One of the tropes in all types of fiction is the compelling story set in a prison (or on a prison ship or prison planet). This set up occurs in science fiction romance as well.
For me, the epitome of this subgenre is the Dred Chronicles by Ann Aguirre. Here’s the blurb from Perdition, the first book in the trilogy: The prison ship Perdition, a floating city where the Conglomerate’s most dangerous criminals are confined for life, orbits endlessly around a barren asteroid.
Life inside is even more bleak. Hailed as the Dread Queen, inmate Dresdemona “Dred” Devos controls one of Perdition’s six territories, bordered on both sides by would-be kings eager to challenge her claim. Keeping them at bay requires constant vigilance, as well as a steady influx of new recruits to replace the fallen. Survival is a constant battle, and death is the only escape.
Of the newest convicts, only one is worth Dred’s attention. The mercenary Jael, with his deadly gaze and attitude, may be the most dangerous criminal onboard. His combat skill could give her the edge she needs, if he doesn’t betray her first. Unfortunately, that’s what he does best. Winning Jael’s allegiance will be a challenge, but failure could be worse than death…
OK, I have to warn you that “bleak” is an understatement. This series has some of the darkest stuff I’ve ever read, much more to the horror side than I normally will go (I have nightmare issues, ok?) but I found the characters so fascinating, I was compelled to read on. I was rooting so hard for Dred and Jael to make it – as a couple, out of Perdition, on to a Happily Ever After – that I was willing to stay with them through all the travails. The grim world of Perdition is well drawn and comprehensively thought out, and learning the many details of the worldbuilding backstory was another good reason to continue reading.
A new novel in the subgenre just came out this week, Trapped: From the Condemned Series by Alison Aimes. Here’s the blurb: When Bella West crash lands on prison planet Dragath25, the only thing standing between her and a mass of brutal criminals is one of their own, a ruthless loner known only as 673. But what starts out as a desperate trade based on protection and raw lust soon blossoms into a scorching need that will push them both to the edge….
Cadet Bella West has one simple objective when she joins the scientific mission to Dragath25, the notorious penal planet housing Earth’s condemned. Earn the credits necessary to save her family from starvation. But when her shuttle crashes and the majority of her crew perish, her simple mission becomes complicated fast. Now, to stay alive she’ll have to depend on one of Dragath’s own. But such protection doesn’t come free.
Convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, 673 has become more beast than man after eight grueling years on an unforgiving, hazardous planet of dirt and rock—and even more treacherous inhabitants. He doesn’t look out for anyone but himself and he certainly never grows attached. So when the bold female offers him pleasure in return for protection, he takes the deal without hesitation. He never expects how her touch will alter him. Or the growing realization that saving her may be the key to his own salvation.
But as dangers mount and their ‘simple’ deal unravels will he prove to be her surprise savior or her ultimate downfall? Because caring for someone on Dragath25 may prove the greatest hazard of all.
This is Ms. Aimes’ debut novel and I enjoyed it, especially the take charge heroine, Bella. Strong women characters are a ‘must have’ for me, going back to Ripley of “Aliens” and Sarah Connor of “Terminator.” Bella could take her place with them, and the hero is no slouch either. He’s tough, resourceful and hot.
Speaking of “Aliens”, Ella Drake’s Space Grit series gives me a somewhat similar vibe to the “Aliens” universe. Here’s the blurb for Black Ice Heart, first in the series: Ensign Joan Holly has one last mission before transferring to a secretive, elite unit, the Nex. It’s what she’s wanted since joining the military as a child. All she has to do is escort the most reviled prisoner on Geonate to meet his fate. Simple, since he’s immobilized and nobody has ever escaped the Asteroid Pit.
Cenak Bronson never had it easy. He’s never been free and never had a future. He accepts his doomed fate until he’s rescued by a band of half-aliens, the Scoriah. After the chaos of his breakout, Cenak finds himself reluctantly bound to the only other survivor, his jailer Joan.
But they aren’t the sole survivors by coincidence and they weren’t captured by the Scoriah randomly. To survive, they join forces, uncovering secrets and lies that change everything. Including the future of Geonate itself.
Atrophy by Jess Anastasi is another entry in this prison-themed niche. Here’s the story: Twelve years on the prison planet Erebus makes a man long for death. The worst part for Tannin Everette is that he was framed for murder. He’s innocent. When the ship Imojenna lands for emergency repairs, Tannin risks everything to escape…only to find himself face to face with the captain’s undeniably gorgeous sister.
Zahli Sherron isn’t planning on turning Tannin in. In fact, she actually believes him. Sure, he’s sexy as every kind of sin, but he’s no criminal—so she hides him. But no one escapes from Erebus and lives to tell about it. With every day that passes, Zahli further risks the lives of the entire crew…even as she falls in love with a man she can never have for herself.
A good read if you like mixing your romance with interstellar complications and….prisons.
In my recent post on Australian SFR, I talked about the nine book connected E S Siren series by Shona Husk, Mel Teshco and Denise Rossetti, so I won’t recap the plots again here. Definitely worth checking out!
One of my favorite space prison tales is actually a movie, “Lockout”, with Guy Pearce and Maggie Grace. “Take no prisoners”. I thoroughly enjoy this 2012 film and rewatch it fairly often – badass hero, strong heroine who proves to be a lot tougher than he expects (so not a damsel in distress, thank you very much), high stakes, outer space, wisecracks….not a whole lot of romance but enough if you’re a romance author like me, who can fill in a whole lot of the blanks for herself (and SPOILER there is a Happily Ever Afterish ending).
Luc Besson, Director of “Fifth Element” (another huge favorite of mine) had the original idea for the movie and co-wrote the screenplay.
Here’s what the Internet Database of Movies says: “A man wrongly convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage against the U.S. is offered his freedom if he can rescue the president’s daughter from an outer space prison taken over by violent inmates.”
The sequence where they return to Earth is edge of the seat exciting.
I say: Be sure to rent it, stream it or otherwise give it a try!