Review written by Alyssa Cokinis
Content Warnings: graphic violence which include vigilantism; kidnapping; assault; on-page physical restraint and torture; ongoing othering and the use of a negative epithet by a MC; bi-erasure (off-page); and discussion of childhood cancer and past trauma (off-page)
“Still, the allure–though Bertie’s–is real and strong. As are the memories. I know how it feels to kiss Gary’s lips, to be held in his arms. I even know about the spot on his back that makes him tremble when stroked. Every tiny, intimate detail is only a thought away…”
Is Elora Cussons more human or machine? This question is at the heart of Kristin L. Stamper’s science fiction romance Ternary, published by NineStar Press one year ago. LGBTQIA+ sci-fi and romance fans, look no further: Ternary brings readers on an emotional roller coaster.
Elora desperately tries to prove that–despite being a cyborg–she is still human to a court of law. Unfortunately, it seems the world sees her more as an object than anything, living in fear after the Great Human-AI War. Thus, her lawyer volun-tells her that as part of building her defense for her humanity, she must complete a mission to rescue lost Aidos crewmembers on the alien vessel the Great Compass, which is seemingly lethal to humans.
However, this is the chance snarky, guarded Elora to prove herself human. The problem comes when–while in the Great Compass–Elora finds Aidos Lieutenant Gareth (“Gary”)’s thought-to-be-deceased husband, Commander Bertie Fuentes, now downloaded into her consciousness, sharing her headspace and body… not to mention the constant threats from anti-robot groups who want her dead. Ternary remains fast-paced and gripping throughout every facet of its plot.
“It’s better this way.” I try to convince myself as much as him, my voice crumpled by the cold. “You can have my body; the two of you can be together and not have to worry about me.”
Stamper brings Elora to life through her snarky comebacks and her desire not just to survive but thrive in a life that is of her own choosing. When conversing with Bertie inside her head, Elora finally opens up to someone (who is perhaps her first friend ever). We learn why she became a cyborg in the first place and experience her try and fail at facilitating dates between Bertie and Gary while also developing her own feelings for the latter. What results is a heartwrenching, fun, and slowburn polyamorous romance. Memorable supporting characters like Della, Captain Hamasaki, and lawyer Paul flesh out Elora’s wider plot beyond romance, through space, and into the courtroom to help her prove her humanity.
If audiobooks more of your thing, then definitely check out Anthea Greco’s incredible narration in Ternary’s audiobook. Greco absolutely brings Elora and the other characters to life with crisp, varied, and engaging narration.
Ternary is an excellent, accessible stand-alone novel to add to your summer reading list. Who couldn’t say yes to this queer polyamorous dynamic with a scifi twist:
“Bertie, can’t you do anything about this?”
Bertie guffaws. “Me? Do something about Elora? Are you kidding?” He shakes my head. “Besides, I don’t have a leg to stand on. If she’s going to let me date you, I have to be open to her dating other people.”
“Even if he is all wrong for you,” he adds silently.
“Please tell me you’re not doing this because of me,” Gary grumbles.
“Yes,” I snarl. “Everything I do is actually a passive-aggressive statement meant for you.”
Keep up with Kristin L. Stamper’s writing on Twitter @klsmopit or via Stamper’s website: https://kristinlstamper.com/
The Ternary audiobook is available anywhere audiobooks are sold, but for the month of June as part of a Pride Promo, it is only $2.99 on:
Ternary in book/ebook form is available from most major retailers, including the publisher NineStar Press: https://ninestarpress.com/product/ternary/
Alyssa Cokinis is an LGBTQ+ theatre artist/writer and also the founder/EIC of some scripts literary magazine, an online publication dedicated to the dramatic form. Find more at abyssoflyss.carrd.co
Tip them on Venmo @scandalyssac or on PayPal paypal.me/alyssaco95