Flying car retro future

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.

A delightful book beckons

In the park near our house on top of the hill, there’s a house that must belong to a teacher or school librarian, because there is always a cardboard box or two full of kids’ paperback books there, sometimes boring but sometimes the best sort of old, weird book. I had a stressful week at work and am feeling fed up so decided to dive into this gem from the free box.

It’s called The Saucepan Journey, it’s by Edith Unnerstad, first published in 1949, and is translated from Swedish. The book opens by describing the seven children in the family, and how they don’t have room in their tiny apartment for them all to sleep, having to put three chairs together and put an ironing board on top, or for the smaller ones, sleeping in a bureau drawer (as I hear I did as a baby!) There is a housing crisis (because of it being just post-war?) and no one will rent to them anyway because they have too many children and not enough money.

Their mother used to be a traveling (and maybe not very successful) young Shakespearean actress and their dad is a travelling button-seller but really, a brilliant inventor. He’s invented a 3 part whistling saucepan called “Pip”. A grumpy uncle dies and leaves them his brewery horses and two large wagons.

Their mom, a sprightly and inventive person herself, comes up with the idea that they’ll leave their cramped apartment, build bunk beds in one of the wagons, fit up the back of the wagon with a little kitchen, and travel the country selling Pip (in all three sizes).

Without even going further than that it’s clear this is going to be an amazing book. I am almost in tears at how awesome it is, and nothing has even happened yet! The Swedishness and the being 70 years old and it being relatively normal to have horses in the middle of cities adds to the fabulosity.

The parents are nice – fun – adaptable – And the children all seem to appreciate each other’s capabilities and quirks.

Why are some books so cozy, and enticing, and you can fall asleep thinking about how you’d fit up your little caravan behind your brewery horses, either with your seven (!) children or as one of them, enterprisingly selling patent saucepans? I can feel the stress just draining out of me. Even better — there are two sequels.