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Yamila Abraham: Maelstrom

Maelstrom was my attempt to realistically show how a straight manly guy could be seduced by another guy.  Demetri is a macho hetero who rather cut off his leg than kiss a man. Malstrum seduces him smoothly and sweetly. There’s no noncon. Demetri falls head over heals [sic] with him. He’s very conflicted about it, but he loves Maelstrom too much to not to be with him.

Maelstrom was originally presented as an eight part series.  Now, and for a SHORT TIME ONLY, the ENTIRE Maelstrom series is available for $3.99!

I’ve known about this story for a while; when I first came across it, part 3 was new. I’m very picky about romance novels in general and up to that point non-Japanese m/m fiction had yet to win any awards from me so I just dismissed it. The covers didn’t do anything to help either–too much like the trashy romance novels I won’t touch with a ten-foot pole. I was finally moved to give it a try when I read this post.

I was intrigued by the first line of the above quoted section and sold on it by the last line. It sucks that it was for Kindle, but it was only 4 bucks, so, whatever. Though the $3.99 held true, the promise of a realistic portrayal of a straight man falling for another man did not. And that was something I understood from as early as the second page. I kept reading anyway.

Spoilers ho!

The story was interesting enough. Demetri, an Earthling, disobeyed an order and in turn was the only one of his squadron to survive a fatal military mission. He was court marshaled and was made to decide between a military gulag or being sentenced to 20 years in the mines. He chose the mines. The mines were on planets other than earth. And so starts this frontier sci-fi story.

Demetri arrives on Secren, a mining planet, and in a matter of minutes, experiences a natural phenomenon called Lightning. For Demetri, not being a native, it was a vaguely comprehensible sensation. Unfortunately for this unflinchingly heterosexual man, Lightning is not a solitary experience and the one he’s sharing it with is another man, Malstrum. Well, I suppose it can’t be helped–Secren is a planet of nothing but men… and hyenas.

Abraham constructed circumstances that left the character with few options and devised a phenomenon that could facilitate the acceptance of one of those options. So, right out the gate, two strikes against the realistic portrayal she was going for. But that’s only two of the things that force the character to make decisions that are essentially against his will. Which brings me to the other issue I have. She stated that there is no non-con, but what do you call it when a character says “no,” and scrambles from under their “partner” in an attempt to run away (or at least create some distance), but is pulled  back by their ankle to continue? Just because it happens in the escapee’s dream doesn’t mean it’s consensual.

I guess now is a good time to tell you that I don’t have that much of an issue with the contrived circumstances and non-con doesn’t always bother me. My dissatisfaction lies with the author setting up the expectation of a realistic seduction of a straight man with no non-con and failing to deliver on both. Still, I kept reading and dragged along my disappointment with every page turned.

It was when I hit part 3 and laughed at something that wasn’t supposed to be funny that I realized I wasn’t reading it in a way that I could enjoy it. I immediately reconciled with the fact that this wasn’t going to be the kind of story I thought it was and that had I never read the author’s statement, I probably would have already been enjoying it by that point. After that, it was an amusing read–most likely for more reasons than Abraham had intended.

So back to the Lightning. It’s not just some kind of animal attraction; if the two people experiencing it remain within proximity of each other, but don’t act on it, within three weeks, they’ll go mad and die. Yeah that’s called Lightning’s Pull. So, part from the person you feel surreally at ease with and live some kind of life on that backwater planet; stay near them without consummating and kill each other; or give into the pull and allow yourself to be conscripted into the gay-for-you camp. Well, only one choice grants the opportunity to continue the story beyond a few more pages.

Malstrum’s seduction is one of kindness and something bordering patience. He understands Lightning so he knows what’s going to happen in the end. He makes advances, but never actually pushes too far as far as Demetri is truly concerned. Demetri often says, “I can’t do what I can’t do,” and yet he cries into Malstrum’s arms, allows the guy to hug him, answers to “babe,” and sleeps in the same bed with him. Among other things. Talk about mixed signals, but he is allowed to set his limits and he does. However, it doesn’t take long for his layers of resistance to be peeled back and for him to initiate kisses and stutter “I love you.” And when I say, “not long,” I really mean it; I’m going to be generous and say that they started sharing a bed inside of two weeks–but I really think it was only one.

One of my main sources of amusement is Demetri’s Brainbox. It’s a device that he carries in a backpack at all times–even in the shower–and connects to his brain via a port at the base of his skull; it acts as an instant translator and a sort of concierge. Demetri is stubborn, so even though the Brainbox takes every opportunity to keep him out of trouble by advising him of protocols and force feeding him erotic dreams starring Malstrum and such, they aren’t always in agreement. It’s a great device to get around the need for inner monologues.

Demetri has a really tough time his first few days, but convenient, yet unfortunate circumstances quickly reunite him with Malstrum only a few days after they met. But all doesn’t magically become well for the new teamless leader. Malstrum who was once  a team leader himself was deposed and ended up joining Demetri’s team. At that time, he’d just lost his first three miners, so his lover-to-be was a godsend. Before they parted from the station where they were reunited, Demetri picked up one more guy named Thistle and his hyena, Thia. Secren is rampant with bandits, some of which happen to be cannibals, so it didn’t take long for more trouble to find them. They made Demetri’s first go at manning his mining outpost so hazardous that he and Malstrum decided to skip town, just the two of them. Malstrum thought it best to head back west so that Demetri could have an easier time of it. And that’s when the real trouble begins.

This trip to greener pastures is what turns the story from amusing to engaging. I never would have saw it coming. Unionization, a strike, and a revolt, a death sentence, and more. I’m not saying it turned into a masterpiece–there are a number of other issues, such as unclear social narratives, unfamiliar word usage, and some unexplained rules of the universe–but if you can overlook some of those things and get past Malstrum and Demetri’s unconvincing courtship, it’s a pretty decent story.

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