An unexpected moment of insight from an early Jayne Ann Krentz novel

Jayne Ann Krentz, aka Amanda Quick, aka Jayne Castle, is one of America’s most prolific romantic mystery writers.  She writes contemporary (Jayne Ann Krentz), historical (Amanda Quick), and sci fi romances (Jayne Castle).  She is like a machine, grinding out novels year after year.  Her template is a trusting, intuitive, bright woman and a strong man who is capable of love and who instantly recognizes the heroine as his soul mate, but is afraid of leaping into a relationship.

One of the things that makes Krentz’s books appealing is that she’s big on intelligent communication.  This means that her romances don’t revolve around idiot protagonists who operate on unfounded assumptions and constantly leap to stupid conclusions.

Of late, however, even though Krentz is still grinding them out, you get the feeling she’s tired.  She still has a lot of plot and dialogue, but the plots are identical to each other, and she’s pretty much given up on the heavy lifting of description.  As a reader, one feels that Krentz is no longer on a creative, literary adventure; it’s just a job.  I also find her current books, even when they’re set in the Victorian era, just too PC.  Krentz has bought into the modern intellectual ethos hook, line, sinker.

Still, when one of Krentz’s earliest novels, 1986’s Sweet Starfire, appeared on the Kindle free book list, I grabbed it.  (You can still buy it for just $1.99.)  Reader reviews said that the book, which was one of her first futurist novels, was fresh and imaginative, showing the Krentz sparkle that earned her legions of loyal fans.

The reviewers were right.  Sweet Starfire an delightfully imaginative book set in the future on a planet that earth colonized.  This is no rote romance.  Krentz clearly saw in her minds eye a complete society.  Her premise is that, because the colonizing ship had a crash landing, the planets’ residents managed to cobble together a little earth knowledge, but basically had to make it on their own.  They eventually colonize planets — Lovelady (the main planet), Renaissance (a primeval jungle), and QED (a desert planet) — in this new solar system. A fourth planet, Frozen Assets, has yet to be colonized.

The colonists realized when they arrived on Lovelady that they were not the planet’s first occupants.  The prior occupants, whom the colonists named “the Ghosts,” had left some remnants of themselves, but not enough for the colony’s occupants to know anything about them beyond the fact of their existence.

On Lovelady, the humans morphed naturally into two castes:  Harmonics, who are incredibly sensitive, telepathic, intelligent people who constitute the colony’s upper caste; and Wolves, who are the ordinary people who make things happen.  They’re the miners, and traders, and travelers, and hotel keepers.  They respect the Harmonics, admiring their purity, kindness, and grace, as well as benefiting from the Harmonics’ business acumen, but that’s about the sum total of the two castes’ interactions.

The books’ lead characters are Cidra, who was born to two Harmonics, but lacks their telepathic abilities, and Severance, an alpha manly wolf.  Cidra has left her peaceful Harmonic home to try to find a Ghost artifact that she believes will enable her to become a true, telephatic Harmonic.  Severance recognizes Cidra for what she is:  a true, earthy, sensual Wolf in Harmonic’s clothing.

I’m not giving anything away when I say that these two fall in love.  From here on out, though, there are plot spoilers so, if you’re planning on reading the book, stop now.

What Cidra comes to terms with during her adventures with Severance is that the Harmonic approach to life only works in times of complete peace and tranquility.  In the real world, you have to be ready to fight and, if necessary, to kill when faced with very real enemies — and Severance has them.  Cidra gains, rather than loses, when she adds survival skills to her repertoire.

Eventually, Cidra and Severance find themselves on Renaissance, which is most a vast, primeval forest.  Through a series of betrayals, they are marooned in an area where every plant and animal is a killer.  Responding to a telepathic signal, they walk safely through this forest and find themselves at a Ghost archive, which records the history of the Ghosts.  This history plays out for them as a sort of video.  They learn that, when the Ghosts first developed on Renaissance, they had to engage in an ongoing battle with the planet’s aggressive life forms.  They eventually conquered those forms and imposed civilization on the planet.  This seemed like a wonderful thing but, absent any opposition to keep them vigorous, the entire Ghost culture became dessicated:

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What Krentz describes when she talks of the Ghosts sounds very much like a description of Europe and Japan, right down to the childlessness.

At a later point in the book, when Cidra acknowledges that she’s accepted that she’s a Wolf and not a Harmonic, she tells her friend Desma that the Ghosts demonstrate how important it is to keep a vital culture that doesn’t lapse into being an effete, intellectual, childless society:

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I don’t think Krentz would ever be able to write something like that again, but she was correct, as history and current events since 1986 have proven.

For a romance novel, the book is quite an impressive homage to capitalism (which it celebrates) and the need for a society to retain its vigor if it is to survive.

