Oct 31 2008 6:28pm

The Six Billion Dollar Cyborg

Games of CommandAdmiral Branden Kel-Paten was the breakout character from Games of Command by science fiction romance author Linnea Sinclair. In the author’s words, the angst-ridden Admiral is “a bio-cybe, a man/machine construct, his human familiarity now blurred by the knowledge of his cybernetic augmentations.”

Here’s the story summary from the author’s Web site:

The universe isn’t what it used to be. With the new alliance between the Triad and the United Coalition, Captain Tasha “Sass” Sebastian finds herself serving under her former nemesis, bio-cybe Admiral Branden Kel-Paten—and doing her best to hide a deadly past. But when an injured mercenary falls into their ship’s hands, her efforts may be wasted …

Wanted rebel Jace Serafino has information that could expose all of Sass’ secrets, tear the fragile Alliance apart—and end Sass’s career if Kel-Paten discovers them. But the bio-cybe has something to hide as well, something once thought impossible for his kind to possess: feelings...for Sass. Soon it’s clear that their prisoner could bring down everything they once believed was worth dying for—and everything they now have to live for…

I know: Kel-Paten is technically a bio-cybe, and he probably didn’t cost six billion dollars (along with two box tops and postage & handling), but who’s counting? Frankly, he’s one of the most underappreciated romance heroes of all time. Oh, what the heck, I’ll go for broke: He’s also one of the most underappreciated science fiction heroes of all time (and then some).

How does his excellence add up, you wonder?

Bred from biological donors, Branden Kel-Paten underwent transformative surgeries as an adolescent. Then he was pressed—or brainwashed, more likely—into service for his Triad bosses. Now, a funny thing happened on the way to the bio-cybe laboratories: Kel-Paten was equipped with “emo-inhibitors” that repress tender emotions but allow ones like anger to be expressed. This insidious factor creates a host of interpersonal challenges for Kel-Paten while commanding his huntership the Vaxxar in an ongoing quest to establish peace in the galaxy.

Enter Captain Tasha “Sass” Sebastian. She’s now under his command, but unbeknownst to Sass, he’s hopelessly in love with her. The captain’s beguiling green eyes and pert bottom give Kel-Paten a case of raging libido (hey, way to channel one’s anger into something positive!). But there’s far more to his character than that.

While reading Games of Command, I was struck by both the endearing and disturbing aspects of Kel-Paten’s background and personality. To begin with, technically he’s an orphan, unless you count a government scientific conglomerate as a parent…? No? Right, I didn’t think so either. Then there are the numerous, unsightly scars crisscrossing his body from the relentless surgeries. Naturally, these perceived flaws took a sledgehammer to an already fragile shell of self-esteem.

Not only that, but Kel-Paten’s tough ’n’ gruff style manages to alienate his colleagues with wince-inducing regularity. Therefore, it should be no surprise that he earned the nickname “Tin Soldier.” Now bear with me, because I’m trying very hard not to gush about this…must stop being so effusive about the rapturous appeal of that phrase…not going to wax geek here…but darn it all, I can’t help myself! “Tin Soldier” is so freakin’ cool!

Now that I’m warmed up, here’s more to feast upon: Kel-Paten’s huntership was built to specification of his unique abilities. Therefore, he can “spike” into the ship’s systems for a variety of tasks. That his eyes gleam crimson during this process is icing on the proverbial cake. Oh…you want to know about that…well of course he’s strong! Handsome, too. Good golly miss molly, the thought of those firm, broad thighs pressing up against my….


Where was I? Oh yes, the sexual tension! What’s fresh about Kel-Paten is that he’s a romantic at heart without being all sloppy about it. His guarded exterior, repressed emotions, and heartbreaking forlornness ensure that he will have to work three times as hard as other heroes to win Sass’ heart.

And I mustn’t fail to mention that Branden Kel-Paten is a virgin hero. All of that pent-up sexual energy, fueled by a cybernetically enhanced body? That’s hot.

