Bad Reputation Book Club: Ice Planet Barbarians

Bad Reputation Book Club is a monthly book review series where Autumn James Haworth looks at books that have been critically panned and discusses whether or not these reputations are deserved. This month, he’s taking a look at Ice Planet Barbarians.

Autumn James Haworth is a bi and trans author from the north of England. He likes to write short stories and poetry all about mental health, growing up and falling in love.

When I started this book, it was blowing up on TikTok. While I don’t know much about what goes on with the app, I have seen this book’s infamy make its way onto other platforms. I guess I’m just so lucky (yes that’s sarcasm) to have friends who feel the need to buy me books like this to see how much I’ll suffer.

Welcome back to Bad Reputation Book Club, where our next exploration will be into Ruby Dixon’s science-fiction erotica, Ice Planet Barbarians. This is the first book in what I believe is a rather long series, and I don’t plan on reading any further. This is the book that really has the reputation, and I want to find out if it deserves it.

Content Warnings:

  • Sexual content
  • Blood
  • Violence
  • Sexual assault
  • Trafficking
  • Rape
  • Non-consensual fantasies

Georgie Carruthers makes her way home from work and falls asleep. Everything seems normal, even if her dreams are a little strange. However, things take a turn when she wakes in an unfamiliar location with a light shining into her eyes. When the light goes out and she adjusts to the darkness, Georgie realises that she’s sat across from a group of aliens. While she does return to sleep, it isn’t long before she’s awake once again, stuck on an alien spaceship, god knows how far away from home.

She’s in a foul-smelling jail cell where a group of women are huddled up in one corner. She’s warned not to scream by one of her cellmates, Liz. Though, she doesn’t explain why. Here we learn that everyone fits the same profile: 22, lives alone, not pregnant, no major health issues, no nearby family. Basically, they’re young and healthy enough to be ‘useful’ but unlikely to be missed all that much. While Dixon never outright calls it trafficking, it’s clear that’s what this is, and I can’t help but feel that isn’t exactly the sexiest start to your erotica.

We learn that the women in the cell are more like extra cargo. There are women hibernating in locker-like pods that were there first. It feels awful referring to these women as something to be shipped about, but I’m only doing so because, unfortunately, that’s what they are in this situation.

Only ten pages in, there’s a graphic rape scene. Despite warnings, one of the women in the cell begins to scream, and multiple aliens come in and punish her for this. It’s just unnecessary. There are plenty of ways to punish and discipline someone, and rape shouldn’t factor in. Your bad guys can be just that without being rapists. It goes on for multiple pages, and it’s visceral. I don’t know if this makes it worse, but one of the women, Kira, has a translator and can understand everything the attackers are saying during the assault.

The women devise a plan to get rid of the aliens, or at least try to make them take them home. Georgie becomes a leader during this time. They lure one of the guards into their cell in the hope to either kill him or use him. This plan doesn’t quite work out how Georgie had hoped. Georgie holds up her end, but the rest of the women cower away in the corner. Things only get worse when Kira hears ‘detachment commencing’. Gravity is left behind, and Georgie has to think fast. She swims through the air and grabs the guard’s gun. She doesn’t know how to use it, but a swift whack upside the head does the job just fine. I really liked this scene. The tension building was really good, and you could feel the fear and adrenaline in the room.

The released cargo-hold makes a crash landing, leaving everyone with injuries that vary in severity. With Georgie having become a leader, and her injuries being pretty mundane, she’s the one that heads out in search of food, shelter, a sign of where they might be, etc. While wandering the snowy wasteland, she gets caught in a snare and is hanging by her ankles. It’s worth saying here that there are a few references to Star Wars throughout the book, but I don’t think it’s fanfiction of the franchise. I wouldn’t be surprised if this started life as a fanfiction, but I don’t believe it’s of Star Wars. There are fanfiction tropes throughout, but fanfic and erotica tropes do often overlap.

We change perspective to Vektal, who is confused about the strange creature that is caught in his trap. He’s even more confused when his khui begins to resonate. While we don’t really know what that means at this point, it is clear that it’s to do with mating. If you know Twilight, then you’ll probably see what I did with khui/resonating, and that it’s pretty similar to imprinting.

Vektal takes Georgie to a place of shelter where he can warm her by a campfire. He spots that she has no khui, therefore she is not so immune to the cold as he is.

I’m not entirely sure why, but he removes her clothes while she is asleep, and this is just the start of another non-consensual moment. He’s fascinated by her body and he just, honestly out of nowhere, goes down on her. I cannot explain to you just how sudden it is. It would almost be comical if it weren’t blatantly assault. She’s not even awake. I know non-consensual fantasies are a thing, but I personally just felt really uncomfortable.

