T-Minus Two

T-Minus Two - K.G. MacGregor KG Macgregor is on a roll. The last four releases of hers I've read have all been very entertaining and surprisingly memorable. There is a reason I don't like to read vanilla romances. It's that they tend to be quite forgettable and the characters and plots run into one another after a while. This author has managed to avoid that trap by surrounding her romances with a wider issue or plot that is reasonably well-researched, relatively interesting and seamlessly integrated with the romance. Its a tried and tested formula, of course, but the characterizations are distinctive enough that they don't feel like rubber stamps or give you deja vu while reading (unlike, for example, the other leading romance writer who is also an institution ;) ).

Anyway, on to the book review. The plot is a little different this time. Somewhat futuristic. But not by much. It's not exactly sci-fi, so no worries for non-geek romance lovers. A private company is actively recruiting people for a one-way mission to Mars--in pairs of two per mission. Because of the long traveling time and ultra-compressed living quarters, the chosen pair have to be both competent, complementary and completely compatible. The competition is impossibly tough, so everyone is forced to be at the top of their game. As part of the selection process, the company has designed a reality-tv-like multi-stage contest testing every aspect of the contestants' skills and probability of success by subjecting them to all kinds of scenarios they may encounter up on Mars.

Mila, a young, ambitious and highly intelligent scientist is one of the candidates. She'd fallen hard for a female colleague of her mother almost 20 years her senior. But after years of trying, the woman just can't bring herself to be publicly seen with another woman. Mila hopes blasting off to Mars over a hundred million miles away is one good way to forget her barely requited love. But when she finds out her all-time crush and hero, astronaut Jancey Beaumont, is one of the candidates for the trip, she is at once disheartened at the formidable competition and exhilarated that she might actually get a chance to be paired with her. Unfortunately, Jancey has her own ambitions. Uniquely qualified because of her past performance and experience, Jancey can't jeopardize her chances by pairing with the totally unknown, and not to mention, highly distracting Mila.

The development of the romance and intimate scenes are as well done as can be expected of a book of this length and depth (read:short and not very deep, lol). Mila wears her heart on her sleeve, so we sort of get a running commentary on how she's feeling romantically, lol. Jancey is more mysterious and harder to fathom, hiding behind a cool, professional exterior. The whole book has a reality-tv vibe to it. We readers are the like the tv audience peering into the private lives of these would-be astronauts as they go about their daily sequestration.

Much of the book's page-turning appeal has to do with the contest itself--with just the right amount of detail without boring the intended audience, and the right amount of suspense to keep up the level of tension. The bit of drama near the end is needed to inject some surprise and angst into the whole proceedings. Though the way it was executed wasn't very logical or believable. I doubt very much the culprits would take the risks they supposed did. Especially in light of the announcement that most of them are going to Mars anyway--its just a question of who goes first. They may have ulterior motives, but to be a finalist in the contest, these scientists had to have been very logical, meticulous thinkers--not brash, emotional, jealous risk-takers. They'd have to know the chances of being caught and the consequences far outweigh the supposed benefits. The fact that it was a conspiracy among several scientists makes it even more unlikely. Also, why aren't there any CCTVs around to monitor the candidates and catch their violations? That should have been the job of the organizers. Aside from that, there is also a glaring technical mistake in the way the fake photograph was uncovered. Photographs taken by cameras are flat files--containing no underlying layers created by any kind of photo manipulation software. This was presumably the format submitted as 'evidence' to the wrongdoing. Yet, someone was able to discover hidden layers underneath it--a technical impossibility. If the culprit submitted a doctored file (e.g. a Bulwark file) with layers intact, he'd be the biggest idiot in the world. And the people who didn't discover that would be right next in line. Actually, all they had to do was ask the culprit to submit the original raw camera output file or better yet, the original storage medium in the camera used to take the picture, and they could have easily checked its authenticity. Those are just my afterthoughts, though. I was too thoroughly engrossed in the resulting angst and drama to even care about the whys and wherefores. In other words, its okay. I forgive the author for that little ommission. I had a rollicking good time.

4.7 stars