The science fiction romance series chronicles a band of human women stranded on — you guessed it — an ice planet, along with the hunky blue aliens who love them, and the many, many unprintable things they do to each other.
Thank BookTok, the network of book lovers on TikTok who can catapult books like “Ice Planet Barbarians” from comfortable, niche obscurity to overnight fame with a single viral video.
How it started
Image Credit: Ruby Dixon/CreateSpace
Whether it was her praise of author Ruby Dixon’s “sweet” and “weirdly complex” storytelling, the promise of “males who are simps” and treat their women right, or the more, uh, anatomical aspects (Ridges! Knobs!), something about “Ice Planet Barbarians” struck a chord.
Carter, who has been tagged in an exhausting number of these videos, is pretty thrilled.
“I love it. It’s a testament to the internet and this camaraderie of readers on TikTok,” she tells Asia Despatch.
“There’s no shame when you read. Some people may look at the shirtless men on the covers and think this is the most outlandish, disgusting thing you can read. But all it took was one person, saying with their whole chest, ‘I like these books.’ And then all of a sudden, other people are reading it. They’re liking it. They’re saying, ‘Oh, this is really good,’ too.”
Note: Carter stresses that the IPB series is most definitely 18+, and some books contain sensitive content.
How it’s going
Amazon’s Sci-Fi Best Seller list on June 22, 2021 Credit: From Amazon
“Did you know you’re trending on TikTok?” she said.
“It’s been both amazing and terrifying,” Dixon tells Asia Despatch. Dixon is a private person, and tries to avoid getting too far into the social media fray. But she loves seeing the creativity and enthusiasm of new IPB fans.
“Everyone has been so kind and lovely,” she says. “[TikTok] is a totally different vibe than the traditional reviews that books get. Readers love making fan art. They love discussing books and getting their friends to read things. It’s such a strong, creative community.”
Dixon is staggeringly prolific. She estimates she’s written more than 150 books, including novellas, since 2003, and tries to write between 4,000 and 6,000 words a day.
She started writing “Ice Planet Barbarians” for a simple reason: A series about virile, yet gentlemanly aliens didn’t exist yet. And maybe it should. As a romance and sci-fi lover, Dixon wanted the genres to meet in a very specific way. Less dark and broody, perhaps. More humor and babies. (She has written a whole series of spinoff IPB novellas, with titles like “Ice, Ice Baby” and “The Barbarian Before Christmas.”)
“I like a softer, happier story. I like found family type stories. I like a community with a lot of characters so you can feel you get to ‘know’ everyone,” she says. “Not every book has to be a Pulitzer-winning thinkpiece. I’ve always read escapist, happy fiction, so that’s what I want to write, period.”
For those wondering how on earth Dixon pitched a huge series about baby-crazy barbarians with horns and tails and magical mating parasites, she didn’t have to: The series is self-published.
The power of BookTok
“A Court of Thorns and Roses” is another popular series beloved by BookTok Credit: Bloomsbury Publishing
“Any time people are finding something to read that brings them joy and telling other readers about it, that’s a win, and there’s a lot of that on BookTok,” she says.
No thoughts, just aliens
Emma Carter in the TikTok that started it all Credit: Courtesy Emma Carter/@charl1eswansong
“Ice Planet Barbarians” is escapist fiction, where concerns about sexual politics, interstellar travel and human anatomy are checked at the spaceship door.
But if you wanted to read deeper into it … well, you could.
Carter and the series’ other champions point out the books cover a lot of material that is decidedly not light reading: A sexual assault survivor heals and prevails. Families contend with loss and generational trauma. People of all shapes, sizes and abilities are shown they are worthy of love and desire. Dixon says she makes sure to include underrepresented themes, like male virginity.
Anyone who bothers to open a romance book of any kind knows the genre is much more than empty-headed sex.
But even if it wasn’t, who cares?
“There are a lot of conversations in the BookTok community about misogyny and snobbery when it comes to books like these,” Carter says. “This is literally a sci-fi book written for the female gaze. So what if it’s not highbrow literature? Women can rage against the patriarchy in their real lives, and then read about a fun fantasy world and be smart and complex enough to know the difference.”
“We’ve got to stop demonizing things that women like,” she says.
For Dixon, it can be hard to garner respect as a sci-fi romance author. One time, she says, a boss asked her if she tried some of the things in “Ice Planet Barbarians” on her husband.
“And I wondered, do people ask crime writers that?”
Luckily, attitudes toward romance and erotica seem to be changing as more groups of smart, well-read people gather in spaces like TikTok. Often, they are young women, nursing the “Twilight” and “Harry Potter” obsessions of their youth or sharing fan fiction recommendations, no matter how obscene or bizarre they may be. Compared to the recesses of Gen Z creative writing engines like Wattpad and AO3 — or certain sections of the Amazon Kindle store, for that matter, — a little human-on-alien loving is nothing to clutch your pearls over.
“There is a shift in the culture from when I was younger, when you may have read things like fan fiction but you didn’t tell your friends about it,” Carter says. “Now as adults, we’re discovering adult fiction. And there is no shame anymore, as there shouldn’t be. You can truly read whatever you want as an adult.”
After all, life is hard. Love is hard. Some days, getting blasted out of the solar system to a planet full of 7-foot-tall aliens with glowing soul tapeworms promising to love you unconditionally just doesn’t sound so bad.