Awakened in the middle of the night by a future version of herself, Kris Davenport is given a mission; go forward in time to save the world and his life. Of course, her future self doesn’t tell her who he is, just sends her into the abyss and straight into an alien invasion.He turns out to be ConRad Smith, the callous, untrusting Commander of Earth’s army and the world’s last defense. There’s only one way to know for sure if this strange woman is an alien spy, slice her throat. Except, he didn’t anticipate the heat he would feel as he interrogates the hot-tempered, warm-blooded woman. For a man whose sole focus has been survival, she’s more temptation than he can handle. But a world on the brink of destruction leaves no room for love; and time is running out.Bibliophile is probably going to smack me, but I feel like I really could have enjoyed this book if it weren’t a romance novel. Which, you know, is a funny and probably telling thing to say about a romance novel, but there it is. Dark Future has an interesting concept, some nice snark, and an amusingly awkward heroine who flails rather realistically in her new setting. Unfortunately it’s also got her relationship with ConRad Smith, and that just sort of ruins everything.
I actually kind of liked our heroine, Kris Davenport – quite a bit for about the first half of the book, and then on and off for the rest. I think the her character was intended, at least partially, to be a subversion of the action girl trope, and Klein does this very well. At the start of the story, after she’s been thrown out of her house and into a post-apocalyptic future by her future self, Kris is a mess and a bit of failure. No spontaneous action hero here: when the going gets rough, Kris gets paralyzed with fear, nearly pisses herself in terror, and generally acts like any other normal person would if put into this kind of awful situation.
It probably sounds a bit strange coming from me, but I really liked this. I didn’t expect Kris to be Sarah Conner right off the bat, and she wasn’t billed as such. She doesn’t have to be a fearless action chick to be bad-ass – I liked that she made mistakes, that she had to overcome her terror and self-doubt to function in this new reality. Grace under pressure didn’t come naturally, and being a surgery intern didn’t magically make her a competent field medic, but she did her best, she got through it, and she was allowed to save some lives a couple of times.
I also thought it was kind of funny that she was genre-savvy enough to recognize that she was living through a cliche-ridden sci-fi story, but utterly failed to navigate it very well because she “hates sci-fi”.
On the other hand, I found most of her behavior regarding obligatory love interest ConRad troubling and contrived. The romance follows the usual Alpha male relationship dynamic: the guy is totally overbearing, possessive, territorial, condescending, bossy, and just generally dickish, while the woman gets in some spunky one-liners and puts up some lip-service resistance here and there while being inordinately sexually attracted to him the entire time, so that she can come into the relationship with the illusion of agency and integrity and COMMON SENSE, without it getting in the way of the SEX. Sex which is totally NOT AT ALL rape-y, because no matter how much she protests, she’s actually totally into him and wants it bad.
I’m not kidding, either, that’s how nearly EVERY SINGLE sexual encounter between Kris and ConRad goes during the “courting” period, and it put me off the romantic aspect almost immediately. The first time they get physical, they’ve known each other for all of two minutes, during which ConRad has has thrown Kris in lock-up, verbally abused her, and accused her of being an alien replicant spy or some shit. His terrorizing interrogation is used to build the sexual tension between them – he physically menaces her, pins her against the wall, sniffs and licks her to test for “human”, and when that doesn’t satisfy him, slits her throat.
No really, he slits her throat. And it’s TOTALLY SEXY, YO.
Of course, it’s not fatal. He cuts just deep enough to draw blood, which apparently proves she’s human, and then lets her go. But seriously. Guy slits her throat, and then before the blood is even dry, they’re going at it, and she’s writing up against him, letting him finger-bang her, and this is how our romance kicks off.
Ahahaha, no really, I love these kinds of guys. SEXY!!11!1!!!11!
Which he DOES, the second time they almost get down. He finds her asleep in his bed (which she still doesn’t know is his), and initiates the sex by fondling her while she sleeps. Because, you know, consent is for pussies.
Their last “courting” encounter is after a near-fatal alien attack, and though they actually stop to discuss the consent thing this time before he actually penetrates her, the foreplay kicks off with ConRad getting all up in Kris’ business even after she’s told him “no” and retreated in fear. Remember guys, just because she said “no” once doesn’t mean she doesn’t want it. Perseverance is key!
The thing is, this obviously doesn’t make any sense as the basis for a relationship, not even in a slap-slap, kiss-kiss sort of way. Kris doesn’t know this guy. She makes a passing remark about how he’s not even her type. He saves her from being eaten by an alien, yes, but then he terrorizes her, accuses her of being a spy, throws her into lockup, molests her, cuts her throat, and marks her as his possession without explaining a goddamn thing. This isn’t a “sexy” situation. Kris has no reason to be anything but furious and/or terrified of this man, and for her to willingly engage in a romantic relationship with him after this is nonsensical.
Sooooo of course, we’re given a work-around: deja-vu. Yes, from the moment they meet, Kris feels a vague sense of attachment, familiarity, and affection for ConRad. She vaguely remember kissing him, sexing him, even the pain of losing him, because…time travel?