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  • David Foster

    Sounds like an interesting book.
    There’s an old science fiction book (The Star Seekers, Milton Lesser) in which the inhabitants of a multigenerational starship have lost the knowledge that they are aboard a moving space vessel and believe that their internal world is the whole universe. A boy on an initiation journey through the four spheres of the ship (which have become isolated from one another over time) realizes the truth about their larger journey, and that the ship is nearing its destination and will crash unless immediate action is taken. He encounters great difficulty in getting people to take the situation seriously. The people who are least interested in taking action are those who live in the Place of the Revelers. These people were apparently (generations ago) actors and entertainers, but now they only watch old videos and go to “empathy sessions.”
    “The end of the world,” said Rolf. “And the Revelers don’t even play games. They do worse. They watch old pictures of people playing games, they sit in their overstuffed chairs and experience empathy.”

  • cerumendoc

    A basic principle of business and in general economics:  grow or die.

  • Ymarsakar

    Reminds me of Rewrite, a Japanese visual novel. (Big spoilers, stop reading if you ever intend to actually read the story)
    A central plot theme and challenge was how the earth is dying and two factions are fighting a secret war over the fate of the world. Either destroy humanity and allow the Earth to recover, or protect humanity even if it means living on a dying planet.
    This war sucked up so much resources and kept so much technology and magic hidden, that that was pretty much all humanity could do.
    Meanwhile the true reason the Earth was dying out wasn’t because of environmental pollution or anything humans were doing. It was pretty simple. The force that created life on planet Earth was considered an omnipotent power, that could change the oceans, atmosphere, soil itself. However, without additional resources to utilize, the process fails and all life dies as the environment itself reverts back to its natural state: one incapable of sustaining life. The moon was a lifeless rock, and did not have the resources for the power of the Earth to draw anything useful from. The only way for the power of life to expand was on the wings of its children, humanity, to new worlds where it could begin obtaining the resources it needs to grow.
    The fact that human civilization spent the majority of its resources and will power on internal conflicts and fights between power factions, giving up on expansion and space colonization, was the real problem. A race that had given up on itself and no longer seeks to use resources to expand, even if it means putting a strain on the mother land, is a race that Does Not Deserve To Live.

    The song’s lyrics were a pretty good explanation, and is the ending EP for the story.

  • Ymarsakar

    In the end, it not IQ, rationality, or reason that drives human survival. It is belief, of the heart or of the soul. What do you believe in that is so strong you would kill or die for?
    If your answer is “nothing”….

  • Mike Devx

    I see parallels between the vanished Ghost culture in ‘Sweet Starfire’ and the current situation in Sweden.  In both situations we see an effete society unwilling to defend its values and norms against an external threat.
    Sweden has successfully assimilated foreigners for decades, but all of those assimilated foreigners were peaceful and willing to conform to Sweden’s norms of tolerance for all others.  But in recent decades, fundamentalist Islam has introduced an internal enemy.  It is an enemy to Sweden because its people are *not* peaceful, and are *not* willing to assimilate or conform, and are *not* willing to tolerate others who are different.  It is significant because these people following this form of Islam are the very first threat to emerge to Sweden’s system.  And Sweden is totally failing to handle this first threat.
    The Swedish authorities infamously blamed Jews and Israel policy when the violence escalated against Jews. See this 2010 article and note that we are talking about desecrated cemeteries, burnt synagogues, harassment by *masked* men in the streets.  These are not just letters to the editor; this is VIOLENCE.  And Sweden utterly failed then to even recognize that a line had been crossed that required total dedication to the eradication of the violence, and the punishment of every single one of the persecutors.

    Even before that, you had the harassment of female infidels on the streets, and that began with verbal harassment, and escalated to physical threats, and then physical violence, and then, of course, the resulting inevitable rapes of the infidel women, who somehow “deserved it”.  And again, every step of the way, Sweden turned its eyes away.
    It is a continuing record of abject failure.  Now we see riots by “youth”, the trashing of stores and the burning of vehicles.  We see the police refusing to intervene.  We see the citizens arming to defend themselves and their property, only to find the police authorities suddenly aggressive against *them*!
    This is an illustration of effeteness – and this is an effete, collapsing society – because the police are going only after the easy targets.  They may claim to be concerned about being racist or Islamophobic, but that is ridiculous.  It is like the police who could be aggressive against speeders and jaywalkers, but will do nothing about that drug house run by that armed gang in that neighborhood, because *that* problem is just “too hard to deal with”.  Much the same is true of the Islamic rioters and those defending their property: The police will go after the property defenders because they are easier, and the Islamic rioters are just “too hard to deal with”.
    It is effete collapse and suicide.

  • Ymarsakar

    The Swedish police were given explicit orders not to interfere with Sweden’s allies, the rioters. The reason is simple. Sweden brought all those people in originally to use as slave votes to destroy any political opposition. The Left rules in Sweden, never forget that. And the Leftist alliance’s number 1 ally in this world is Islamic belief.
    If only it was that your society “merely” was effete and suicidal….

  • Tonestaple

    I was all set to get this book, and was reading the description when I came upon the name of the hero:  Teague Severance.  Who comes up with these names?  I could not possibly read this book if I was going to end up giggling every time the hero came on the scene.