Thursday, 9 June 2011

Grimspace - Ann Aguirre

I do love a bit of sci-fi and anything can be improved upon by being set in space as far as I'm concerned (Pigs in Space anyone?) So I was rather looking forward to this small book which promised to be packed with exciting future-tech and amazing interstellar scenes. I was, unfortunately, rather disappointed.

Sirantha Jax is a jumper, a rare genetic oddity that means she can guide spaceships millions of light years through grimspace in the blink of an eye. However her last trip resulted in a horrendous crash, leaving everyone on board dead except for her. Now subject to endless tests and interviews by the Corp, who trained and employed her, she tries desperately to remember what happened and if it was her fault? Finally on the verge of a mental break a stranger called March waltzes into her secure cell and offers her the chance to jump again on his small ship Svetlana's Folly, but at the price of becoming a hunted outlaw. She joins up and they head to the outskirts of space to meet the denizens of the universe not happy with the Corp’s monopoly. And they have a plan to break it.

Quite set up, that plus the rather tough and trippy cover had me very interested in this book. However the actual writing never really lived up to the blurb and this story left me a little flat.

Jax is actually a quite likable character. She wasn’t born tough or kick-ass and she isn’t pathetic and in need of constant rescue. She has led a rather sheltered life as the Corp’s top Jumper. But that’s what made her development quite intriguing, watching her discover the truth about her not-so-universally-beloved benefactor. Jax tries to adjust to life as a hunted criminal when she is more used to being a darling celebrity and her resourcefulness when faced with this massive change endeared me to her. However there were aspects to her personality I did not warm to at all.

I’ve read quite a bit of fiction lately from a few differing genres, but something most modern fantasy, sci-fi, historical and crime fiction seems to have in common these days is that they all seem to think they must have a romantic element in them. Now I love a bit of romance (and sometimes I’m happy with just plain lusty hi-jinks) but the relationship has to develop realistically and the attraction has to feel genuine. My least favourite things in all romantically tinged fiction is:

1.       The instant blazing attraction that becomes fully fledged undying love 24hrs after first contact.

2.       The “clueless” heroine who can’t ever figure out why this guy (that she admits is hot every 5 pages, but only does so grudgingly) is constantly mean and grumpy at her until he dives down her throat tongue first.

Grimspace suffered from the second of these offenses, quite heavily, and a little from the first. March is overly cold to Jax at first, and this is actually understandable, because who would welcome a suspected mass murder on their ship with open arms? But she takes that first encounter and assumes that he hates her for no reason and then repeats this like a mantra “but March hates me” using it as an excuse for his odd behaviour around her, which isn’t even all that negative. They even talk it out at one point and March reveals a very good reason for initially disliking her, and yet his actions show he clearly doesn’t dislike her at all. In fact it’s obvious he feels the opposite.

"'Are you crazy?' he demands.
'Yeah.' I hold his look, and I'm just too tired to try to hide anything from him, not that I could entirely. 
He gets it all, one way or another, then with a muffled oath, he pulls me into his arms, gentle as he was with Keri.

My whole world's upside down as he runs his hands over my back. March is just never, ever nice to me. I don't have any idea how long it's been since he found me on Perlas Station, but it seems like an eternity. I can't remember not hating March at this point; it's a truth to which I cling.
'Let me go before I cut your nuts off'"

And that’s another thing, why does he like her? After what seemed like less than a week he started displaying some very affectionate behaviour towards her, and I was like ‘Huh? Where did this come from?’ I invented a number of reasons to try and explain it, they were lovers but she had her memory wiped, her dead lover’s soul was programmed into his body. Loads of silly sci-fi reasons that would have explained why he seemed so in to her, but no. He just is. Not that Jax notices any of this. Or at least she does, but she throws a big blanket over it with the words “but March hates me” stitched on it.

Thankfully the crew are vibrant and solid feeling people, especially Dina the snarky ship engineer (who I loved). As are the parade of characters they meet throughout the story, I’m definitely hankering to learn more about the alien bounty hunter Velith (who wouldn’t?).  

As a nice bonus the story really picked up towards the end (once the painfully dense relationship problems had been ironed out) and I suddenly found I was enjoying the all the big action. This great improvement in the last act means that I will definitely pick up the next book in the series just to see if Aguirre has managed to expand on her rather fascinating universe, now she has gotten over that first clumsy hurdle.