Julian Tamaris believes in cold facts and the reality of science. He has no time for romance or relationships, which makes his new assignment seemingly a perfect fit. Following a five-year journey, he will reach the planet of Valeria, renown for its vast scientific advances and for the fact it is slowly dying. Additionally, on Valeria sex is forbidden and carries with it a potential death penalty. Julian hopes the extended mission will lead to an exchange of mutual information between Earth and Valeria. What he finds is a world on the verge of its last gasp and a people oblivious to their own impending destruction.
Saidan has spent his entire life struggling to find a way to save his planet and he knows time is running out. When he meets Julian, he hopes the man’s scientific mind will help find a solution. But Valerian society does not allow for emotional expression or attachment and as the men grow closer to one another, they find they must hide their relationship or pay the ultimate price for daring to love. When they discover a terrible truth about the planet, Julian and Saidan must challenge everything in order to save the people of Valeria.
The Forbidden Zone was, at times, a fascinating fantasy, and at other times a jumbled collection of concepts and characters that failed to achieve their full potential. The book is written well enough from a technical stand point, but the pacing leaves a lot to be desired. Everything moves too fast or is dragged out far longer than it should be. As a result, I often became frustrated with the plot and the awkwardly rambling nature of the story. It started off strong and the concept is compelling: a brilliant scientist is sent to an unfamiliar planet for research and stripped of his essential freedoms. This first third of the book moves quickly and draws the reader in as Julian struggles to adjust to the almost desolate lifestyle forced upon the Valerians by a trio of powerful AI known as the Sisters. But once he and Saidan begin their illicit affair, the plot starts to stumble and the last two thirds read like a choppily paced collection of emotional interludes interspersed with science fiction jargon.
The characters of The Forbidden Zone are intriguing, but also difficult to fully understand. When we meet Julian ,we are led to believe he is cool and dispassionate, yet he never really acts like that. At times he is rebellious, passionate, and impulsive and yet none of these seem to fill in the whole picture. I feel as though there was so much more to this character than we were allowed to see. Saidan is equally hard to read, though the discovery of his origins and his resulting confusion felt very believable. Most of the time Saidan seems flat, as if he is merely a stand in for another character that we never get to meet. Which is a shame because this lack of development makes the relationship between Saidan and Julian difficult to believe in. They are decent, good men and while you want to cheer for their success, it’s hard to become emotionally invested with either of them.
As previously stated, the basic concept of The Forbidden Zone is a good one and has some great science fiction action. But much of the overall plot gets tangled together with themes that aren’t fully explored or explained. As a result the last few chapters of the book have a slow, convoluted pace that ground the momentum to a halt. Given how fast the rest of the book went, these chapters felt utterly out of place and unnecessary. I believe The Forbidden Zone would have benefited from being split into two volumes and fleshed out in almost every aspect.
The Forbidden Zone was interesting from a science fiction point of view and there are some original concepts that really work. However the characters aren’t fully dimensional and the romance suffers because of this. Additionally there are some significant pacing issues that ultimately stem from a plot that is never completely developed. The Forbidden Zone is probably best suited for science fiction lovers who don’t mind a narrative that yo-yos rather than flows.