Switching back to Georgie’s POV, she wakes up confused. Not only is there someone performing oral sex on her, but once she opens her eyes, she sees the large, blue, horned creature that’s doing the deed. She’s confused, but she’s into it, and despite her better judgement, she lets him continue until climax. I try to not get too graphic, but I can’t avoid sharing this line that made me genuinely laugh out loud: ‘This guy is eating my pussy like a champ.’ It’s the ‘like a champ’ that got me. It just isn’t sexy, is it? Vektal tries taking it further, but Georgie gives him a swift kick. It hurts her, but it works.

I honestly feel like the book wouldn’t be infamous at all if they were both humans. There are hundreds of erotica novels that have the lost girl/rescuer fantasy. The infamy comes from the fact that the rescuer is an alien. Hey, someone’s into this. I can’t imagine the only readers are those mocking it.

The two of them soon learn that they can’t really talk to each other. I really enjoy how we see Georgie speak when we’re reading Vektal’s perspective. It’s sort of phonetic, I guess. It’s clear to the reader what she’s saying though, and I think that’s really fun.

Georgie’s POV: They’re getting clean in a stream, and Georgie (while checking Vektal out) comes up with a plan. She’s going to let him have his way with her if he takes her up the mountain to the crash-site.

He doesn’t take her to the crash-site right away as they need to rest and warm up. She’s not happy though and storms off, accidentally falling in a ravine. Vektal has to save Georgie from the creatures that live down there, and takes her back to the cave where they get together. She makes an off-handed comment about thinking she shouldn’t be able to get pregnant, and while it’s kind of obvious foreshadowing, I did side-eye that comment and think it was funny. This scene also makes it clear that Vektal is just a vibrator of a man.

On the way to the ship, they encounter the body of the woman who was assaulted back on the ship. This felt so much like a throwaway. We didn’t have enough time to connect with her for this to feel like it matters.

Reunited with her old cellmates, Kira can translate for Vektal, and this is where Georgie learns that she’s been referred to as a mate. She gives food and furs to the women and explains where she’s been.

Vektal’s POV: He explains that it will be easier to bring his people to the ship than to take the women to his tribe as the women are without khui. He takes Georgie with him.

We see Dixon is really good at writing sci-fi. They make a stop at what Vektal calls the ‘elder-cave’ and it turns out it’s actually an abandoned ship. It teaches the two of them how to communicate, and we get a short history of Vektal’s people. We also learn that khui is a parasite that forms a symbiotic relationship with the host. If the book was more this, and less erotica, I’d probably enjoy it. It’s well-crafted sci-fi, and I really like it. This excellent sci-fi crafting comes up later on during the battle with the Sa·Kohtsk. That hunt is so well written – genuinely visceral.

Georgie’s POV: When they arrive at Vektal’s village, we meet the medic, Meylack, who it turns out had a history with Vektal before she resonated with someone else. She also cannot help Georgie due to lack of khui. Georgie does, however, learn that she’s pregnant, and though she’s upset at first, she warms to the prospect. Yes it’s obvious that this would happen, but the revelation is still done well even if she does go from apprehension to joy a bit too quickly.

Vektal’s tribe and Georgie head to the elder cave so they can communicate with the women on the ship. A man called Raahosh seems way too keen. He hopes he’ll resonate, and I wished he wouldn’t. He’s too eager. I just felt really uncomfortable. He’s the guy at a party who hangs around a group of girls but doesn’t know how to read the room and see that nobody is enjoying his presence.

At the ship, it becomes clear that these women aren’t likely to last much longer without khui, and Georgie tells them as much. They’re reluctant but they know it’s probably for the best. She also realises she needs to tell Vektal about the women in the pods.

Vektal’s POV: He takes the news of the women in the pods really well, noting that it’s more women that his men could resonate with. Like, these women are victims of human-trafficking, can we not focus on how someone might feel the urge to be their mate?

Georgie’s POV: The whole group make their way towards where the Sa·Kohtsk (a creature that contains the khui parasite) has been spotted. The women are kept safe in the forest while Vektal and his men take down the beast. Like I said, this hunt is really well written, and if there were more of this and less of the sex, I could get way more out of this book.

Once the beast is slain, Georgie is the first to accept the khui. She does black out, but all goes well. She’s warm and healed once she wakes up. The description of the khui making its way inside was absolutely rancid, and I mean that as a compliment.

The book ends exactly how you think it would given that both Georgie and Vektal are resonating.

Hear me out: this book isn’t bad, it’s just not for me. It’s pretty well written, and the sci-fi elements are fun. If you do enjoy the erotic elements, who am I to judge? My main issue is the problems with consent. I don’t really want to get into the ethics of non-consensual fantasies, but the book doesn’t lose anything if you take away these aspects.

Overall, I don’t know that it deserves its reputation. Most of the judgement is mocking the alien eroticism. I’m not about to recommend this book to you, but it maybe doesn’t deserve a bad reputation just because it’s not to everyone’s taste. It might deserve it for the consent issues, but not the strange fantasies.

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