Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Fossiliferous Smut

This is not a book review. This is me sounding my barbaric yawp over the smut-loving rooftops of the world.

In a recent bout of unproductiveness (which, let's face it, really comprises about 85% of my day, with 10% of the remaining 15% being eating, and you have to work bathroom breaks in there, too...) a little web searching led me to a list of romance novels that involve paleontologists. I've always had this rage of jealousy deep down in my soulless soul at the thought that archaeologists got all the romantic glory. But apparently sometimes being wrong is awesome. Oh Happy Day! After cross-checking with my library's online catalog, I found that a local library actually had one of these books. Days just don't get better than this, so I immediately placed a hold. Granted, with a title like "Ravished" (by Amanda Quick), I wasn't sure how this was going to play out - perhaps the sketchy little website had lied to me. After all, if I were to write a paleo romance, it would be titled "Dirty Little Bone", "Old, Hard, and Dirty", "Hard as a Rock", or "Bones of Contention" at the very least. My fears were compounded when I went to pick up the book and it had a photograph of flowers on the front. Flowers? Really? You don't even find fossil where flowers grow...unless it's a prickly pear. However, I was slightly comforted by the fact that this was the Large Print version, and everyone knows large print versions always have plot-inappropriate images on the cover. So I let this slide; old people need to get their daily dose of bone, too, even if it's disguised behind flowers. It's like hiding their blood pressure pills in the pudding.

The online library summary provided no clue as to plot points, and I was far too lazy to actually look up the cover copy on Amazon, so needless to say I was surprised to find this alleged paleo smut to be a Regency. Although, with a title like "Ravished", OF COURSE it was a Regency. Every self-respecting historical is entitled "Ravished" or "Seduced", followed by the optional prepositional phrase. Seduced by a Duke, Ravished by a Viking, Seduced by a Ravishing Viking Duke - you get the picture. But the point of all of this is to say that I had no clue what I was going to get when I started reading "Ravished", but I was assuming that my emotional investment in the hope of paleo smut was going to result in nothing more than a spiteful tease by an archeologist-loving website. Boy was I wrong.

Harriet Pomeroy is a rector's daughter in (where I can only assume) southern England, and has a fossil problem. Most Regencies involve heroes and heroines with whoring problems, money problems, gambling problems, petticoat problems, and overbearing ass7wipe family problems (the 7 is silent), but few have fossil problems. (As an aside, though, I will note that I know several non-Regency people with a fossil problem, so they do exist outside Romancelandia.) And it came as a further surprise that it was the heroine who is the eccentric fossil hunter - though, upon reflection, in a historical this makes sense as the heroes are generally off being irresponsible, except when needed to save the day, and wouldn't be able to fit in fossil hunting amongst their alpha asshattery schemes. Regardless, female paleontologist = double rainbow. But Miss Pomeroy has a fossil problem that gets her into all sorts misguided adventures. And it gets her ravished. In a good way. By Gideon, who is less of an assclown than many romance heroes. While the plot held my attention (hell, the promise of a brooding alpha asshat and a hot sex scene at some point in a book can hold my attention these days), it was the "Romance Novel Guide to Paleontologists" that totally did it for me.

First we have the descriptions of paleontologists:

A fossil collector will resort to anything when he gets desperate.

And a warning about the dangers of other "professionals", which is surprisingly accurate given some of the stories I've heard over the years:

I can tell you, sir, that there are those who would steal my fossils and claim them as their own discoveries without so much as a flicker of remorse.

Coupled with delightful character references that perhaps explain why I'm still single:

He wondered if it was the lack of an inheritance that had kept her unwed or if her evident enthusiasm for old bones had put off potential suitors. Few gentlemen would be inspired to propose to a female who displayed more interest in fossils than in flirting.

Followed by an appropriate emphasis on the utter and total obsession with fossils. Upon first meeting her mother-in-law (a countess, no less), rather than engaging her in charming conversation, Harriet prattles on about her newly-found fossil tooth. As Gideon tells his mother,

And that is the end of all polite social discourse this evening unless you forcibly intervene, madam. Once my wife is launched on the subject of fossils, she is very difficult to deflect.

Shortly followed by:

There she goes again...You had better stop her quickly unless you want for the conversation to revert to fossils.

We learn the important lesson that digging up fossils predisposes a woman to deadly schemes and supernatural strength, and when using a fossil as a weapon against ravishing in a bad way, make sure it's a forgery.

Harriet ignored him. Her goal was the large stone sitting on top of the last cabinet in the aisle, the one that contained the fossil impression of a [fake: this was mentioned earlier] large, spiny fish. She prayed the stone would not be too heavy for her to lift.
Bryce [bad guy] never guessed her intention. It probably did not occur to him that a woman would resort to such a means of defending herself or that a woman would be strong enough to do so even if she tried.
But Harriet had been digging fossils out of solid rock for years. She had spent hours wielding a mallet and chisel. She knew she was no weakling.
She grabbed hold of the chunk of stone and hurled it down at Bryce's blond head just as he reached up to grasp her ankle.

We also learn how to use bone analogies in pillow talk. Just in case it wasn't obvious.
Says Gideon:

Perhaps you will show me just which portions of my anatomy you consider equal to or more impressive than the old bones you collect, madam.

Says Harriet:

I would have to say that I have rarely encountered fossil metatarsals of such size...And one seldom is lucky enough to find a tibia of such proportions...Very impressive...And other than the femur of an elephant I once had the privilege of examining, I have never seen such a magnificent thigh bone...Now we come to a most interesting discovery...

Says Gideon:

Do not tell me you have found fossils of that particular anatomical item.

Says Harriet:

No, but this is certainly as hard as any fossil I have ever dug out of stone.

Ladies and Gentlemen, that's how paleontologists do it. Lesson learned. The only thing I would add would be a reference to how I once drunkenly bid $300 on a walrus baculum during a live auction at a conference. To which the auctioneer commented, "Batteries not included".

Our last lesson is in how to title a scientific paper. Harriet entitles her paper:

"A Description of the Great Beast of Upper Biddleton" by Harriet, Lady St. Justin

And that settles it. I'm working "Great Beast" into my next paper title, and I am adopting "Lady" over the more traditional "Dr." as my required prefix. This includes in the classroom, in the mail room, and in everyday life. Especially at professional conferences. Even if I'm dancing on a table.

All in all, I really can't praise this book enough, or the experience of reading it, mocking tone aside. The scientific ideas are vague enough not to cause violent flinching to the paleo-knowledgeable, but are appropriate to the time with discussions on fossil succession, deep time (vs. the deluge), mountain building events (sadly "orogeny" was not used in any bedroom ...or cave... scenes), and extinction. The paleo romance I'm currently reading is a contemporary and I find myself talking back to the characters when they're wrong. 'Tis the curse of the well-informed.

Moral of the story: everyone should be ravished by "Ravished", impressive anatomical specimens and all.