Review of Grimspace – Book 1 of the Sirantha Jax series by Ann Aguirre

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The review below was first posted back in the days when my offerings were unsullied by visitors trailing in and out of the place, reading my work… Seeing as it’s nearly pristine – and about a writer whose work I’ll be tracking down again in 2015, I thought I’d re-release it…

This enjoyable space opera romp features a feisty, no-holds-barred heroine with a troubled past and an unusual ability that puts her in a variety of life-threatening and difficult situations.

grimspaceAs the carrier of a rare gene, Sirantha Jax has the ability to jump ships through grimspace — a talent that cuts into her life expectancy but makes her a highly prized navigator for the Corp. But then the ship she’s navigating crash-lands, and she’s accused of killing everyone on board. It’s hard for Jax to defend herself: she has no memory of the crash…

Jax’s first love was killed in the crash and she spends a chunk of the book grieving for him. In fact, the subject of death figures a great deal in this book and its sequel. Navigating a ship through grimspace significantly shortens a jumper’s life expectancy. Indeed, Jax has already outlived all her contemporaries — other than those who chose to retire and become teachers. But she has already decided that isn’t a lifestyle choice available to her, addicted as she is to the lure of grimspace. However, those around her have little patience or understanding with her frequent thoughts about her impending death.

Aguirre’s depiction of a space jumper apart from the general run of humanity, with her own closed ethos and set of rules suddenly bumping up against a group of people with differing attitudes, works well. Jax’s ability to alienate everyone around her is impressive, but as the book and its sequel, Wanderlust, progresses, she is forced to reassess her priorities and attitudes. I think this is one of the undoubted strengths of this sub-genre – offer up a heroine in the middle of a major crisis, present her with yet more life-changing problems – and then watch her change.
Any niggles? The characterisation of Jax is mostly spot-on, but I have trouble believing that a girl, who in her former life was a devoted fashion follower, wouldn’t get her disfiguring burn scars dealt with at the earliest opportunity, rather than keep them as some kind of memorial to her dead lover. It’s not serious, but it does slightly jar. However, one of the strengths of Aguirre’s writing is the first person POV in present tense, which gives Jax’s voice a fresh immediacy that certainly drew this reader right into the action.

It is the personal relationships and Jax’s own reaction to what is going around her that is the undoubted centre of this book. While the world adequately hangs together and certainly seems solid enough to keep Jax, her companions and enemies fully occupied, Aguirre’s far future is almost cosy in its familiarity. She certainly isn’t in the business of creating original worlds or arrestingly unusual technological gismos to give us pause for thought. The notion of ships jumping through some other dimension veiled in secrecy has been regularly used as a device to overcome the problem of deep-space travel. We are also on more than nodding terms with a large, power-hungry institution who ruthlessly exploits personnel for its own ends, like the Farwan Corporation, which doesn’t even have a particularly inventive name…

As a science fiction fan, am I bothered? Not for a nanosec. There are plenty of writers creating worlds eye-bulging in their complexity and originality, whose characters possess the depth of a pavement puddle. Hard-core fans generally speak of these authors with hushed respect. While critics fall over themselves to find yet more metaphorical links between these worlds and our current society, yet managing to gloss the fact that their protagonists’ dialogue often manages to make a Thunderbirds script seem realistically raw. Which doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy their work – I do. But I think the genre should be big enough to encompass Aguirre’s entertaining character-led science fiction with equal respect.
9/10

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