Welcome back to the next installment of My Descent Into Alcoholism, also known as my review of Off World. When we last left our dear fucking heroes they were still not doing anything. Goddamn, Vaughan, I’m not even asking for a space battle at this point. I just want something that isn’t sex to actually happen. It doesn’t even have to be interesting. You could have them stub their toe. Just something!
Let’s get ready for the continuing adventures of absolutely fuck all taking place. I’m already half-drunk so that might make this go faster. Let’s do a shot and get this started.
In which there is an asteroid, more poor world building, and still nothing happens
So I guess this is where all those questions to Dan Wasserman come into play about artificial gravity, but, hey, why should Vaughan actual bother with the science in a science-fiction book when we’re already 84 pages in? Also, I don’t care how the asteroid has artificial gravity when I’m slowly inching closer to the end of this book.
Anyway, D’abu says they should take Caleb to “Durty [sic] Nelly’s” and not only does Vaughan unnecessarily italicize this, but she deliberately uses that spelling because this book only exists to hurt me.
So Nelly’s has live sex shows and I curl up around my ever increasing alcohol stash in the hopes it would protect me from Vaughan’s ID fantasies, which I find increasingly worrying.
Anyway, Sarhaan and Kai Xuwicha go to meet with Dorados’ head of security. And, once more, I have to ask what the hell the political structure is?
So Dorados is a station built on an asteroid. I think. Let’s just assume that it is. On this possible-station there’s a security force, which suggests there’s an owner or at least some sort of command structure. But since the Republic/an has no power off Earth (unless Vaughan has changed her mind on that again), how does this work?
(Also, since the ship is now “invisible to all known air traffic control systems,” how did it dock? I mean, since the traffic control can’t see it, they couldn’t have cleared the ship or helped signal them in. They should, by all rights, have died in a fiery ball of death, and why do you deny me these simple pleasures, Vaughan? Why?)
As seen later, the asteroid has restaurants and hotels and apparently mines, so is there one owner who rents out space, sort of like a mall? Is it a mall asteroid? Why would you open a sex show in a mall? Does Dorados act as a sort of space truck stop? Is it like that place on Firefly where they stopped and River had problematic food and Jayne got that awesome hat from his mom? Why am I putting this much thought into it when I could be drinking myself into a stupor?
This chapter ends with nothing else happening. That brings the total to 87 pages of not a damn thing going on that moves the plot, such as it is, forward. Awesome.
DUN DUN DUN ending: “Good morning. Welcome to Doradus. I’m Seth Loftin, chief of station security. What say you gentlemen stow your weapons in the locker over there and we have ourselves a little chat?” (Note: Don’t get your hopes up—nothing remotely interesting results from this. It fades to black and we never follow up on Seth Loftin again. It’s like Vaughan deliberately sets up situations that might prove interesting for the sole purpose of finding the way to make them boring as hell and enraging me.)
In which D’abu proves he’s smarter than both Sarhaan and Caleb, Vaughan rips off Joss Whedon, our dear fucking heroes go to Durty Nelly’s, where Vaughan’s ID roams free
We start with Caleb and D’abu, who are looking at pictures of the murdered prostitutes, and I am confused because this smacks suspiciously like plot. It’s been so long since we’ve had any whiff of the point of this book that I’m scared—I don’t like change.
Anyway, thank god D’abu is there because he apparently is a thousand times smarter and more observant than Caleb and notices that the burns from the wounds mean the angle of the shot wasn’t clean. D’abu suggests bringing in Sarhaan, Kai Xuwicha, and Naslund because they are the only other soldiers who have names.
Then there’s this: “Somehow, hearing Daphne’s suspicions confirmed brought her death back to Cal in a way he hadn’t anticipated. When he’d thought it all might be in his head, it could still seem like a big mistake. There was a chance that it really was just a random mugging. But D’abu was taking away even that small hope from him.”
Oh good, more wallowing. I was just thinking there wasn’t enough of Caleb being ineffective and feeling sorry for himself. I’m just glad Vaughan didn’t make Daphne a real person or this might actually be touching.
Anyway, D’abu says that the shots are sloppy and since they are all genetically engineered super soldiers (I’ll still act surprised when it’s revealed) and “qualified in the top one percent” of their class that they couldn’t be bad shots even if they tried. I bet if they drank as much as alcohol at me at this point they could be such bad shots they ended up shooting each other in the face…and thanks to Vaughan that phrase is now linked to gay porn forevermore in my head and I can never unsay it. Thanks, Vaughan, thanks a lot.
