New Reality by Jessica Payseur is a sweet and sensual gay romance that warms the heart. It’s a relatively fast read at just under 50 pages, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’d classify this novella as more of a romance that is sci-fi adjacent, but I enjoyed reading it for the characters and their love story. With well-timed tension and a slight danger factor (this is mostly in space, after all), Payseur sets the stakes in her universe and follows through with them. Her character-driven love story with a squee-worthy ending is worth a read. It is NSFW at times, so you may want to be wary of anyone reading over your shoulder.
This is the story of Connell, a tired courier of slightly less-than-legal goods, drifting across the stars alone after the sudden death of his former partner in smuggling and in bed, left bereft and abandoned in the middle of a world he’s not sure he wants to fit into anymore. On his journey across the stars, picking up the odd job and the odd man, he somehow connects with a mysterious man through their seemingly shared dreams. Wystan Kreeger has been stranded on a distant planet for seventeen years, trapped with no possibility of escape. Their shared dreams send Connell on the haul of a lifetime: a lover, a planet, and a happiness that neither man could have ever predicted.
Payseur focuses less on worldbuilding, as you would expect from a novella of this length, giving broad hints about the state of affairs across the universe and a glancing explanation of the company bureaucracy that holds the controlling interest. The novella itself is sensual and richly detailed, but lacks any real specifics about the mechanics of her chosen form of science fiction, choosing instead to rely on classic assumptions about a future where humans are spread across the stars. The tech isn’t unrealistic, giving us a solid look at space-worthy ships and capable computers, but we don’t get to learn a lot about the nature of it. However, it’s the small details that make this novella great—all five senses are engaged in sentence tag-alongs that help establish the setting right from the beginning. Payseur’s attention to detail here is remarkably vivid and memorable, with enough varied detail to make her universe seem vast and unique with just a few lines. The limited worldbuilding doesn’t take away from the story because of the impact of those rich details, and any perceived lack is made up for in the depth of the character building.
I’ve always had a soft spot for characters going through emotional journeys, and emotional recovery runs along every stitch of this story, guiding the characters through trauma recovery and romance. There is realistic dialogue of the characters working through said trauma and the accompanying emotions, and a hefty dose of self-realization and the acknowledgement of an unhealthy relationship. There is a tiny bit of the miscommunication trope, but the fancy bits more than make up the difference.
One thing I’d have liked to have gotten a little bit more of would be an explanation about how Connell and Wystan connected through their dreams. With the limited wordcount, it was glossed over and never really explained. That emotional connection becomes the heart of the novella, so it would have been nice to see the psychic connection as in-depth as the physical connection. It also would have added another layer to Payseur’s story and given a more realistic touch to the swiftness of a novella-length relationship.
If you’re looking for a light, feel-good, lovely psychic romance of a sci-fi-adjacent novel, you should definitely check out New Reality. This richly detailed narrative is passionate and character driven, with an ending that will make you smile and flip back to page one immediately.
New Reality is published by Dreamspinner Press, an independent press that publishes specifically LGBT+ fiction. It is available as an ebook (epub, mobi, and pdf). Jessica Payseur has several other works published by Dreamspinner Press, available through their website.
Written by Jessica Payseur
Published November 8, 2017