Jonah Starovski has spent fifteen years doing the impossible: evolving lifeless planets into hospitable ones within a matter of weeks. His talent is exceptionally rare and he relies almost exclusively on his handler Wes to arrange his contracts, manage his money, and keep him safe. Then Wes leaves with the entirety of their savings and Jonah is left struggling to complete a government contract on his own.
Lieutenant Marcus Davis is assigned as liaison to Jonah without realizing what the position actually entails. In order to stabilize and finalize the terraforming process, Jonah must release energy through sexual activity. Marcus realizes, in order to protect his career, he has no choice but to serve as Jonah’s sexual partner during the terraforming process. Though uncomfortable and ill at ease with one another at first, Jonah and Marcus begin to care about one another on a far deeper level as their work continues. But Jonah carries a lifetime of scars and Marcus risks losing his very sense of self, if his relationship with Jonah is discovered. They must find the courage to stand together and confront their enemies before time runs out.
The Planet Whisperer offers readers something of a two-fold challenge. The first comes from a truly intriguing storyline that asks important questions about the nature of science and the problems of interfering with the natural course of evolution. The second challenge deals with an absurd plot contrivance and poorly constructed characters that nearly render the book unreadable. Let’s start with the good bits: Jonah has the power to terraform a planet in mere weeks, thus expediting and manipulating its evolution by billions of years. Jonah refuses to begin the process if the planet contains any evidence of life, but others in the book don’t have the same moral compass holding them in check. As a reader, I couldn’t help channeling Jeff Goldblum’s character from Jurassic Park and asking if just because a planet can be terraformed, did that mean that it should be? These are the kind of philosophical questions most fans of sci-fi enjoy exploring and The Planet Whisperer does a good job of setting these questions up.
Unfortunately the book tends to fall apart almost from the beginning thanks to a plot device that fails to work on any level. In order to do his work, Jonah must have access to sexual release provided by another person or the terraforming process fails to set properly. This brings Marcus into his life, but their first encounter was close enough to rape to leave me uncomfortable. The relationship that evolves out of this situation is neither believable nor especially captivating and is always just a bit too convenient. Marcus is terrified of being discovered because on Earth homosexuals have their minds wiped. Given that he is capable of traveling almost anywhere (other planets), this seems like an excessive and somewhat unfounded worry. His parents are supposed to be the real villains of the piece but his mother, in particular, is such a ridiculous caricature that its difficult to take her seriously. She is routinely allowed to get away with terrible things, even after supposedly being arrested, and while Marcus continues to associate with her is beyond understanding. His parents are a large part of the story and unfortunately end up dominating the last fourth of the book to an almost excessive degree.
Overall, the Planet Whisperer had real possibility, but fell prey to a crippling plot device and characters that either failed to engage me or were too cartoonish for believability. The Planet Whisperer does a good job making the reader thinking about several “big question” ideas, but the story just never lived up to its potential.