Review: The 5th Gender: A Tinkered Stars Mystery by G.L. Carriger (2019)

Heat Factor: Explicit M/M action. Where one of the characters is an alien with erogenous prehensile hair. I would call it hentai adjacent. (Mom, please do NOT Google hentai.) (Note: After writing this, I Googled hentai, and according to Wikipedia, I am using the term incorrectly. What I mean is: Tentacles.)

Character Chemistry: Sudden.

Plot: Alien and Space Station Detective bone and also solve a mystery.

Overall: Started charming, ended preachy.

The 5th Gender reminded me of Becky Chambers’ books. Moderately interesting aliens. Utopian vision of humans in space. And a message of inclusion that, while well-intentioned, frankly overshadows the plot. 

If that combination of traits sounds appealing, then read on! I’ll tell you about the romance part of the story so you can decide if this book is for you. 

The start of the romance was so promising. After meeting Tris, our lavender (NOT purple!) alien hero who finds humans endlessly fascinating and exciting, here’s how we meet Detective Drey Hastion: 

Tristol’s favorite *human*male*sexy-stroke-him-all-over* showed up and growled at him. 

“What are you up to now, Mr Zyga?” Detective Hastion was always growling at Tris. 

Tristol glanced away from the cat – he could not help it, Detective Hastion was so pretty. He wore his customary dark gray security uniform and his equally customary human frown. Detective Hastion always frowned at Tris. It went with the growling. 

This seems like a classic case of opposites attract (eventually) – we’ve got sunny Tris and the growly detective, setting up to square off. I figured that their obvious but secret attraction would slowly unfold as they worked together solving the murder. (As a bonus, my mental picture of Drey was Idris Elba, which is always a plus.) 

But no! Immediately after Drey is introduced, we learn that he has been lusting after Tris for a while. And then, they’re together. Not just boning in fun and creative ways, but moving in together and engaging in constant PDA and declaring their intention to remain monogamous. All over the course of twenty-four hours – and also, before they even start working on the mystery together. There was no build up or tension in the relationship, because we saw none of the months of pining that had ostensibly already happened so that Tris and Drey could get to this point. Furthermore, Drey seemed like he was more of a foil for Tris than an actual character in his own right. 

This seems like a missed opportunity – if you’re writing interspecies alien romance, where one of the parties is from a very reclusive and mysterious alien race, there could be so many opportunities for misunderstanding as a way to build sexual tension. However, it should be noted that when I do read Sci-Fi, I prefer books where the aliens are really alien, and the path to mutual comprehension is fraught with obstacles, if it’s achievable at all. Others may appreciate low-angst tentacle boning as a path to true love more than I do.

Though we focus on romance here at The Smut Report, I do want to include a few words about the murder mystery: it was fine. As with the love story, not much tension.

The saving grace of The 5th Gender is that Tris is a charming lead. Purposely so – many secondary characters remark on how sweet he is – but Carriger pulls it off without making him saccharine. Even as the story failed to go much of anywhere, I was still rooting for him to find happiness.

Buy Now: Amazon

Looking for something similar?

ALL the aliens! There may not be tentacles, but there are definitely tails. And horns. And weird scales. And weirder penises.

Want to broaden your horizons beyond alien smut? Here’s some sci-fi smut, aliens not guaranteed.

Want a murder mystery? Having a hero in law enforcement might get you there. (Caveat: We have been doing a lot of thinking about cop romance and the politics of “good cop” romances. More on this in a future post.)

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