Yet, he struggles with basic relationship skills such as flirtation and communicating feelings. How intriguing that instead of love letters/emails, Kel-Paten dictates log entries to express his feelings about Sass. She may read them; she may never. It’s an adorable quirk but also an indication of his maladjustment issues and interpersonal challenges. Deep stuff for an action adventure science fiction romance story, and just one of the reasons I can’t get Kel-Paten out of my head.

All of this adds up to a hero who is deeply vulnerable but also immensely powerful. He’s a puzzle of a dichotomy. In Janine’s review of Games of Command at Dear Author, she noted a “…duality within Kel-Paten, who doesn’t quite know how to reconcile his machine half with his human half.”

Will true love cultivate a positive self-identity shift for Branden Kel-Paten, allowing him to integrate his cyborg and human aspects? Will he overcome the emo-inhibitors? Is there hope for the eventual expression of his true feelings even though they’ve been programmed out of existence? Great questions, I know, but you’ll have to read the book and discover that for yourself.

New Games of CommandIf you’ve already read Games of Command and want to learn more about Kel-Paten, check out a two-part interview at Alien Romances here and here. I’ve included the new cover to the right, but there’s something to be said about that shot of him on the original cover (above) in all of his bio-cybe glory.

Now, let’s broaden the pool. Maybe you know an underappreciated bio-cybe/cyborg yourself whether he/she fell in love or not. Give that character a shout-out in the comment section. Prove to Admiral Branden Kel-Paten he’s in good company—he’d sure appreciate the validation.

House 6
1. House 6
I do love the biocyb hero. There just aren't enough of them to go around! But, as far as the author, I love her Downhome Zombie Blues best. Games of Command is cool, the hero is great, but Zombie Blues is better.

As for cyborg heroes, I know several, they just aren't in print yet. The only one I can think of off the top of my head that's in print is Xris Cyborg from the Mag Force 7 series. Hung Out is my favorite in that series.

I'm sure there are others, I'll have to go look through my collection. :o)
walter tingle
2. wjtingle
But of course, there is the original cyborg. Deidre.

"But there has been again no woman born
Who was so beautiful; not one so beautiful
Of all the women born."

Sigh. I need to go read some C.L. Moore.

Jack Tingle
House 6
3. Kathy Boswell
Excellent article, Heather. I happen to agree with each and every word. Linnea Sinclair rocks!!
House 6
4. Pauline Baird Jones
Oh, Heather, major dittos on Kel-Patten as a great hero and a great character. While I love her Gabriel's Ghost and the followup books, I keep hoping her publisher will also ask for follow up books to this one and, quite frankly her other books. I love them all.
Heather Massey
5. sfrgalaxy
House 6, thanks for the rec! Xris is a cool name so I certainly won't forget to check that out.

Jack Tingle, thanks so much for reading and for your eloquent comment!

Hi, Kathy! Hi Pauline! *waves to the Bar & Grille regulars* I agree, Linnea Sinclair delivers high octane adventure with a burst of romance and we need more of them (I'm looking at you, Bantam).
House 6
6. EscapingTheTrunk
No discussion of cyborg men in love can be complete without mention of Batou, from the "Ghost in the Shell" franchise.
Kate Smith
7. Empress
Mmmm! All Sinclair's novels reside on my Top Shelf.
House 6
8. mfitz
The thing I like about the whole Sass / Kel-Patten relationship is that if it had been written just a hair differently he would have been a really-creapy-stalker-from-hell sort of character. Kudos to Sinclair for missing that pot-hole completely.
Heather Massey
9. sfrgalaxy
EscapingTheTrunk, you gave me shivers! Great recommendation, thank you!

Empress, thanks so much for your comment. I'm sure Ms. Sinclair appreciates your interest in her work.

Mfitz, exactly! Kel-Paten has layers and Sinclair crafted him so well that he evokes a lot of sympathy. He's needy yet tough and in charge--it's an intriguing mix. Thanks for swinging by!
Frances Drake
11. Frances
Great article. As I was reading the replies, it suddenly occured to me that Anne MacCaffery's SHIP WHO SANG has a great cyborg/human romance. Her captain loved her so much. *Sigh*

Lisa Paitz Spindler
12. dangrgal
Great post, Heather. I also am adding a whole bunch of books to my TBR list just from this post. I'm no expert on cyborgs, but I can try to explain why Sinclair's Brenden (and her other hero Gabriel Sullivan) appeals to me as a reader.