Anyway, Caleb wonders why they would bother killing prostitutes and blaming Sarhaan’s unit. I find myself asking the same question because I’ve read the entire book and I still have no idea of the answer.
Sarhaan comes back and Caleb ogles him, providing us about the seventy-fifth description of Sarhaan in black leather pants. Again, this is so Vaughan’s ID peeking out that it’s not even funny.
Now we get to the point where Vaughan blatantly rips off Joss Whedon. Apparently on Doradus the sex trade is legal and there are Recreational Time Specialists (RaTS), which are “something of a prestigious occupation. Companionship and time were something to be savored and appreciated.” So they’re companions. How original.
Anyway, they go to the space asteroid of space whores for engine repairs but they’re going to be stuck there anywhere from 50 to 100 hours waiting for said parts. That should be enough time for Caleb to be even whinier and get himself into even more trouble that Sarhaan will have to rescue him from. I can’t wait.
Caleb shows Sarhaan what he and D’abu, but mainly D’abu, found about the dead hookers and Caleb decides to look into it further. After ninety-one freaking pages Caleb comes to the decision this needs further investigation. I hate this book.
Sarhaan asks Caleb to go with him to the space hooker infested asteroid and Caleb responds thusly: “What did he say? Staring up into those incredible eyes, dark as the night sky and a thousand times more beautiful? Autopsies and burn marks went out of Cal’s head like a dream upon waking.”
And this pretty much sums up why I hate Caleb: he is a selfish, self-centered, whiny brat. Look, okay, I get that he’s in love (although I don’t know why since Sarhaan has done nothing even remotely likable). And I know that love can make you self-centered and crazy and all of that, but Caleb’s best friend was brutally beaten to death and he barely thinks about her.
If my hetero lifemate died, not even murdered to hide some conspiracy about dead prostitutes, I would damn well be devastated. Even if I did find someone and fall in love with them soon after she died, I would still be completely wrecked about her death and would definitely not completely forget about her just because the object of affections wanted to take me to a live sex show. Also, I hate Vaughan for making me write that last sentence.
I understand that Vaughan’s main focus is the romance between Caleb and Sarhaan, but by focusing exclusively on that is detrimental to everything else about the novel, especially the portrayal of Caleb. By only mentioning Daphne when it’s convenient to make Caleb look like a hurt puppy only actually makes him look like a callous, selfish little bitch.
Moving along because this chapter is long and actively taunting me, Sarhaan and Caleb go out to dinner, and I suppose I should care that they’re getting close, but since I find them both unlikeable I don’t care.
We do learn that Caleb has no “credits” (and I’m glad to see that Vaughan didn’t put any thought into coming up with an original currency), which will be important later, and that his parents will probably disown him. Apparently Caleb never got a girl to be his beard to please the folks, who he doesn’t have a particularly good relationship with.
Goddamnit, Vaughan, show us and stop telling us. This would all be more effective if perhaps there were flashbacks of Caleb’s crappy home life. It’ll help characterization in that maybe I maybe wouldn’t want Caleb to die in a fire.
We then move on to Durty Nelly’s, which is super popular and full of miners. Apparently in the future all asteroid miners are gay and outer space is just one giant gay orgy. I am just what-the-fucking my way through this.
The sex show starts, and during the live blow job Sarhaan gropes Caleb because he needs to make his mark or everyone else will be all over him. Well, they will until they find out how annoying he is.
This part ends before the next show starts.
DUN DUN DUN ending: Caleb speaking, “Fuck me? Please?”
In which there is even more fucking and I slide into a dark pit of despair
So the next part of the show starts and…oh god, I don’t know if I can do this. The entire chapter is only ten pages but it feels so much longer than that, possibly because of the excruciating detail Vaughan goes into for the sex act. If she spent this much attention on the rest of the book, like plot and pacing and characterization, then Off World may stand a chance of being good.
The live sex show involves double penetration and that’s all I’m going say because I find the entire thing to be more gross than sexy and it made me uncomfortable. And just to clear it up, it isn’t the graphic sex being described that makes me uncomfortable. I read a lot of sex scenes (not because I love porn but because as a writing student I read a lot in every genre). A lot of the sex scenes are so incredibly graphic that at the Association of Writers and Publishers conference there was a panel on sex scenes and authors read some of them aloud, and all I could think was, “That’s not a sex scene, that’s the equivalent of a fade to back before the sex starts.” My next thought was, “Oh dear god, do I really read that much porn?”
