A bit of back story: I don't like alien sex, or any hint of it. I find most of the sex in novels to be forced in for people who have odd imaginations and don't want to buy Playboy. SF novels seem to just expand on this by tossing in tentacled things who can satisfy several (un)willing young women at once. Ummm, no. Why every alien in the universe would think of risking death at the hands of the human military just so it can hump some teenager is entirely beyond me. It's also beyond me why no SF stories exist about a pimp attempting to make a mint off of inter-species prostitution. (Please credit me with this idea if you use it. And don't point me at the Black Hole Travel Agency series of novels and tell me it's been done before, that was just a side plot of Book 3.)
But this story almost pulled it off, because it was done right. Until the story actually went and had 'em get naked.
The story: A girl (Azia) and her family of independent traders get busted by the galactic Federation for contraband possession. There's nobody objective in the entire book, so the question of if the contraband was planted is never answered. The Federation, however, is a typical galactic empire (not that we're told this objectively, either) and therefore Evil. So let's assume it was planted and the Feds are evil. Parents get sent to jail, kids get adopted if young enough, sold into slavery if not. Not that they call it slavery, mind you. I wish they'd not allude all these bad things and just come out and say 'the Federation is EVIL!'
So, Azia (being in her teens and too opinionated against the gov't to be set free) gets sold into slavery, since it turns out she's receptive to the limited telepathy of the alien Corollians. She gets bonded - basically she's rewired mentally so she needs (for her continued existence) to be around Pluummuluum, a Corollian who needs someone 100% trustworthy - even if that trust is based on a desire for survival - to conduct business on his behalf (seems he can't speak English, though he comprehends it).
Here's a quick rundown on Pluummuluum. He's alien (no idea if the male pronouns are just for lack of any proper gender or if he's got the needed 'equipment' - he does have tentacles, though). He's a trader, but with a method to his 'random' trades. He's telepathic, like all his people, though it's limited - humans just get the contact as waking dreams.
Azia is the now-bonded daughter of a trading family, and receptive to the telepathy of Pluummuluum. Ergo, she's the perfect mouthpiece for an alien trader, if a bit rough around the edges.
Here's where the alien sex that works comes in. Pluummuluum doesn't seem bothered about nudity when he's not out in public, so he gets his nude scene, during which Azia's hormones get into a knot (she did almost everything short of ripping off her clothes and wrestling the alien to the floor). This scene worked, and worked well, because it made sense - she had been given an unnatural physical dependency to the chemicals given off by his body and her mind was coping with this need for physical closeness by turning it into sexual desire. It worked, because it made sense and because the alien didn't reciprocate. He remained completely aloof.
There's some plot in here where the Federation promises to remove the dependency they forced on her if she'll rat out Pluummuluum, who's clearly up to something. There's also the 'grammar' of the title, which would be more accurately called 'context' or maybe 'tense', but 'A Question of Tense' sounds silly. The Federation speaks in the future tense, since they figure they know what the future will be (their continued rule). Azia is learning to live in the present (rather than the stable past she longs for), a present which she has some control over despite her slavery.
In the end, it turns out that Pluummuluum's trading is bringing him to a point where he'll buy some dangerous biological weaponry from an oppressed Federation planet and use it to wipe out the Federation fleet that's planning a near-genocidal attack on one of Pluummuluum's pacifistic trading partners. However, this is Pluummuluum's story and the only thing we have to validate it is the implication that 'The Federation is EVIL!'
Azia doesn't rat him out, realizing that slavery under a just (if aloof) master is better than the Federation's promises are. (She understands that once she's ratted him out, she's outlived her usefulness. Even if the Feds live up to their end of the bargain, there's no guarantee they won't sell her right back into slavery or worse.)
So, Azia goes and lives on the alien world and everyone's happy.
The first reason is this: the Federation isn't really that evil when you realize that most of the evidence against them is subjective. Even if they are evil, there's absolutely no proof (beyond his own word) that Pluummuluum's yarn about the Fed fleet attacking pacifists is valid, or, if valid, his real reason for doing all this. He could be intending to use the weapons to wipe out the Federation and turn humans into mindless cattle for his own people's use and the only proof we have that he isn't is his own word. When Azia's parents cameo at the end and approve of Pluummuluum, it's in another of his telepathic waking dreams and therefore whatever he wants it to be. He could have roasted her parents on a spit for all we know.
While the battle of good vs. evil is a time-honored storytelling tradition, evil vs. evil is just as (if not more) plausible, and good vs. good isn't that far-fetched either. I don't like stories that want me to assume that the side that does evil is evil and everyone else is good. In fact, I love the stories where everyone has a perfectly reasonable motive for doing whatever. Hell, I remember one series where one of the characters (Eagle) betrayed his friend Lantis and invaded Lantis' homeland (the ruler was recently deceased and the throne was up for grabs). Why did Eagle do it? Because the ruler of Lantis' homeland gained immortality as long as he ruled, and Eagle had a terminal disease. He didn't invade because he wanted to rule, he invaded because it was his last chance to live. He was a fundamentally good person who just didn't want to die before his time. While it's not the nicest thing, it's not truly evil.
But back to topic. The second reason: the alien sex. It was good while it was Azia's body adjusting to the forced addiction. It was good while Pluummuluum wasn't bothered about it. It was even good when Azia's bout with suspended animation required Pluummuluum to give her a massage to get her muscles working again. There's some sexual tension, but it's all in either Azia's mind or the reader's. Pluummuluum treats a naked female human with about as much desire as a human treats a sheared sheep (kinky people aside).
But when Pluummuluum sent Azia a waking dream that, in part, involved him taking off his clothes and rubbing her nether regions with his tentacles, it all fell apart. It was like a person getting off on the aforementioned sheared sheep.
And Azia's hormones don't modify his telepathic messages - by this point she's adjusted to the addiction and no longer desires Pluummuluum in a sexual manner, and it's also been stressed that Pluummuluum can be specific down to citing numbers in these dreams, with no error once Azia had the hang of it. There was just no valid reason for what happened.
If Pluummuluum had been so hepped up on getting some he'd have made his move months before, when her hormones were still out of control and she wanted nothing more than to be close to him. It's internally inconsistent, and it takes a story that had a plausible and good subplot about inter-species desire, and threw that out at the end. A bold attempt that crashed and burned mostly due to this one scene.
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