Okay, even in the context of the time-travel story, this doesn’t make sense. Yes, Kris is caught in a time loop, and has apparently repeated her trip to and from ConRad’s world several times. But at this stage in the loop, the Kris we follow has never met ConRad. Her future self is the one that’s in love with him – present!Kris knows nothing about him, has never even known that he could possibly exist, so how, exactly, does she “remember” him? Osmosis?
Even when you’re talking wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey paradoxical travel through time-loops, this sort of auto-love sticks out. It’s just there to grease the wheels for the ConRad/Kris romance, even though the simpler solution would probably be to just not make him so much of an asshole in the first place.
ConRad is such an unrepentant asshole, too. Even in the middle of the book, after he’s had the chance to be all soft and vulnerable and damaged – because of course, that’s what lies underneath all that “coldness”, it just took the right woman to bring it out – he eviscerates any chance you had of softening towards him by continuing to be a raging dick. His treatment of the female characters in the book is awful, and even after you’d have expected him to make progress, he continues to infantilize them, denying their right to make decisions or think for themselves, while Kris just kind of shrugs it off, like “Boys!“.
Granted, much of this can be attributed to the world that ConRad has lived in his entire life, which is admittedly utterly awful. If you were so inclined, I’m sure you could easily absolve him of his sexism by declaring that he’s just the product of a society that’s supposed to be fucked up. That seems to be what the book wants you to do. But for me, ConRad was such a douche from the start that “product of his culture” means absolutely nothing to me in terms of making the character likable. Nothing made me *want* to like him.
That being said, the world is pretty shitty. This is a future in which aliens have culled down the human population considerably, especially the female half. These aliens have discriminating palates, okay, and women are yummier. But no, really, it’s to facilitate a feminist nightmare of a future, run and populated almost exclusively by men, where women are either stock, bought and sold for fucking and birthing, or “goddesses”, isolated from human contact and used as human weapons.
Unmakred SPOILERS abound
The horrifying nature of the situation is pretty much the point, so it’s hard to get mad about the world in general, as far as women go. What gets me more is the treatment of homosexuality. There are exactly two instances of it, and neither are good – the first is when ConRad mentions how older teenage boys make a practice of raping younger, more vulnerable ones (which almost included him) in a frenzied desperation the night before they’re shipped out to the frontlines to be cannon fodder. The second is the presence of Syon, a male Elder who fell in love with ConRad – when he was twelve. Guess who the villain is?
It’s troubling to see that the only two instances of homosexuality in the book are twisted, predatory, and worse, involve children. There’s no positive, or at the very least neutral portrayal there to combat that, and it’s generally implied that most, if not all, of the men on the base would go for Kris if they had the chance, willing or not.
Icky, dark dark world.
At any rate, for a book set post-hostile-alien-takeover, Dark Future is pretty light on the actual alien stuff. We get a few skirmishes, but they don’t actually provide the ultimate conflict, and we end up knowing little to nothing about them. The creatures we do see are animalistic and base, leading one to wonder exactly how they managed space travel and planetary conquest to begin with. But that’s outside the focus of the book, I suppose.
No, the plot is centered around Kris, her damage, and her relationship with ConRad, which all ties in to – what else – a Prophecy. The Big Bads here are not the aliens, but the Elders, human men who use a sort of semi-Biblical spiel about evil technology and the sins of mankind to explain the presence of the aliens, and keep the people in line. They also may or may not be killing off female children to keep the population under their thrall. OPPRESSION! The only hope that the few remaining humans have for a “better world” is a Prophecy handed down through generations, which foretells the arrival of a Chosen One who will ~save them all~.
Ignoring how utterly generic a concept that is, the whole Prophecy thing bugs me up and down for a number of reasons. Of course, Kris ends up being the “Chosen One” who will “save the lives of men” and “incite a small nation to rebellion.” Theoretically that’s all well and good. She can John Conner the shit out of these aliens, or Elders, or whoever she needs to to save the world. That’d be awesome!
But of course, that’s not what happens. No, Kris’ role is pretty well-defined, and there will be no ass-kicking here, thank you very much.
With the wisdom of old, she will save the lives of men and drag the doings of the evil ones into the light. And they will hate her and seek to kill her. But a might warrior will be called upon to save her, and he will become an outlaw to her rescue. And she will incite a small nation to rebellion. A final sign will be given to all of you, so that you may know that she is The One. A miraculous birth will be bestowed upon her. This sign will be hers, and hers alone, so all may know she is The Chosen One. By means of her body, she will save the world.
Kris’ important role is not that of a leader, a warrior, or even a healer. Her important, prophecy-fulfilling role is that of a mother, and even that, EVEN THAT, is not about how special the child she’s going to birth is, but about the circumstances surrounding the pregnancy itself. The people don’t gather around Kris for anything she does – they gather around ConRad, because he’s a noble, respected Commander who’s gone against the establishment that oppresses them. Kris is there to meet the requirements of the Prophecy with her time-travel and magical birth, so that the rebels can ~believe~ that they are fulfilling the Prophecy that has driven them. KRIS IS REDUCED TO THE FUNCTION OF HER REPRODUCTIVE PARTS.
