theme in Changing Worlds—bless Cari Z.’s beautiful, beautiful author heart. Jason and Ferran meet in the course of their travels, and the pacing of the courtship is really nice. It’s a little fast, but there’s no insta-love, and the circumstances around the decision to marry are well-explained and believable. Jason’s loneliness and his feelings for Ferran are described in such a way that it’s easy to see why he would make the choices he does.
Cliché 2 – The UBER alpha with a weak, subordinate partner. This one gets used in conjunction with the rape trope a lot, which is when it bothers me the most, but actually, it’s a separate cliché. It also shows up in a lot of romance, not just sci-fi, but the sci-fi (and maybe shifter) sub-genre is where I think it is gets used to the worst effect.
Changing Worlds’ Jason and Ferran are different but equal. The expectation from the beginning is that they’ll both be providing support where their partner is weakest. Both have emotional struggles and worries as they adjust in their relationship, and both work equally hard toward better understanding and harmony. Even in a physical sense, their relationship has balance. And when it comes down to danger, one partner is not always the one saved while the other does the saving. I really, really liked their relationship dynamics, and I absolutely appreciated what a change it was from the typical alpha-hole dynamic that usually plays out in this sub-genre.
Cliché 3 – Technology as a magic bullet. Language barrier? Critical injury? Terminal illness? Vast distance to travel? Horde of enemies? Lost your mate? There’s an app for that! Sometimes the sci-fi tech seems to be able to solve any problem that pops up, no matter how big, which seriously flattens the tension and conflict of a story.
The tech in Changing Worlds is not like that at all. In fact, the alien species in this books seems to be the species with LESS mechanical tech than the humans, which is a really nice change from the norm. And even with the medical, travel, and other tech available, none of the conflict is magically resolved by using it. The reader still gets to worry through injuries, experience lengthy (but well paced!) space travel, and enjoy the moments of tension and sense of danger the author has worked into the story. It’s extremely well executed on the author’s part, because while the technology is interesting and appropriately futuristic, it doesn’t cut her story legs out from under her.
Cliché 4 – No language barrier. Sometimes related to the tech thing, but when there’s either a translator chip so magical there’s absolutely no need to ever explain so much as an idiom, or a common language that everyone in the ENTIRE GALAXY speaks WITHOUT FAIL, I get a bit annoyed. It feels like lazy world building.
I’ve never read a book where there is a translator chip and there’s STILL a language barrier until Changing Worlds, but I absolutely loved that bit of writing. Jason gets a chip and Ferran already speaks his language, but Jason still struggles with learning and speaking Ferran’s language. For reasons of cultural sensitivity and diplomacy, he needs to speak, read, and understand the language spoken by his husband’s people. From a well-written tech perspective, the chip can be overwhelmed by too many speakers, words spoken too quickly, or distance, and it only improves on encountering more of the language. Upholding the language barrier allows Cari Z. to play with an isolation theme and dig down into Jason’s struggles to adapt to his new home. I think this was a really good choice on her part and particularly well executed in the book.
Cliché 5 – Aliens that are just humans on steroids who live on planets that are basically Earth 2.0. When reading a sci-fi romance, I’m already suspending some serious disbelief by believing that two alien species would even be sexually attracted to each other, let alone be sexually compatible, so when the aliens end up essentially being a super form of humanity, I get a bit grumpy. Because really, how likely is it that in the vastness and diversity of space a species exactly like humanity, with the same cultural concepts and type of planet, is going to be the one that humanity encounters? Even if the aliens have fur or a tail or whatever, if the alien culture, perspective on the world, history, anatomy, etc. are basically human, why am I even bothering to read sci-fi? More lazy world building. And the idea that humans would be immediately adapted to survive in comfort on any alien planet is ludicrous.
Ferran’s people are humanoid, so physically there’s not an extreme amount of difference between him and Jason, but the alien cultural perspective, tech, world, architecture, and governmental structure are sufficiently different that I felt like I was reading about aliens, and not just humans+. One of the reasons Jason struggles with Ferran’s language is that Jason’s vocal chords just aren’t designed to work with those kinds of sounds. Cari Z. also does a really good job with the alien homeworld. This is not earth or a human settlement. There are some medical adaptations required for Jason to survive the new environment with even marginal comfort, and there are serious consequences for him should those adaptations fail. The semi-hostile environment of the planet further contributes to Jason’s sense of displacement in his new home, and allowed room for some serious tension in the later parts of the book.
So, there you have it. The TL;DR version is Cari Z. has written a lovely sci-fi romance that is fresh and enjoyable, while avoiding the tropes prevalent in this sub-genre. This is my first time reading one of her books, but I will absolutely be reading more from her. Changing Worlds is definitely worth picking up.
You can buy Changing Worlds here: