Catch the Lightning by Catherine Asaro
(Tor, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-812-55102-8
****
Readers who like hard science-fiction as well as romance have reason to rejoice. Relative newcomer Catherine Asaro has crafted a tale of time-travel, deceit, and romance. Catch the Lightning could be a harbinger of crossover sci-fi to come.

Young Tina Pulivok lives in Los Angeles of 1987, but it's a world of gangs, drugs, and desperation. One night she is rescued from thugs by a strange, handsome man named Althor. It turns out he's a Jagernaut, a pilot from another time and place, lost on Earth. His ship, Jag, must be located. Althor's life is intricately bound with the ship; they are symbiotic.

Tina is overwhelmed by Althor, so much so that she offers him her virginity that night and they begin a strange love affair. Althor needs to find his Jag, however (great play on words there by the author; hundreds of years in the future, guys still want a Jag) and it's locked up tight on an Air Force base, being examined by the military who discovered it.

Tina, part Mayan, and Althor, more machine than human, form an alliance with some of Tina's friends to steal the Jag and help Althor return to his home planet and time. Tina finds she can't leave him, and decides to leave with him. Little does she know that her genetic heritage may be the only thing that can save Althor's people. And Althor, who has never loved before, finds he can't let Tina go.

I enjoyed this book. The leads were original; Tina is only seventeen and Althor almost fifty, but due to the difference in their lifespans, they aren't that far apart. The symbiosis of Althor and Jag, the thinking ship, was interesting. And there are enough good guys and bad guys to keep the action moving. <

My only complaint is that at points the author lapsed into technical explanations that jerked me out of the flow of the story. Catherine Asaro is a physicist, and the complex terminology is no doubt second nature to her, but there were passages where I wanted to skip ahead to get back to Tina and Althor. For example, a sudden eight-page explanation of the genetic patterns of Althor's people didn't seem to fit; it was like a commercial break in the middle of an engrossing movie. Less would have been more, there.

And that's one of the challenges of merging sci-fi with romance. Sci-fi, for the most part, is about things: machines, worlds, spacecraft; romance is about an intimate relationship between two people. Hard to make it mesh, sometimes, and the more technical the sci-fi, the harder it gets. Few can achieve it and make it seem effortless.

But Catherine Asaro is on the right track. And there are sci-fi lovers who won't blink twice at the techno-talk. All in all, Catch the Lightning hooked me and made me care about the characters, and that's what every reader wants. Kudos to Catherine Asaro for bringing hard science-fiction into the realm of romance, and doing it with style.

--Cathy Sova

DON'T MISS.... Catherine Asaro's hilarious account of her mother-in-law's first encounter with Catch the Lightning!



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