So when I say that this sex scene made me uncomfortable then you can fill in the blanks of what she actually wrote (and if you are really that curious then let me know and I’ll e-mail you the file).
Moving on, Caleb and Sarhaan are so turned on they get a room at Durty Nelly’s, which comes with complimentary sex toys, and have sex that includes cock rings. There’s more fucking, and Sarhaan is all “don’t deny us” with Caleb while I start chugging the Jagermeister and cry on the inside.
After they’re finally done, Sarhaan notices there’s a hidden camera and someone was watching them the entire time. Of course. Christ. Excuse me while I drink this entire cabinet full of booze.
Text message of the chapter: I hate this book and want to die.
DUN DUN DUN ending: “It wasn’t the goat, thank God. It was the tiny camera disguised there.”
In which the sex club doesn’t seem to be going away and Vaughan injects a shot of plot contrivance into this ailing book
I really don’t want to spend any more time at Durty Nelly’s then I have to so I’m going to be brief where Vaughan isn’t because she loves her some gay porn. Basically whenever you get a room at Durty Nelly’s you’re agreeing to allow them to film you for people who get off by watching other men have sex (note how Vaughan also fits into this category). Also, Caleb is all insecure and whines that he’s not sexy blah blah blah, Sarhaan reassures him and I die a little more on the inside.
The manager and part owner is Joe Sotheran, who joins the ranks of characters with no motivation or characterization, which is everyone not Caleb and Sarhaan…actually, include them in that, too. Sotheran says that no one saw Sarhaan and Caleb going at it, and I scream that’s not true because I’ve been subjected to 108 pages of them either fucking or thinking about fucking and it’s just not fair oh sweet zombie Jesus why me.
Sotheran offers Sarhaan and Caleb a contract to work at Nelly’s. And oh my god, Vaughan, for the love of everything good and wonderful in this world please tell me this isn’t going where I think it is. Tell me that for some contrived reason Caleb isn’t going to think Sarhaan doesn’t want him anymore and since he has no credits he has to take a job at Nelly’s and Sarhaan isn’t going to have to rescue his useless ass. If this is what happens then you are dead to me, Vaughan.
They go back to the ship, traveling through a series of airlocks because Vaughan remembered this book is supposed to be science-fiction and not gay porn. Nothing happens for a couple of pages, which is just shocking because this book is usually a thrill a minute. Back on the ship still ridiculously named Kai Xuwicha informs our unlikeable lovebirds that Bartok got kicked out of Nelly’s for harassing performers and trying to get a contract. If he wants to perform public sex in front of anonymous strangers that badly then maybe he should try being a horrible, whiny bitch like ODFH because apparently that’s what gets gay miners of the future hot.
Bartok was dragged back to this ship by the sheriff, and this speaks to the power, or lack thereof, of Vaughan’s prose that I have no idea if the sheriff is supposed to be a figure of speech or if there’s an actual sheriff on the space asteroid station of homosexual companions…I mean RaTS, who do not at all even remotely resemble the companions from Joss Whedon’s Firefly.
Sarhaan hangs back and Kai Xuwicha tells him that some dude named Alex is working at Nelly’s and Sarhaan acts all concerned and guilty and asks if Alex is doing okay. Hey, Vaughan, was I supposed to do some background reading for this book? Because this reveal would perhaps be more dramatic and effective if you gave us any hints about who the fuck Alex is. I’m just going to finish this bottle of Jack Daniels while you submit your answer to me in the form of an apology.
Sarhaan is all castigating himself for not getting Alex out of “there.” Kai Xuwicha tries to console Sarhaan by telling him it’s not his fault, and I continue to drink until I figure out what the hell they’re talking about. I may be put on the waiting list for a liver transplant before that happens.
After thanking Kai Xuwicha for once more making sure nothing Sarhaan does is ever his fault or comes with consequences, Sarhaan goes into the room where Caleb says he heard everything and he thinks he wants to know who Alex is. That makes two of us. Oh god, did I just agree with Caleb? Either I’m too drunk or not drunk enough. Either way I’m drinking some more until this, and by that I mean the entire book, goes away.
DUN DUN DUN ending: “I think I want to know who Alex is.”
