My review includes slight spoilers.
I read this entirely because, when I was a young teen, I tried to buy it from a Friends of the Library book sale and was told that I couldn't. A librarian talked to my mom, and my mom told me I couldn't read it until I was thirty. I was determined to read it before then, but unfortunately forgot about it. Better late than never, right?
All right, moving on to the book. As a science fiction novel, Yargo is mediocre. As a science fiction romance, it is completely terrible. As a statement about feminism...well, I'm not entirely sure what it was trying to say. Yargo is probably at its best as an adventure story, but sadly that was only a small portion of the book.
Janet Cooper is an ordinary American woman. When she was younger, she longed to be a famous actress and to marry a handsome and romantic man. Instead, her dreams were shot down by her mother and, eventually, David, her fiance. David is a good man, a perfect future husband, although he's not as passionate as Janet would have preferred. Still, she considers herself lucky.
Then, while on a trip to her beloved childhood vacation spot, Janet is abducted by aliens. Gorgeous aliens. All the men are tall, bald, and have amazing green eyes, and all the women are visions of loveliness. Janet soon learns that her abduction was a mistake – the aliens had intended to abduct either Dr. Einstein or Dr. Blount and had settled upon Dr. Blount. Having realized their mistake, they now have to decide what to do with Janet.
The first third of this book reminded me of a particular game, Hope: Other Side of Adventure. In that game, you play the princess in the usual video game “damsel in distress” setup. You're locked in a cell and can literally do nothing to save yourself. It was depressing, and I uninstalled it fairly quickly. Anyway, Janet reminded me of that princess. Pretty much the only thing she could do was plead to be allowed back to Earth. She spent most of her time on Yargo locked in a single room, with nothing to do but think. No daring escapes, no time spent exploring the planet, nothing.
The story became more exciting when Janet's fate was finally decided and she was loaded onto a spaceship. Things went wrong, and the Yargoans she was with finally began treating her like one of them. Then came the crazier stuff: the Venusian bee people. This was when the book's few instances of violence happened (dismemberment! near rape!). For a while, I was genuinely worried that Susann was going to include an on-page rape scene involving a crazed mutant bee prince. This part of the book was also when Susann's message about feminism seemed to be strongest, although I felt that the book's ending contradicted some of the things she seemed to be trying to say during Janet and Sanau's captivity on Venus. While I thought the blossoming friendship between Janet and Sanau was fascinating, I hated that Sanau's new emotions included maternal feelings (of course because she's a woman, because no woman has ever not had warm fuzzy feelings for their children).
After that exciting and slightly horrifying middle, I was looking forward to seeing how the book would end. Unfortunately, this is where Yargo took a giant nosedive. There had been indications that Janet was fascinated by the Yargo, perhaps on the path to becoming as worshipful of him as his own people were. I wouldn't have called it romance, but that was exactly what Susann tried to shoehorn into the book's ending. Here is a summary of how Janet and the Yargo's conversations went:
Janet: (I can't stop thinking about him! I love him! Does he love me???)
Yargo: Okay, I've finished my daily chat with you so you won't feel lonely. Are you sure you're not well enough to leave yet? Wow, your human body is even weaker and more inferior than I thought.
Janet: I love you!
Yargo: ...That's nice. I pity you and have no feelings for you.
Janet: That can't be true! You love me!!!
Yargo: I do not understand love the way you do. I love my people, I love those blades of grass out there. But I do not love individuals.
Janet: You're lying. You like spending time with me. That's love!
Yargo: ...I think I enjoy spending time with you. Is that love?
Janet: YES! And also, this is love, too! [She kisses him.]
Yargo: That's love?
Yargo: Huh. It was kind of unpleasant.
Janet: ...That's okay! You like spending time with me. It's a start. You love me! I can wait.
Yargo: Yeah, I don't think you can. This is kind of awkward. You should probably go back to Earth soon.
Janet: But, but, I love you! You love me! I have faith.
Yargo: Faith in what?
Janet: That God will ensure that everything turns out all right.
Yargo: Ha ha ha ha! Seriously? That makes no sense. I'm God. The God you worship doesn't exist. You humans and your silly religion.
Janet: You blasphemer! I love you, but this is too much! [She smacks him.]
Yargo: Right. I'm going now. You have a nice life back on Earth, okay?
I hated this “romance” with a burning passion. It was awful. The colder the Yargo was towards Janet, the more convinced she was that, deep down, he loved her. I didn't think David was a great catch either, but the choice didn't have to be “the Yargo vs. David.” Janet could easily have gone back to Earth, ditched David, and then taken some time to figure out what she wanted from her life. I think the choice between David and the Yargo was supposed to be seen as a choice between a safe future and the possibility of passionate love, but it didn't work for me at all.
By the end of the book, Susann completely forgot why Janet had been kidnapped in the first place. The Yargoans had intended to give Dr. Blount the information necessary to warn Earth's leaders that nuclear testing would cause the Sun to go prenova in the near future. Nothing happened to make this danger go away, but apparently Janet's love for the Yargo was more important.
All in all, this was a quick read that held my attention. I'm glad I read it, if only to satisfy my curiosity. However, I don't know that I'd ever recommend it to anyone else.
This is a terrible read-alikes/watch-alikes list. I was going to not include one, but I did have a couple things I wanted to list, so here you go.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- A Princess of Mars (book) by Edgar Rice Burroughs - Those who'd like a "stranded on another planet" book that includes actual action (with a male protagonist instead of female, unfortunately) might want to give this a try. I've written about this book.
- The Twelve Kingdoms book series (first book is Sea of Shadow) by Fuyumi Ono; The Twelve Kingdoms (anime TV series) - Here's another society where women don't have to deal with pregnancy and (as far as I could tell) no one had to have sex if they didn't want to. I have written about the anime and several of the books.
- Knight of a Trillion Stars (book) by Dara Joy - Not quite a "abducted to another planet" story, but close. I can't remember exactly how things go, but the hero (an alien who of course looks like a handsome man) somehow ends up with the heroine, a human woman. He takes her back to his homeworld, and she has to figure out how things work there. This was more along the lines of what I was expecting from Yargo. Anyway, expect cheesiness and on-page sex scenes.