This review is based on the first three stories in the Keep the Stars Running anthology: The Prince and the Programmer, About a Bot, and The Aurora Conspiracy. I found I had the same thoughts and concerns about all three of these initial stories and decided not to continue on with reading the last two. The blurb for this anthology states that these are stories about the men that keep things running behind the scenes. That is exactly true and that is what the stories are about. It was like being taken for a day on the job and being at work with the characters and there was little to no relationship building or world building in the first three stories. Please note, my rating reflects only the first three stories that I read and reviewed below as I did not read the other two.
The Prince and the Programmer by Cassandra Pierce
Growing up without a family, Jasno Erys lives the life of an indentured servant. Indebted to the government for taking him in, Jasno was trained as a food synthesizer technician. He knows he can make the food taste better, but creativity is not a job requirement. When Prince Darex calls in a repair, Jasno is mistaken for the surly prince and kidnapped. His kidnappers were hired by none other than Prince Tergus, Darex’s ex. With Tergus still in love with Darex and Jasno falling for Tergus, can the way to a man’s heart truly be through culinary delights?
Earth is an ancient relic, so we are told in this story. Jasno had my empathy at first. He is alone, has no family, and his job requirements leave little time for friends. There is no world building in this story. We are only told of different locations and different planetary systems and we are simply told who is a prince and who is not. The main focus of the story is the food synthesizers that have been programmed to put out horrid tasting food. That is where Jasno comes in to shake up everyone’s taste buds. There are a few areas of the story told from Jasno’s point of view, but for the most part, the story reads from no one’s point of view and is just being told to us. There was basic dialog and the story read as a YA story, although it is not specifically tagged as such. There was no relationship building, no sexual tension between the characters, and no character development for Tergus. When Tergus makes decisions, we are not shown anything leading up to his choices and there was nothing built upon to connect him to Jasno, the reader, or the story overall.
About a Bot by Andrea Speed
Tahir is the chief maintenance officer of the galactic force station he lives on. He knows it’s a polite title for the janitor he sees himself as, but he is fine with his work. He is mostly left alone as most people think he is eccentric as he devotes his spare time to robot rehabilitation. The bots he fixes up all maintain a certain personality and have become his pets. When his supervisor tells him he will be interviewed, the reporter is none other than Jorian Sanchez, his school crush. Filled with the continued anxiety that consumes him, Tahir strives to show Jorian that he is a stronger man now and what better opportunity then when the station is attacked.
This story is a day in the life of what Tahir does at work. He has a knack for rescuing and rehabilitating older bots and they are his constant companions. When Jorian arrives, Tahir is determined to show the man how much he has changed. In this story, the guys actually have a date, or half of one anyone, before a mysterious alien attacks the station. There is no world building and there is no heat or chemistry between Tahir and Jorian. Tahir saves the day as apparently his “super power” is his love for his bots and being able to save the station by talking to one (count it: one) alien described as terrifying. All just part of the job apparently and that was all there was to this one.
The Aurora Conspiracy by Lexi Ander
Regin lives on a space station orbiting an uninhabitable planet. After an explosion several years earlier nearly cost the lives of him and his boyfriend, Malkari, he fled to the distant mining location thinking that Malkari wanted nothing more to do with him. He now keeps to himself and gets his job done, but his scars, both physical and emotional, run deep. When Regin is interrogated regarding conspiracy and blackmail at the mines, it is Malkari that shows up with the interrogator. Driven apart by family secrets and lies, Regin and Malkari never stopped loving each other, but there may not be any time to reconcile before another explosion rocks their world.
This was the story where I felt the author had a good handle on the world and its inhabitants. However, due to the word constraints of the story, it was not conveyed or developed well. We meet Regin and we are told he is of feline descent and of his reaction to catnip and Malkari who has horns (or in this case, horn). We are not told anything further regarding Regin’s species and the limited amount that was offered regarding Malkari was in need of further exploration. There were a lot of uncommon names, that while were appropriate for the setting, when combined with the number of clans and locations mentioned were a lot to get caught up with in a short amount of time. There were family and clan issues discussed on Malkari’s side that were the crux of what drove the men apart, yet there was no resolution there. This story did attempt to bring in a relationship between Regin and Malkari and the author was able to convey that they had history and years of emotions and hurt between them. That was not the focus of the story, however, which remained on the conspiracy and blackmail. Again, I felt that the author really knew what was going on, but it was just not developed in a way that was clearly shown. I would have enjoyed seeing more of the relationship between the men as it seemed that they would have been sweet together, but it was not to be.