In which there are pages and pages of exposition because our heroes are too damn stupid to figure anything out on their own, Sarhaan is guilty of rape, and he and the rest of the interchangeable soldiers were made by eugenics, which frankly I did not see coming at all because the absinthe has finally struck me blind
Without counting, because that would require effort this book does not deserve, this chapter is the longest without any porn being involved because Vaughan realized she needed to wrap up the plot and, once more, break our fucking heroes up oh god why does she hate me?
Deep breaths, Jayne. You have a lot to recap here. You can do this. Your friends Absinthe, Jagermeister, and Jack Daniels are here to help you through this.
But before we do I just want to say this: “He wasn’t okay. Cal ached inside and wondered how much more he could take” had me shouting “SHUT UP SHUT UP YOU STUPID SELFISH HORRIBLE PERSON I HATE YOU.” I swear to god if I have to sit through one more goddamned page of Caleb feeling sorry for himself I will find a way to break all the known laws of physics and reality to get my uncontrollable strangly hands on him.
And now for the first part of the giant exposition dump. Remember that super special resort alluded to in the first chapter? Yeah, from that one mention we were supposed to have somehow gleaned that Alex was involved. Truly Vaughan’s mastery of writing leaves me in awe.
So Sarhaan and Kai Xuwicha and D’abu were sent to Earthly Delights (my god, how clever) for some R&R for a job of Inuit killing well done. Alex, a RaTS, was assigned to Sarhaan and Kai Xuwicha. Yes, in that way. After a week apparently Sarhaan and Kai Xuwicha could not live without Alex and tried to get him out, but since everything was under surveillance and recorded they failed hilariously because the eugenics project gave them failgenes by mistake. Once more: Worse. Soldiers. Ever.
And, again, Vaughan really makes us care about Alex because she makes him a real person with descriptions like these: “He was sweet and funny. Sarcastic as hell. We all laughed a lot, I remember that.” Alex may not have a personality but already I like him more than ODFH.
Apparently Alex was on a drug called Pink Diamond, which is “perfect for keeping gay boys hard and receptive. Enough of that --especially if they combined it with Fire, or even alcohol --he’d be in no position to say no. To even want to.”
Um, Vaughan? You do realize you just basically said that Sarhaan and Kai Xuwicha raped Alex, right? It really doesn’t matter how much they cared about Alex because his ability to give consent was taken away. They raped him, but of course no one will call Sarhaan on this—Caleb goes so far as to say nothing is Sarhaan’s fault—and Sarhaan is still supposed to be “kind and loyal.” I know I’ve said it many times before but I still seriously hate this fucking fucking book.
After they left, they were sent a video of Alex being beaten and tortured and they knew that if they tried to contact him it would have made it worse, so our brave heroes just abandoned him to the torture and rape. But remember, everyone, Sarhaan is really loyal and kind and caring and generous, so it’s okay.
Vaughan seems to be implying that Sarhaan and Kai Xuwicha were set up, but to what purpose? To make them more pliable? To hold this over them? Hey, Jack, do you know? No? Well, let me drink you until you come up with an answer.
Caleb of course immediately thinks Sarhaan is in love with Alex and this is where he goes from being merely unlikeable to me trying to reach through the screen to choke the bitch out of him. Hey, Caleb, Alex was drugged and raped and tortured, which trumps your stupid, fucking selfish little love life, you awful, awful man. SHUT UP.
At least Sarhaan makes me hate him slightly less with this: “Kai’s letting me off the hook and he shouldn’t. He knows better. Neither should you, for that matter.” I don’t think I would ever say this, but word, Sarhaan, I agree with you. God, that feels weird.
We then switch to the next day when Caleb and Sarhaan meet with Alex. Unlike ODFH, Alex has actually managed to figure this conspiracy out. For a given value of “figured out” in that only Vaughan can feel smug for tying all her plot threads together while the rest of us are left confused and angry and drunk. This book is enabling my drinking.
After Kai Xuwicha and Sarhaan left, Alex got a new client, who he overheard talking on the sci-fi sounding comm. The guy talked to someone named Jim about the testing of a new product, but as phase two was being rolled out there were apparently problems with phase one. I’m assuming the problems are the dead prostitutes.
The product is a drug, which builds up over time and when it reaches a certain threshold, instead of being docile and eager, the effects flip and the test subjects “go into a rage.” They turn into reavers? Prostitute reavers? What?
It’s apparently easier to kill them then try to cure them and way easier than trying to explain why all these johns are going to the Hulk to satisfy their sexual needs. People started to notice all the dead prostitutes and even though most of the bodies were covered up the dead reaver/hulk prostitute disposal man in Havana got lazy. Apparently Jim and the client were looking for a way to make the problem go away but still keep the profit margin.
