Sandra McDonald‘s The Outback Stars is military science fiction, but it offers you far more than that. It also boasts an intriguing mystery and a sophisticated romance. If you’ve read it, dig into this post. If not, I’ve endeavored to avoid spoilers.
Our heroine, Lt. Jodenny Scott, is a competent, no-nonsense officer trying to get on with her life after a traumatic event. She’s a real woman with real problems like “personnel” issues, office politics, and a new career move. Yet because of her heroic actions (described in the prologue), she’s also trying to adjust to her extraordinary status.
Our hero, Sergeant Terry Myell, is one of Jodenny’s subordinates. Haunted by a disturbing incident in his past, Terry’s plagued by family skeletons that refuse to rest. Not only that, but he’s cast into a series of strange incidents—both real and hallucinatory—while serving aboard the Aral Sea, the starship in which the story largely occurs.
Faced with two complicated main characters, a forbidden romance, and exotic settings, The Outback Stars is a book I just can’t quit. Therefore, I present a ranking of 10 hella sexy ways the story rocked my world—and how it can do the same for you!
“Team Space”: A military juggernaut
I swear, I learned more about how a military organization functions from The Outback Stars than from decades of other sources. Unlike suffering through a dry, didactic college lecture, I found the illumination provided here engaging and thoroughly entertaining. The petty(!) office politics are some of the best parts about it.
Sexy-o-meter ranking: 1
They call him “Commander Banana”
I must have read the sentence in which this (nick)name appears about three or four times before I could move on. It’s not laugh-out-loud-slap-your-knee funny, but rather more of an understated wry grin mix à la The Office. Comedic gold, and the book surprises with a few more veins just like it.
Sexy-o-meter ranking: 2
Down on the farm
The farm scenes introduce backstory and contribute to some dynamite sexual tension between Jodenny and Terry. They’re a pleasant respite from the roller coaster adventures preceding them. Plus, the secondary characters making an appearance are warm and well-rounded, making for one cozy farmhouse gathering.
Sexy-o-meter ranking: 3
During this story, readers encounter the Alcheringa, a wormhole enabling humankind to access habitable planets since Earth is currently a wasteland. Extra points added for the snazzy moniker.
Sexy-o-meter ranking: 4
A zero g zone aboard the Aral Sea, T6 is populated by dingoes, ghosts—and something else altogether. It’s also one of the places where our hero and heroine discover a number of disturbing developments.
Sexy-o-meter ranking: 5
Australian Aboriginal mythology
From a gecko named Koo to Dreamtime (also called “Alcheringa”), the author incorporated aboriginal myths into the story. Because of this element, Terry is forced to make an agonizing choice.
Sexy-o-meter ranking: 6
The Wondjina spheres
The inert spheres are referred to as Mother, Father, and Child, and always appear in threes. What are they? Who created them? Those questions are at the heart of one of the book’s two mystery threads. It’s a great twist on the abandoned alien technology concept. Being a huge fan of Frederik Pohl’s Gateway, I gobble up this kind of thing with abandon.
Sexy-o-meter ranking: 7
While I read this book as a result of all the online buzz, I couldn’t help but be jazzed by the inspired title. “Outback” is a popular term applied to all kinds of products (especially if you love a good steak or SUV); but if memory serves, this was the first time I’d heard it applied to anything SF. The title promises danger & adventure while the story delivers a one-two punch, so pardon me while I go pack my suitcase for a return trip .
Sexy-o-meter ranking: 8
EV suits—not just for vacuums anymore
While deep into the story, I discovered that Sandra McDonald had crafted a particular scene so intriguingly that I experienced a “Wouldn’t it be cool if ” scenario in my mind. It involved a certain moment between Jodenny and Terry while they wore their EV suits. And then the scene unfolded exactly as I had hoped. If, like me, you’re a hopeless romantic, brace yourself, because this scene will slay you.
Sexy-o-meter ranking: 9
Oh, Terry, how can I count the ways?
Terry is an atypical hero, perhaps not for SF but definitely as far as the romance genre is concerned. He’s also one of the most endearing reluctant heroes I’ve encountered in a while. Terry is a brooding, bitter romantic if there ever was one. How’s that for a combo?
Say, why limit yourself to just the above paragraph? Jaunt on over to my official ode to Terry.
Sexy-o-meter ranking: 10
And that’s a wrap.