Damia: The stage name of French singer and actress Marie-Louise Damien, who passed away in 1978, and is entirely irrelevant to the rest of this review.
That’s because I’m reviewing “Damia,” a science-fiction novel by Anne McCaffrey set in the far future. You see, I apparently love these random pulp sci-fi stories, and this one caught my eye in the bookstore, so I picked it up. If I’m being honest, I entirely judged this book by its cover, which sports a gleaming red font for the title, a woman in a regal red dress sitting in what must be a very uncomfortable chair, and an adorable little fox.
Sometimes books like these turn out to be real gems (like an Intertops casino bonus), either in the sense that they provide a classic insight into the world of lesser-known authors, or else the stories are just fun. The question is, does “Damia” fall into either of these categories?
The bulk of the story follows Afra Lyons, a green-hued boy from the formal and aloof planet of Capella, although it occasionally jumps into the perspective of other characters. Afra is a T-4 telepath, capable of lifting objects with his mind and communicating with people on the other side of the planet. T-12 telepaths are the weakest, and T1-Primes are the most powerful. In this future society, these telepaths are common and have high standing among the populace.
While most Capellans are prim and proper to the point of being haughty, Afra dreams of going off-world and seeing what the universe has to offer. So he sends his resume to “The Rowan,” joins her space station, and never goes much beyond that ever again.
“The Rowan,” meanwhile, is the protagonist from Anne McCaffrey’s first novel in this series, also called “The Rowan.” The first half of “Damia” occurs during the events of “The Rowan,” although most of its plot points are resolved fairly quickly, and Rowan lives a long and happy life.
The plot of this book starts when Rowan steals her husband’s sperm without him knowing (somehow…) and impregnates herself, eventually giving birth to a daughter named “Damia.” Afra is recruited to be her Godfather, and we follow their relationship as they grow together… until Afra and Damia fall in love with each other. Wait, what?
Up until this point, Damia is written as a rather wholesome, slice-of-life romance story about the lonely Afra as he watches all his friends and love interests fall in love and get married. Afra ends up friend-zoned by Rowan and plays the third wheel to a lot of the relationships in the book he longingly searchers for his own soulmate. The book surprised me by side-stepping a love-triangle, and lets characters have genuine rapport.
Afra’s relationship to Damia, meanwhile, starts off as a fatherly, mentor style relationship. Even pubescent Damia’s attempts to charm Afra come off as the hormonal lust of a teenager, and Afra, as the responsible adult he is, avoids and discourages it.
Yet, when the book ends (and Damia is well into her twenties), Damia and Afra proclaim their love for each other, and… couple. Even the other characters are shocked and weirded out by this, and point out the twenty-four(!) year age difference between the two. What is with these obscure sci-fi books and their bizarre tastes? At least it doesn’t condone pedophilia (Looking at you, “Exiles at the Well of Souls”!).
Still… I wouldn’t exactly be happy with the idea of dating someone who changed my diapers.
Other than how the romance plays out, this romance book is actually quite enjoyable. I really enjoyed the setting, and I was immersed by how the author incorporated telepaths into her universe. Details like manners and social responsibilities for telepaths really sell the idea that these telepaths are an accepted and functioning aspect of society.
I like that the book is self-aware enough to point out the problems with Afra’s relationship, but it kind of glances over them with a nod and a wink. Who does Afra think he is, Woody Allen?
Aside from Afra’s relationships (or lack thereof), the only other major event of the book is the arrival of its villain- a plotline that appears and is resolved in less than ten pages. For a story with interstellar travel, alien societies, and telepathic people, it doesn’t give it’s characters all that much to do. In fact, the book spends its final chapter dragging out a setup for a sequel that sounds far more interesting than this book.
5/10 A romance sci-fi novel in a cool setting. I can’t really get behind the central romance, but the book doesn’t cross any major lines. Other than that, “Damia” is a wholesome slice-of-space-life that I wish had more substance to it.