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Distant Cousin opens with the protagonist deciding to save the Earth from an impending catastrophe. Seemingly on a whim, she takes a small craft to Earth’s surface, despite the associated risks and dangers: once she lands, she won’t be able to get back to her ship, and she violates her noninterference directive. Danger also presents itself right away in the form of the military, sending teams to the area to investigate the crash.
Though the writing is strong and the plot starts right away, the protagonist’s motivation for her journey to Earth is weak, disrupting the suspension of disbelief. The lack of clear and undeniable motivating force is really a fatal flaw: unless we know why a character does what he does, our interest is reduced, if not entirely eliminated. Darcy seems to make a major decision with major risks attached to it without a bit of deliberation. Such action cannot possibly evoke reader sympathy.
Another unbelievable moment comes when Darcy claims that she burned the escape pod. While it may seem like a minor thing, when you really think about it, this bit goes to undermine the credibility of the story: if the pod survived re-entry, how could Darcy have burned it--with what? What could burn a ship that survived the several thousand degree heat of reentry? Frankly, I am not sure why it is necessary that she destroy the capsule in the first place, except as a plot convenience. Why can’t the military have found it? And as long as we’re talking about the military, I also had a problem with the capture and escape sequence. Why go through it at all? The sequence really accomplishes very little in terms of plot: nothing happens to Darcy or to the Colonel who captured her as a result of their meeting, and her escape is a bit too easy. In fact, placing the capture so close to the beginning actually causes problems as far as story tension is concerned. The beginning sets up the following questions: Will Darcy be able to save the Earth somehow? Will she convince the right people? Will she evade the military out to capture her? Her capture, when it comes, resolves a major story question (She will not evade the military) but in a way that is inconsequential because none of the characters involved are affected in any way by the capture—how does the colonel change? Darcy? In other words, she continues as she had before, unchanged by the experience. So why write it into the story? Worse, now the threat of the military and another capture is even less believable. I mean, what if, as a result of her capture, she decided that Earth is a worthless place? How would she deal with her anger and reconcile it with her desire to save it? But suppose that we want to keep the sequence as it is. Another possibility: Since she needs to convince the right people, what better opportunity is there than to convince the military scientists that will presumably come to examine her? Maybe they take her to Area 51 and there she develops a relationship with one of the scientists? There are a number of possibilities to work with as a result of the capture, but they are all ignored.
This book exemplifies the major flaw in many pod titles that makes them unpublishable in the mainstream in the first place—either flawed or little or no plot architecture. I have touched on this topic before, writing about plot editing in another review. Plot architecture is complex: everything in a story must have a reason for being where it is in that story. All elements must fit logically, reinforcing one another. If the author does not pay attention to the very smallest details, the story will begin to unravel. I think the reason for these architectural flaws is that the authors do not spend enough time conceptualizing and structuring their stories. A Distant Cousin is obviously a story with a strong love story component. Much of her story involves people on the college campus. Why not just open with her wandering around the campus, staying at the library and reading serious volumes? Track this story line as she develops friends and impresses the professors with her knowledge, gently hinting at her otherworldly origins. Let the revelation of who she is and her mission unfurl slowly, then, once she is firmly involved with the people she comes to know, we can introduce the Military and the danger it poses. Now her capture is a looming danger that hangs over her quest to save earth while her college friends help her. But of course, the problem remains—why can’t she go to the military in the first place? Why not go to Washington DC? I mean she wants the important people to do something, right?