In order to succeed, fiction must have story sustaining conflict that keeps characters’ backs against the wall as they fight against the bad guys, against themselves, against god, against whatever can be thrown at them. Conflict needs to rise as the story progresses, but it also needs to rise in believable-in-keeping-with-the-story fashion. A man, for example, who wakes to find a price on his life, might then flee only to have every avenue of escape cut off: his car gone, his back accounts drained, his network of support suddenly vanished. It all follows and makes it harder for the character to fight his way out of a bad situation. What wouldn’t make a lot of sense, or remain in the story vein, would be for that man to then start worshipping the pack of purple rhinos that materialized on the corner of 8th and Main. Purple rhinos would make an interesting facet of another story but this man on the run, trying to save his own life, has his hands full. Conflict is only good if it’s believable and cohesive, and it’s the lack of believable cohesion that plagues Susan Grant’s Your Planet, or Mine.
Grant doesn’t want for ideas when it comes to keeping her characters occupied and in trouble, what she doesn’t display is an understanding of when enough is enough. Jana Jasper is the youngest member of a political dynasty. As a California senator, all she’s ever wanted to do is serve the public and live up to the family name. The greatest way to fulfill her life of public servitude presents itself when a very fine looking alien, Cavin of Far Star, accosts her in the grocery store and tells her all about an impending interstellar invasion. To this point Jana is already drowning in strife: her spotless political family’s ethics have come under fire (an above board family of politicians does not exactly reek of believability); and Jana is battling black market Russian caviar, the Russian mafia, and, of all things, the declining sturgeon population. Which of these story points — the alien in the grocery store or Jana’s political career — is the pack of purple rhinos is anyone’s guess.
Cavin isn’t the only alien on Earth, there’s also a REEF, a Terminator like being who is half human, half engineered machine who is wholly out to assassinate Cavin. It is while being pursed by the REEF that Cavin is able to convince Jana that he isn’t just any alien, he’s her alien, the one she met as a child but thought was an imaginary friend. The one aspect of Your Planet, or Mine that isn’t mired in conflict, is the love story. Jana and Cavin meet at 9 and 12 respectively when Cavin’s father is collecting data from Earth to determine if it’s a planet suitable for Coalition (the good guys of the universe) occupation. Jana helps Cavin out of a tree, Cavin returns a pet pig to Jana, they play together and somehow form a deathless bound that neither forgets and Cavin goes on to builds his life around. Cavin becomes a Coalition solider and rises through the ranks solely to know when the Coalition plans to invade Earth (That part about the Coalition being the good guys? Forget that.) so he can save Jana.
If this story were to ever work, it would need to be seamless and air tight. As it is, it hemorrhages believability at every turn. Jana and Cavin fall in love as children and their feelings never change, not through growing up, life experiences, or simply having a bit of adult perspective on their childhoods. Within minutes of reuniting, not only does Jana swallow the alien invasion story, but the two profess their endless, undying love for one another. At this point, what is there to root for, what compelling reason is there to read the more than 2/3rds of remaining story? The reader knows Earth will not be invaded, it’s too far fetched a concept for this style of book, so that threat is never real. Likewise, the REEF will not succeed in killing Cavin because, generally speaking, killing the hero is a bad idea. Whether the Jaspers’ recover their good name as politicians is arbitrary because what is the good name of a politician worth?
Additionally, in Grant’s universe, Earth is one of thousands of planets that have all miraculously evolved homo sapiens, and those humans share the same genetic code. That in itself is laughably unlikely in scientific terms, but then so are vampires and werewolves. If the reader is to believe that the universe is peopled with people, how then is it possible that the Coalition and the universe’s bad guys, the Drakken (and by bad guys, that means worse than the Coalition), have managed to battle one another for control and supremacy without Earth being any the wiser? Why hasn’t either side taken any interest in Earth prior to the start of this book? There are too many questions without answers, too many actions without believable motivation, and too much suspension of disbelief required for even the most mundane aspects of this story to work.
Jana and Cavin proceed through the plot determined to stop the invasion. Their plan A is to visit the Roswell crash site so Cavin can fire up the spaceship that landed there in the forties and use its signal to make the super-advanced Coalition believe that Earth has a fleet of space worthy fighters. The idea is reminiscent of Independence Day, but unlike that movie, the alien threat in Your Planet, or Mine is never real. The reader never sees the fleet of ships bearing down on Earth intent on occupation, there is no first wave of invaders. There is only Cavin’s word.
If The Terminator and Independence Day could spawn a child of a story that was the antithesis of everything that was good about those movies, the result would likely be Your Planet, or Mine. Between the pending alien invasion, the assassin on the hunt, the Russian mafia, black market caviar and a love story that is the worst sort of forgone conclusion, Your Planet, or Mine is an aggravating, joyless read.
You can visit Susan here and purchase this book here and here.