I was only vaguely aware of Nora Roberts as a prolific writer of best sellers when a couple of weeks ago @mostlybree on Twitter said something about her science fiction detective series. They are written under the name J.D. Robb and there’s FIFTY in the series so far. How could I resist?
The science fiction elements are a thin but amusing veneer. It’s 20158 and there are flying cars! Mind control and subliminal messages! Hilarious computers that can barely do anything! Space travel including interstellar flight to the colonies (so far, faster than light ship drive hasn’t gotten even a mention! They just jaunt off to Vega 6 or whatever!) There is futuristic slang like “ice” and “mag” and people wear sort of spandex one piece suits a lot!
Notably the romance novel hero guy, Roarke, is very unclear on the meaning of consent, but I skim over those bits or handwave them and it does improve a LITTLE after the first book or two.
More interestingly he and the protagonist, Eve Dallas, are both processing their childhood abuse. Eve has pretty intense sexual abuse survivor stuff going on, flashbacks, nightmares, and so on which often intersects with her work as a homicide detective.
She is also sort of butchy and doesn’t give a shit about anything. Enjoyable in itself! She’s always walking in late to a fancy dinner party covered in blood and bruises after not sleeping for 3 days and honey badger don’t care because JUSTICE. (And Roarke the zillionaire gazes adoringly at her the more she swaggers around with her thumbs hooked into her gunbelt — while Sommerset the butler gets more and more annoyed.)
Their relationship is a big focus of the plot as they figure out over time how to trust each other with more of their backgrounds and their vulnerabilities & drop their need to always be strong survivors, accepting each other’s concern and care. That’s fairly sweet. But that dynamic is even more interesting between Eve and her ever-growing cast of mostly female friends – Mavis the new wave rock star, Nadine the high-powered, hard working reporter from Channel 75, Peabody (raised by new age farm hippies) who she mentors at work. They are all trying to teach her how to be a friend and how to accept their loving friendship! Neat!
The best parts of this weirdly addictive series are the descriptions of fashion. Like, what is both futuristic and classy to the author, or how she imagines the reader, is deeply hilarious and familiar. It is like this 80s retro mall thing, where classy is basically, being on a date, eating a steak at Red Lobster while you have your hair elaborately feathered, spike heels, and a saucy little temporary tattoo of a butterfly on your left hip. Maybe a Red Lobster in SPACE LAS VEGAS. Maybe some hinted to be super racy sex with SCENTED OILS later on in the date a la Rick James “Superfreak”. Incense, wine and candles, such a freaky scene! There are these archetypes that are slightly “off” of retro-futuristic Satanists, Wiccans, computer hackers (“E-men”), glam rockers or new wave musicians, fashion designers, if they were all working at franchises in a 1980s mall. That’s how it reads to me. (I mean this affectionately.)
Here is one of the glorious outfits – I feel compelled to type out a monster paragraph.
“She’s the problem,” Yvette said with a thin smile, and Eve turned and got a full blast of the magnificent Simon.
The eyes caught her first. They were a pale, almost translucent blue framed by thick dark lashes and thin ebony brows that each peaked to a ruler-sharp point in the middle. His hair was a brilliant ruby red, swept high off his forehead and temples and styled to tumble in a snowfall of springy curls to the middle of his back.
His skin had the dull gold sheen indicating mixed-race heritage or complexion dyes. His mouth was painted a deep bronze, and riding along his prominent left cheekbone was a white unicorn with gold horn and hooves.
He swept back the electric-blue cape draped over his shoulders. Beneath he wore a skinsuit of chartreuse and silver stripes with a deeply scooped neckline. A tangle of gold chains gleamed against his impressive chest. He angled his head, sending the long gold dangles in his ears dancing as he set one hand on one slim hip and studied Eve.
I keep reading these characters as gay and Simon might be (he is a bit part, so far, a makeup designer, hell, maybe he’s the murderer) but sometimes they sound hella gay and then aren’t even bi (though, comfortingly, there are bi and gay folks tho no one trans in this version of 2058). First of all who the fuck notices someone’s eye color in this way? Anyone? Is that a thing? Am I just nearsighted and eye-contact-averse enough to find it completely alien?! When I first meet someone I just think “That’s a nice hat” and hope that person will please wear that same outfit and hair style for the rest of their life. I would never study someone’s eyeballs, WTF?!
There’s a lot to unpack in Simon’s description but let’s just contemplate the way it sounds like he has one cheekbone that sticks out further than the other one, and how it has a ridiculous sounding face painting of a unicorn. LOVE IT!!!!
Here’s another description, a bit more low key but it made me laugh as well. It is of a “quietly elegant” bar in Manhattan.
The bar had pretty silver-topped tables, pale blue privacy booths, and clever art prints of New York street scenes decorating the warm yellow walls.
Classy, she thought, glancing over at the long, shiny bar with sparkling mirrors and tuxedo-decked servers.
Classy like an episode of Miami Vice (which Danny just suggested would make a good aesthetic for this if it were a TV show and I can totally picture it)
Back to book 6, and trying to deduce things about the future technology of the world of Eve Dallas. It’s 2058 and there’s faster than light travel, antigravity, cellular rejuvenation, Autochefs that are like weird little microwaves which you stock with ingredients, except most people can only afford soydogs and soy milk and fake coffee probably also made of soy.