Out of the Blue by Janice Sims
(Arabesque/BET Books, $4.99, PG) ISBN: 0-7860-0596-3
****
Affair of the Heart, a 1996 story about a female veterinarian set in Kentucky's horse country, and "To Love Again," a second chance story in Arabesque's 1997 Valentine's Day anthology, are my two favorite Janice Sims romances. Out of the Blue is her third novel. Sims' latest romance is a contemporary fantasy set in Key West, Florida, and the seas off the Russian coast. It is a slight departure from what her fans have come to expect.

Gaea Maxwell grew up in Florida and always loved the water. Gaea was able to convert that childhood interest into a successful career as a marine biologist at Reed Oceanographic Institution. She was one of few Black scientists in the field. "It never occurred to her that marine biology was a field few other African-Americans would venture into. But now sometimes, she found herself hoping to see someone who looked like her looking back at her. That was why, seeing that man on the deck of the Trickster was such a pleasant surprise."

The "pleasant surprise" on the other ship was corporate attorney Micah Cavanaugh. Gaea and Micah meet and, over dinner, discover their similar backgrounds and interests. Both grew up "on the fringe of great wealth" and freely enjoyed its advantages. Within 30 minutes of their meeting, they also discover a strong mutual attraction. Micah says he's "moonstruck." But, even in their light-hearted banter, Gaea is ever the scientist. She wants to analyze the data: "Are you coming on to me? Because if you are, you have to be less subtle. I'm a scientist, and I deal in measurable quantities."

Micah's godfather, millionaire Thaddeus Powers, wants Gaea to join the faculty of a small predominately Black college on Long Island and bolster its biology department. The offer presents Gaea with a chance to motivate more African-American students to consider careers in the sciences. She finds both Micah and the job offer very intriguing. ,p> There is, of course, a complication: Gaea's current boss and former fiancé, Xavier Cross. The engagement ended when Gaea found out about of his affair with a student. Although it has been five months since she broke off with him, he refuses to acknowledge it. Gaea is under contract to the institution and Xavier he heads the department in which she works. He is not beyond professional blackmail to get her back. When all else fails, he manipulates the data:

"Her reaction to his infidelity had been unexpected. She was a scientist and should have known his sexuality was the result of a chemical reaction and physical need, and not based on her definition of love, which also puzzled him. She had some foolish notion that because her parents and grandparents had enjoyed happy, affair-free marriages, that she should follow in their exalted footsteps. She knew the statistics: In the nineties, one in every two marriages ended in divorce. So why hold him up to such strict standards? The woman wasn't behaving like the scientist he knew and coveted...."
Out of the Blue is part contemporary romance, part romantic fantasy. Janice Sims has stepped out on a big career limb with Out of the Blue. There probably are more African-Americans marine biologists than published Black authors writing science fiction. (Octavia Butler is perhaps the best known.) To attempt a Black fantasy romance is a really gutsy move on Sims' part.

She wisely develops the relationship between Micah and Gaea as a straight-forward, no-nonsense romance. They are attracted to each other, establish ground rules and proceed with the evolution of the romance – despite the obvious distractions. The plotting of the love story and the characterizations are the novel's biggest strengths.

The romantic fantasy portion of the novel involves a rare bottle-nosed dolphin, the likes of which Gaea has only encountered twice. When she observes the dolphin metamorphose into human form, she is "thrust into a mystery rife with supernatural undertones" and uncovers a plot to create a master race. Out of the Blue's romantic fantasy subplot presents some very intriguing possibilities the author attempts to explore. However, the villain wasn't quite sinister enough to make the threat menacing. As a result, the characters' reactions to it are somewhat staid. The novel also left a handful of questions I had unresolved by the novel's end.

That said, Out of the Blue, is an interesting departure for author Janice Sims. I think it is worth exploring.

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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