Trigger Warning: Dark Space deals with rape in a very problematic way. The F-word, homophobic slur, is also used excessively through out the story. [scroll to the bottom of the review for details.]
If you like to read books about happy gay people this isn’t the book for you. While there may be a happily ever after at the end of the long bloody death march through the valley of homophobic self hate, I couldn’t make it to the end to find out. Nobody should EVER have to wade through this much hate to get to a happy ending, not in life and surely not in romantic fiction.
Dark Space isn’t a bad book, I actually think it’s pretty good, but it wasn’t the book I expected based on the genre (Science Fiction & Space Opera, LGBT). While the central relationship in the story is between two men, one of whom is gay, the other seems more demisexual than gay or bi. Which is fine too, but his constant gay panic, and use of homophobic slurs wore on me. Not to mention I got sick and tired of seeing a gay character constantly apologizing* for his lover having to deal with his homosexuality. It is technically a “m/m” story it is not a gay positive one.
[*I’m sure that someone will argue that it is reasonable for a straight person to be grossed out or horrified by having to deal with the subconscious sexual fantasies of a gay person. Bullshit! A gay person should NOT have to apologize for their own personal thoughts, just because someone else is invading their subconscious mind. They have a right to their internal sexual thoughts. The idea that they should have to apologize to a straight person for their their own natural, healthy sexual thoughts is oppressive, shaming and homophobic.]
I understand that this story is set in an oppressive military atmosphere (though it could be argued that given cultural shifts happening in the Western world these homophobic attitudes might be all but gone in the future presented in this story). However, the homophobia seemed excessive, to the point that it felt like it was being hyped-up for the sake of angst and titillation. Especially, because it is mentioned over and over again, in case we forgot about it for more than two pages.
There were also issues, at least in the start of the book, with an excessive amount of colloquialism. It's jarring to see so many modern terms, phrases and references in story set so far in the future. The pacing of the story was painfully slow too, but all of this more of a technical issue that a good editor could have help fixed.
Aside from that, I really liked the setting, the world building and the aliens. The Faceless were fascinating, if a bit under explored for my taste, but the relationship was the focus of the story. I also like the hints of classism both in the human and military worlds. That felt realistic. It created an complexity to Garrett and Cam’s relationship and a bit of power shift, that I wish had been explored more. To be fair, it might have been, but I couldn’t be bothered to slog through to find it.
At the end of the day, that was my problem. After wading through page after page of gay panic, homophobia, rape apologizing, not to mention the painfully slow pacing of the story, I finally quit. I don’t usually try this hard at reading a book, but this was a gift from a friend, who highly recommended it, and I really wanted to zero-in on why I didn’t enjoy it.
Here it is, while this story revolves around an emotional and sexual relationship between two men, one of whom is gay, the central POV character of the story isn’t gay. While I identify him as demisexual, culturally speaking Garrett is straight. The narrative of this story is about overcoming obstacles to accept homosexual love and while that’s a valid story, it’s one that stigmatizes being gay for the sake of a sexual taboo, i.e. fetishizing.
In the world of fan fiction Dark Space would have a whole host of tags specifying the type of story it is, like dub-con, rape-fic, homophobia, gay-panic, angst, etc. I do not associate any negatives with the use of these tropes in a story that clearly states they’re present and especially if it’s clear this is an erotica story targeting a heterosexual reader (or a reader who enjoys the homophobic angst slash fic, which is a thing some LGBTQ people enjoy too). The reasons this isn’t LGBT for me, is that homosexuality is a plot device, not a central point of the story.
Gay is the kind of sex happening in the story, but not the dominant culture in the world, nor the one of the POV character. This isn’t Cam’s story. It’s Garrett’s story about loving Cam, and there’s a difference. A notable one is how homosexuality is viewed as “other” as much as the culture and sexuality of the alien race. In fact, the presentation of gay sex is done hand-in-hand with alien sex. Also, gay sex is wrapped up in rape, and trauma as much as it is salved with love, and understanding. Again, that’s a narrative that is about accepting homosexuality, not it being who and what you are. It’s an outside view of being gay, not an inward one. More so because of the toxic homophobic atmosphere in the story.
This has left me to contemplate the nature of some of m/m romance and slash fan fiction. Specifically, erotica that plays on the titillating taboo of gay sex in a homophobic world. I've enjoyed these kinds of stories in the past, but after reading them for decades it's begun to lose it's appeal, especially when it in ends up regurgitating hateful/harmful shit about being gay, or different in any way.
Dark Space is a pretty good science fiction novel featuring gay sex, and an interesting relationships between two young men. It will likely appeal to fans of science fiction and slash, who don't mind rape and homophobic slurs. But I don't recommend it to readers sensitive to the triggers I've mentioned, or any young gay men looking positive views of themselves. They deserve stories where being gay isn't a burden.
[Trigger Warning: There are instances where the situation presented in the book is non-consensual sex, where the victim is terrified and unwilling, clearly rape. Yet the victim insists that another character not “use that word” because his rapist didn’t intend to hurt him, and didn’t understand the nuances of consent. NO! It was rape, and all the other rationalizing and excuses are bullshit that feeds real world beliefs that shifts the blame from rapists to their victims.
I would have felt better about this, if there had been a counter argument present in the story, but there wasn’t. Worse yet this rape victim is defending his rapist to another rape victim. I understand that the intent might have meant to show the contrast between violent rape and rape resulting from miscommunication or lack of it, but that by definition is still rape (i.e. date rape). The implication is that if a rapists doesn’t speak the same language or comes from a different culture than their victim, forceable non-consensual sodomy isn’t rape. What the actual fuck?!
Also, the F-word, homophobic slur, was used over 15 times (I did a search to confirm) in the story and not effectively. It was tossed around without care or intent, to the point that it gave the impression that it isn’t a horribly disgusting and offensive thing to say to a gay person. In fact, Garrett uses it jokingly in an intimate moment with Cam, who doesn’t seem at all upset. In fact, he actually laughs. This happens towards the end of the book, and pretty much implies that homophobic slurs are totes okay if you love someone. Which isn't just WRONG, but offensively so.]