Sunday, April 27, 2008

GRIMSPACE by Ann Aguirre

*This review was graciously provided by Sara J. She also posts reviews on her home blog, Jumpdrives & Cantrips http://www.sfjohnson.rtsquad.org/wordpress/ She's the girl to contact if you have a novel needing a review which is any flavor of Science Fiction or Fantasy.*
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I'm curious to know how the name Grimspace came about. While the title obviously comes from the name of the space humans with special J-genes "jump" into to traverse the universe, it fails to capture the joy and addictive ecstasy jumpers get from grimspace itself. Be aware that Ann Aguirre's debut science fiction novel pulls romance into the fore, though its romantic nature doesn't displace any action. The romantic overtones aren't a shock considering Aguirre has written romantic fiction in the past under a different name.
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Grimspace is a change from the run of the mill space opera, though, in its tone and perspective. It uses first person present tense narration that brings a kick in the pants along with it, pushing the action into the forefront. It also puts the focus directly onto Sirantha Jax, who is a heroine with loads of attitude.
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We first meet Jax right before she's about to escape from a psych unit with the help of mysterious man March. With her lover and former co-pilot dead, Jax must now make a run for it and make the first jump she has made since that time with a pilot she has never met or bonded to. Soon we're introduced to the ship's crew, who want Jax to start a rogue training program for other jumpers so their rebel group can reduce the monopoly her former employers, the Farwan Corp., have on space transport. To do that, they have to find other people with the J-gene. Along the way, Jax must deal with herself, her relationship with her telepathic co-pilot March, save a sentient baby lizard, escape a pirate space-station breeding programme, and dodge an extremely polite shape-shifting bounty hunter.
For a novel like this to succeed, it really requires a likable main character, and Sirantha Jax is that. She's strong, and someone who acts with loyalty and caring despite herself. And she's the longest living jumper out there, which speaks to her stubborn nature. I didn't believe the psychosis that the character kept proclaiming (read Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar or even Sarah Monette's Mélusine if you want crazy done convincingly) and wondered if this was a symptom of Jax's lack of self-knowledge. Her relationship with March overlaps with her grief from losing her last love, and their relationship grows with each argumentative exchange, fraught with physical attraction and their need for each other. Aguirre's use of Jax's voice is almost mesmerizing at times, and is what makes the novel speed forward so quickly.
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And I'm aware of his hands on the controls as I never have been. I could almost fly the ship if I had to, because we're not him and me, we're…we, and then I sense his astonishment, sharing my mind's eye as we gaze outward to grimspace.Maybe I gave him some sense of it before, but this time, he sees completely and I know he does: the glory, the colors, and the almost-manifest monsters that writhe along the hull. The Folly ploughs through liquid fire; the world without is a conflagration of possibility, ideas and dreams barely conceived and waiting to be given form.But March and yes, it's the March-me spinning my mind's eye away from the beacon. He's doing it and I didn't even know this was possible. He's trying to show me—Shit. There's a ship coming up fast behind us (p. 148).

Grimspace was clearly designed as a "non-stop thrill ride" of action and romance, and Aguirre accomplishes that goal very well. Its rapid plot turnover helped make my nit-picky science-oriented self back off from the book's logical inconsistencies. Most notably, a swamp planet that had planet-wide seasonal change and an ice planet with an unsustainable ecosystem without humans--who were not native to it (and seem to willingly live there despite creatures that go crazy at the scent of ANY human blood). Though there is speculation here, it's more of the social type than the hard-science type, so don't wrack your brain too hard.
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The speed of plot elements hit a wall in the last third of the novel: the story moved too fast, and pulled too much in at once while eliminating some characters in not-so-meaningful ways. The media broadcast moment at the end struck me as too simple a solution, and something that Farwan conceded to far too easily. I have to say that the last couple of paragraphs just smacked me in the face with a corniness that seemed out of character for the novel as a whole and really disappointed me.
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That said, the book takes an interesting spin on feminine-masculine power relationships, both in relationships between characters and in the societies that Jax and her fellow crew visit. "Mother Mary" is the expletive of choice, which ties into the reproductive politics explored, and the idea of exploiting women for their reproductive power. Though religion remains a mostly unexplored depth for Sirantha, she dips in her toe. It seemed to me as though later volumes have the potential to go somewhere very interesting with themes of genetic and reproductive politics entering the fray, especially if religion is bound into it all.
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Ann Aguirre's Grimspace is the kind of book that you can kick back with and enjoy the ride, as long as you don't think too hard about it. It's got enough humour and action to preoccupy you for a few enjoyable evenings, and its sequel, Wanderlust, is due to hit shelves in August 2008, with two more books in the series currently contracted. I'm looking forward to them. .
Heat level: sensual, Gore o' meter: violent.
Aguirre, Ann. Grimspace. New York: Ace Books, 2008. 326 pages. $7.99 (Canadian), paperback.

3 comments:

Kimber An said...

Great job, as always, Sara!

Michelle Moran said...

Great review, Sara! I think I will be adding this to my perilously high TBR pile!

Sara J. said...

Thanks! It's definitely an entertaining book :)