Josiah’s a programmer with ADHD and a powerful need to do well at his first big assignment as a project manager. Ryan’s a SEAL headed to a rehab hospital outside Washington, DC to finish his physiotherapy. Neither expects a lasting connection to form between them during their cross country flight, especially after Jos makes a huge mistake regarding Ryan’s disability, but a grounded plane and a night of gaming in a shared hotel room gives them a shot at a friendship with benefits--provided they can find a way to make their very different personalities mesh.
CONNECTION ERROR [Amazon | Kobo] is Annabeth Albert’s third #gaymers novel, after STATUS UPDATE and BETA TEST. You don’t have to read the earlier books in order to enjoy this one, but I'll remind you yet again that they’re wonderful and you should give them a go at some point.
Even though I’ve gushed my heart out over all three books, I don’t think I’ve mentioned how much I love the role travel plays in this series. Each installment features a journey that makes it impossible for the characters to give up on each other when stuff gets awkward. They have to stay and work through their problems, and in doing so they build a strong foundation for the relationship we all know they're gonna have. In Jos and Ryan’s case, they begin as seatmates on a plane and take a number of shorter trips once they know each other better. Their travel arrangements place a major focus on accessibility, too, as Ryan uses a wheelchair and prosthetic legs.
Accessibility and disability issues inform the whole story; not something I’ve often encountered in romance, and a hell of a good thing to see. From my able bodied perspective--which isn't the most important one in this discussion--it feels like Albert did her research and made every effort to represent Ryan in fair and frank fashion. In contrast to a certain recent novel, it's clear from the get-go that Ryan’s life is not over. It'll take him some time to adjust to his new normal, but he's committed to the journey and keen to explore his options as he decides who he’ll be and what he’ll do going forward. It's a long process, though, and all the willingness in the world can't keep him from getting angry or frustrated at the sheer length of time it takes him to adjust, and with the way society looks at him now. He endures a lot of ableism, even from people he thought he was close to.
Jos doesn’t behave well when he first realizes Ryan is missing his legs, but he works hard to get it right from then on. He listens when Ryan tells him whether or not he needs help, and he educates himself. Some of this education does come from asking awkward and insensitive questions, though, since change is a process and even the best intentions don’t always translate into positive actions. Jos learns, though, and Ryan doesn’t hesitate to tell him when he’s stepped out of line. Jos sincerely apologizes when this happens, then works to become a better friend and ally. Albert establishes that some things are definitely not okay and that it’s possible to correct problematic attitudes as long as you listen, accept accountability, and do better.
This all ties into Albert’s usual focus on the strategies people can use to better understand one another. Jos means well, but he really has to concentrate to filter his thoughts between his brain and his mouth, and sometimes he ends up making snap judgments and saying hurtful things before he has a chance to realize how they’ll sound. Ryan, in contrast, has possibly too much of a filter. He struggles to articulate his feelings, even to himself. Both men have to reach for a happy balance between these two extremes in every area of their lives. The book’s greatest strength is in how it lets them do this work together.
And of course, all this work translates into a hell of a good friendship; another Albert hallmark. While there’s a sexual component to Jos and Ryan’s long distance thing, it’s always clear their relationship endures because they get along so well. They do things together, sometimes from opposite sides of the ocean, and they share the sort of moments that stack together to form strong and enduring bonds. It's lovely to read about people who get along so well, and who make an effort to ensure their connection lasts.
Unlike the first two books, CONNECTION ERROR doesn’t touch on the difficulties in coming out. Both Ryan and Jos are out to their family and friends, so those issues are mostly behind them. (Ryan does have to shoot down some transphobia from his ex, though. Go Ryan; boo ex.) Instead, there’s a big emphasis on leadership issues. Jos is in his first leadership role at work, and he’s struggling to turn his group of programmers into a cohesive and effective team. Ryan, having lead ops, is well positioned to give him advice--in large part because he’s messed up terribly in the past and he can see Jos making some of the same mistakes. It’s clear there are real consequences for both mens’ failures. Jos has to explain himself to management, and accept that he’ll only be allowed to continue in his current position if he can get his team up to snuff. Ryan lives each day with the knowledge that his failures cost people their lives and forever changed his own prospects. These matters weigh heavily on the characters, and Albert never downplays this.
All these layers come together to make CONNECTION ERROR another strong #gaymers novel. The contemporary romance readers among you definitely want to pick it up.
Also, there’s a dog. Everything’s better with a dog (see also: STATUS UPDATE, which has two dogs, one of whom is named Pixel. Which I still think is the cutest small dog name ever).