Grimspace by Ann Aguirre
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
If you're looking for a science fiction yarn that will suck you right in, and keep your interest engaged at max warp speed, then this should work. Grimspace takes the concept of interplanetary travel, and integrates the idea that specific people have a gene that allows them to navigate the points within space to decrease the travel time and go to places previously impossible to travel in a reasonable distance. Sort of like a wormhole, but not really. This inner space is called Grimspace, and Sirantha Jax is such a person.
This book was just what I've been wanting to read. I love science fiction with a heavy dose of adventure, and that doesn't dwell too heavily on the tech and science explanations. It's not that I don't like science (I love it in fact), but I don't want a story bogged down with that. I want a character-driven, action-oriented, tightly written story in a science fiction universe, and that's what Ann Aguirre delivers.
The weary, scarred, nearly broken character archtype never fails to appeal to me, and such is Jax. She lost her lover and was accused of killing him and 79 souls on their last flight together. Her future is looking decidedly bleak, since the corporation she works for (think Umbrella Corporation in space, or somewhat like the Alliance for Firefly fans) has taken her into custody and are submitting her to psychological manipulation that is sure to turn her into a walking zombie. A mysterious man shows up in her room and breaks her out, and she's off on a trip across the known and unknown galaxy.
This is one of those stories where the author doesn't give you much time to start feeling comfortable and safe about any character or scenario as you read. She lulls you into a sense that things are starting to make sense, and then she pulls the rug out from under you. This was smart although not always comforting storytelling, because it puts you very much into Sirantha's shaky boots. It felt her confusion, her fear, and her almost consuming sense of loss at the terrible choices she had to make, what she had lost and could lose, and that feeling of constantly having one's back against the wall, surrounded by enemies.
Sirantha is a tough, prickly, not terribly friendly woman, but somehow she is lovable for all those traits. Her heart is deeply human and capable of unfathomable depths of feeling. She knows what needs to be done, and might inwardly balk, but goes ahead and does it, and counts the cost later. March, the man who breaks her out, turns out to be an interesting counterpart, first uneasy ally, and sometimes verbal opponent, but the person with whom Jax finds a kinship and a deep level of communication she's never known.
This is and isn't a love story. I think that those that enjoy romance will like Jax's relationship with March, but you don't have to be a romance fan to enjoy this book. Aguirre has the elements that make for a riveting love story, but she can also be ruthlessly unsentimental, and unfraid to play around with the usual romantic conventions. This adds to that uneasy feeling I got when I read this story, because I didn't really trust that anything was safe, even supposed fated love.
As far as science fiction, I like the sparse but effective scene-setting that Aguirre has done here. She has enough tech for me to buy in, but not excessive amounts that would make my eyes start rolling trying to visualize it all. This aspect again brings to mind Firefly, which is a very good association for this devoted fan of that short-lived but briliant series. The rustic elements of the space that Jax explores, the interesting characters, and juxtaposition of cynical and homespun values, not to mention the philosophical/spiritual questions that its inhabitants face, reminded me strongly of the show. However, Ms. Aguirre effectively builds her own sci-fi universe here with some unique and characteristic elements that stake her claim in the niche of space opera/sci-fi adventure.
If I had any complaint, I just wish the action sequences were more effectively paced and more expansively described. They seemed to go by way too quickly, with lost opportunity to establish themselves with memorable panache in this highly visual reader's mind. I think for a space adventure, this element really needs to shout out to the reader, but it doesn't. Don't mistake that I am implying that the action elements are poorly written (not at all), they just could have used a little more. That was really the only reason I couldn't give this five stars. On all other levels, Grimspace comes in first place. The characterization is poignant and fierce, and I deeply empathized with everything that Jax, March and crew struggled against, inner demons and outer enemies alike. I experienced this book as if I was in this corner of space, eking out my existence, and staying one step ahead of the gray men, bounty hunter, Corp bullies, and opportunists. And that made for one fantastic read. Highly recommended.
Overall rating: 4.5/5.0 stars.
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