It just slays me that in this book, in this sci-fi gritty dark torture-filled space action book with ALIENS, in this story where society has been completely obliterated, where a time-traveling lady doctor’s life could go ANY WHICH WAY, it still comes down to this. A woman falls in love. A woman gets married. A woman has babies. The end.
I just, just, really? I honestly didn’t expect it to go down like that. I mean, Kris is TORTURED, for Chrissakes. Tortured for weeks! She’s beaten, starved, maybe raped, it wasn’t really clear, and this big noise is made about how she survives by pure strength of will, and by nurturing her hatred for ConRad, who she feels abandoned her. Noise is made about how she toughens up, how she does push ups even after beatings, and she seriously has like a training montage that leads you to believe that she’s going to become this raging force to be reckoned with, and I thought, “Okay, this is it, Kris is going to train, bide her time, and then save her own ass. She’s going to ambush the shit out of these fuckers and break out of prison. This is going to change her.”
But nope. Not really. She toughens up physically, but ConRad is the one to rescue her from her torture. Her life-sustaining “hatred” for him goes absolutely nowhere, and not long after they’ve escaped and she’s conscious and physically recovered, they’re together and sexing. After everything she’s been through, she’s still dependent on him, and still incapable of taking care of herself. She marries ConRad, and allows him to stow her away in a “Sanctuary” for women, so that he can pursue the Big Bad Elders by himself.
The only decisions Kris actually makes for herself during the second half of the book are to save ConRad after he’s been captured by the Elders – which she does, but without killing the Big Bad Elder responsible for her torture – and then to trick ConRad into escorting her back to the time-tunnel that takes her home, so that she can save the life of her unborn child.
But you know what? I actually might have been cool with that ending. I think that if Kris had just wound up in the past, raising her child, trying to prevent the titular dark future, the story would have held more weight, would have felt more…complete. For a minute, I even thought that the Prophecy required this ending. I thought we’d go all Terminator, with Kris’ daughter becoming some sort of great scientist or military leader who would prevent the alien invasion or something. And that would have been fine, as far as I’m concerned. Instead, the book trips over itself to pull a great big deux ex machina out of it’s ass to facilitate a goddamned “happy ending”.
Kris makes a few attempts to avert the events that precede the invasion. She mostly fails, then actually manages to accidentally inspire the technology that facilitates “first contact”, which I’m torn between finding hilarious and groan-worthily incompetent. But THEN, instead of persevering, instead of finding a way to make her life work, and matter, instead of, y’know, raising her child in what she knows to be a relatively safe environment, she makes the decision TO GO BACK.
I don’t, I just don’t even. This decision made no sense to me. Apparently she decides that her role was never to prevent the invasion, but to fulfill the Prophecy and thus give ConRad’s rebellion motivation to fight, so that they can take back the world from the Elders and make it a better place. I don’t, just, ugh WHATEVER.
So anyway, she goes back, throws her now nine-months-pregnant self down the time-hole, endangering both her life and the life of her child, and…winds up back in the future, about thirty seconds after she left the first time. Ahahah, you see, you see, full-term pregnancy in like a day, we have a MIRACLE BIRTH, Y’ALL.
What really got me once the story turned in this direction, though, was that she didn’t go back *for ConRad*. She expected him to be dead, slaughtered by the aliens who’d cornered them when she escaped. She went back to be a symbol, and the wisdom in that is debatable, but still, y’know, it was about something bigger. It wasn’t man-tivated.
And yet THE MINUTE Kris arrives and finds out ConRad is still alive, that changes. Despite the fact that they’re cornered by man-eating aliens and Elders who want to kill her, despite the fact that her plan is ruined, despite the fact that she’s now in a situation where her CHILD’S LIFE is IN DANGER, she’s okay with death. Because ConRad is still alive. She’s thrilled to be with him again, they cuddle, they have a quick sexing, and then, instead of fighting or coming up with a strategy to save both herself and her UNBORN CHILD, Kris and ConRad just give up. Prophecy be damned, daughter be damned, they give up. And it’s all okay, because at least they’re TOGETHER, and Kris’ daughter will never have to suffer in this AWFUL, AWFUL WORLD.
WHAT? WHAT? WHY DID YOU EVEN COME BACK, THEN? WHAT? HOW DOES THIS MAKE ANY SENSE? WHY WHAT WHY WAHAT AKLNGKNDALFL:DASLDNKFLNDSKL:NF
I just ohhhhh my God it hurts. Reading that HURT. Of course, they don’t actually die. They get saved at the last minute by ConRad’s platoon, and Kris gets to be a symbol and raise her daughter in this AWFUL AWFUL WORLD with her loving dickhead husband and inspire a rebellion and HAPPILY EVER AFTER, and I just wanted to chuck things at other things, like maybe this book at other copies of this book.
I really, really didn’t expect to be as frustrated as I was with this book, but it just threw me for a loop. My expectations were low to begin with, and then they were raised, and then they went back down and up and down and up again, and then just when I thought it was safe to expect something more from this book than the standard romance fare, it took a nosedive. I feel like Klein could have done something really cool and subversive here, but the goddamned romance and all its trappings got in the way, rendering the book ultimately joyless for me.