Um, Vaughan, can I talk to you for a moment? Okay, great, thanks. Just a couple of questions. Why was this being tested on prostitutes? Were the prostitutes being monitored in a lab or were they free range? If there’s a profit margin then I’m assuming they were going to sell their drugs, but who’s the target consumer here? Pimps who want to keep their prostitutes docile? More places like Earthly Delights? Does the Republic/an army want these drugs to keep their Inuit killing soldiers happy and docile so they’ll kill more ingenious populations? Are you going to pull another Joss Whedon and have the drug released on the entire population, and if so, do you realize that’s the entire plot of the Serenity movie you just stole? And if the Republic is so large and controlling and tyrannical they seriously couldn’t cover up some dead hookers? Also, why blame Sarhaan’s unit? While we’re on this topic, what the hell is the point of this entire book? Besides the porn, I mean.
Turns out Alex’s client was Lt. Colonel Stephen Thurmond, or as Sarhaan put it, “Our boss’s boss. Small world, huh?”
Yes, Sarhaan, it is a small, contrived world after all! So if Thurmond is your boss, were you set up because you defected? Also, why did you defect? Was it the great Inuit massacre of aught 6 that drove you to it? I wish I knew—that’s a lie; I don’t care. I have forty odd pages left and only one more handle of vodka to see me through and these questions are taking up valuable brain cells I could be killing with liquor.
Also, I would like to point out that Alex had to be brought in to explain everything because in 118 fucking pages all Caleb and Sarhaan were able to discover were that messy burn marks meant Sarhaan and his unit could not have shot the reaver prostitutes. And by “Caleb and Sarhaan” I mean "D’abu." Yeah, they are that goddamn stupid and useless.
Oh god, we’re not done yet. We have more exposition to get through. Back on the ship Caleb is finally useful in that he found where Thurmond is located on Earth. I’m guessing he used his super special sailor scout powers to google Thurmond. He also looped together poor dead forgotten Daphne’s notes with Thurmond’s past known whereabouts and blah blah blah ridiculous techno babble that is only included to showcase the sheer awesome brilliance that is Caleb, Our Dear Fucking Hero. I want to brick him in the face. Right in the face.
In short Jim is, drumroll, James Van Aucken! The James Van Aucken? The old school friend of Thurmond who has several close ties with governors and members of the High Council James Van Aucken? My god, I have no idea who that is! I’m also sure this would be more important/interesting/make sense if I had any idea what the fucking fuck the Republic actually is and what it actually does.
Sarhaan, as Vaughan’s puppet, has to kiss up to Caleb and ask how he figured it out so we can again see how fucking awesome and special Caleb is and how he is not, in fact, a selfish, whiny, awful human being. I hate everyone in this book.
Moving along with the exposition because Vaughan cannot take the time to construct a coherent narrative, the drugs were a byproduct of the Prometheus Project that created Sarhaan’s unit. Oh what could the project possibly be? The tension and anticipation are killing me! Or maybe that’s my liver shutting down.
Turns out Sarhaan and the others didn’t know they were created by eugenics. Unlike the blind and deaf man in Jersey, I did not see that coming at all. Also, I may have slept through this part because this non-reveal was obvious from the porn saturated beginning.
Sarhaan, I shit you not, accepts he was genetically engineered in the span of one paragraph. I hate this book.
There’s more information on the project that we never get to see, some talk about breeding people as animals and I think Vaughan disapproves of eugenics. She is such a brave writer to take a stand against that.
Sarhaan, understandably, is floored by this and is trying to come to terms with the fact he was bred like a horse (albeit a really, really stupid horse), but of course Caleb thinks Sarhaan’s just angry at him, and oh god what is he going to do because his entire misbegotten existence revolves around Sarhaan the most awesome man who ever awesomed in the entire history of awesome. Die in a fire. Caleb leaves and this exposition anvil finally stops beating me over the head and leaves me only mildly concussed and bleeding.
Text message of the chapter: -hopeless, inconsolable sobbing-
DUN DUN DUN ending: “Caleb was gone.” I wish I could escape this book that easily.
I still see that somehow you are sticking with me. I’m glad because I need someone to come to my Stephanie Vaughan And Off World Have Hurt Me support group. We meet bi-monthly at bars where the spite is bitter and the liquor never runs out.
Part 4 should be coming as soon as I regain consciousness. Oh sweet, kind alcohol induced blackout.