As a Science Fiction Romance, GAMES OF COMMAND has in common with other Romances the examination of the "other." Science Fiction examines this all the time with alien species, AIs and all sorts of different ways of looking at the world. Romances examine this idea on a much more personal level than most SF novels do (at least ones that I've read). So, SFR novels can examine this issue on multiple levels.

The Romance genre examination of "other" starts with gender. Since Romance as a genre places more importance on the heroine's POV, it's really a prolonged study of what makes men tick. Sure, we often get the hero's POV, but sometimes Romances are written in first person and when that happens it's always from the heroine's POV. I can't think of an example of that in reverse and would that really even be considered a Romance?

In non-SFR Romances, we often see the heroine and hero be very physically different from one another. Paranormal Romance amps this difference up by creating 7ft heroes of extreme proportions, but even Historical Romances do this with a blonde heroine and a raven-dark haired hero or a penniless orphan and a Duke, for example.

Paranormals and Science Fiction have a few extra tools to amp up this difference even more with vampires, werewolves, cyborgs, aliens, and telepaths. The one Historical-type hero who comes to my mind in this category is Erik from Phantom of the Opera. His unknowable otherness is portrayed first by his mask and second by his scars.

Brenden has a lot of the Phantom in him. He's been shunned by others his whole life -- he just wants to be loved, is that so wrong? :) It says something about Sass that she can see through his scary exterior to the real person underneath. It also helps that the scary exterior is pretty darn hot.

The virgin hero, I think, appeals to women similarly to how a virgin heroine appeals to men. Sass is Brenden's first and only. There's a lot of power in that and it flips gender roles, which makes it even more exciting.
Frances Drake
13. Frances
OMG! I forgot all about Miles Vorkosagan! He essentially ends up being a cyborg as all of his broken bones are replaced. Also all of his stories are from the male POV, and my, but he is a nice Romantic Hero. *G*
Heather Massey
14. sfrgalaxy
Hi, Frances! Thanks for the book rec. That one's a classic.

Lisa, thanks for reading! You are insightful, as always. I think your comparison to the Phantom is spot on (but now I can't help visions of GAMES OF COMMAND: THE OPERA!).

And I'm eager to see how current & future authors ;) explore these relationship dynamics. I agree, there's a wealth of ideas for fresh takes on the examination of "other", especially if romance readers and authors delve more into science fiction romance territory.

You make a good point about POV. I don't know of any books that tell the story from the hero's (first person) POV although I've heard of one or two entirely from his POV, third person. Can't remember the titles, unfortunately.

Now that I think about it, I'm a reader that likes being in the hero's head a lot. That could be why I connected so strongly with Kel-Paten as well, because I was engaged the most during his POV. So I'd definitely read a romance book from the hero's POV, whether first or third. Realistically, though, I don't see it happening too often.

I think GAMES OF COMMAND's action-adventure mantle belies the exploration of some pretty dark themes, and those are part of it's strong appeal.
Lisa Paitz Spindler
15. dangrgal
I think your comparison to the Phantom is spot on (but now I can't help visions of GAMES OF COMMAND: THE OPERA!).

You know what I'd really like to see -- the heroine in the role of the monster. I'd love to see some twist on the Irish myth of the hag who turns into a beautiful woman if the hero doesn't reject her (there are several versions of this: Niall and his brothers being one, as well as Diarmuid O Duibne and Sir Gawain's "loathly lady"). Or a female vampire. There a precious few of those.

Now that I think about it, I'm a reader that likes being in the hero's head a lot... So I'd definitely read a romance book from the hero's POV, whether first or third. Realistically, though, I don't see it happening too often.

I'm right there with ya.
Heather Massey
16. sfrgalaxy
Lisa, I would so love a heroine in the role of the monster. Your comment reminds me about the beginning of Disney's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST--the animated short that explains the backstory of the Prince's curse. Maybe that was based on the Irish myth you discussed. A variation on that story would be awesome.

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