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.