I feel like such a Debbie Downer when it comes to these much buzzed over romance novels. But, I got nothing else if I ain’t honest, so here goes.
Review Number: 27ish?
Grimspace by Ann Aguirre is the author’s first science fiction book, published by and marketed as a sci-fi novel. Presumably, this is the first novel in a series focusing on protagonist Sirantha Jax.
Sirantha is a Jumper. She is born with the J-gene which means that she can access Grimspace and with the guidance of a pilot “jump” a ship from one point to another in interstellar travel. Because of the stress of Grimspace, a jumper only has a finite amount of jumps in them and will eventually burn out (lose their minds) or sense they are nearing the end and retire. Jax is an exceptional jumper, lasting longer than any other (she’s in her early 30s) and is being blamed for the destruction of a passenger ship full of people–her pilot and lover among the deceased. She’s broken out of solitary detention by an unknown man named March, and whisked off on a daring escape in a rusty old ship (don’t worry, like the good ships Serenity or the Millennium Falcon, the bucket of bolts only looks dilapidated but in fact is quite sturdy). The crew needs Jax for her jumping ability, and also because they have a Grand Plan to find jumpers before the Eeeevil Empire does, train them, and create a new breed of jumpers that (through the ship doctor’s genetic tinkering) won’t ever burn out.
Given all the buzz around this book and the stellar reviews it has received, Ana and I decided to read this one and give it a joint review.
Unfortunately, all the buzz in the universe couldn’t salvage this one for me.
The story is told in the first person present tense, from Jax’s POV. Right off the bat, I’m not crazy about the style in which Ms. Aguirre writes. Sirantha’s voice sounds kind of robotic, or as though she is speaking through a Captain Kirk monologue–“Ship’s Log, Stardate Twelve-Twenty One-Oh-Six.” It’s as though Sirantha is talking TO someone in her narrative…which feels hokey to me. Personally, I feel like the narrator is the author who is being lazy and copping out by writing to the audience through a cardboard character. This is a matter of taste though, I’m sure some readers like it. I can deal.
But then, I see it: “If I were allowed to roam the station, I’d jump the first freighter I found bound for the rim worlds. Desert. Frag my contract.”
Frag. Hastily, I look up the publication date of this book. 2008. Great. Now I’m not saying Battlestar Galactica has sole rights on the word “Frak” or “Frag” or any derivations of such word (many other scifi shows/movies/books have used some kind of f-bomb synonym), but I’m kind of disappointed at the lack of originality here. Sure, it’s a fine idea, but it’s kind of like when you get a cool new distinct haircut–say you get bangs–and then your little sister or best friend comes over the very next day with the same haircut. Not to mention in Grimspace “Frag” is used as a synonym for “Fuck”, but the word “Fuck” is still used widely throughout the book. Uh…what’s the point of having “Frag” then?
But I realize this looks like I’m merely nit-picking. POV, colorful euphemisms and stylistic matters aside, how does Grimspace stack up?
Mmm…not so well. Sirantha Jax begins the story sounding like every other Urban Fantasy badmouthing wiseass heroine that has been published in the last 10 years or so. Anita Blake, what hath thou wrought!? I don’t mind wiseass heroines, but Jax has no reason to be a wiseass. She can jump, but she can’t fight, she doesn’t know jack about anything, she seems to have lived a pretty privileged life without any prior trauma…so what’s with the smart mouth? Pushing this strange characterization aside, Jax (initially at least) also lacks any real depth or color as a character. I’ll quote one amazon reviewer for the book, who says that Sirantha Jax has all the character of industrial paint.
As Jax escapes on the bucket of bolts ship, the Folly, it becomes clear that Jax also is a moron. It is here that the “mechanics” of Jumping are explained. Jax admits to the audience (whom she is speaking pretty much directly to) that she doesn’t understand the physics of Jumping, she just ‘does it’. Basically what happens is, humans were looking for a way to traverse great distances in space, trying to unlock FTL (Faster Than Light) travel (which is impossible). Instead, they found out that they could bend spacetime with these Jumpers that create sort-of-wormholes between ‘beacons’ placed in grimspace (a sort of hyperspace) that allow ships to jump from one location to another. But Jax doesn’t really understand how it all works, just that it does and she does it. This seems like an incredible cop out to me on the author’s part. I’m reminded of a section at the beginning of S.L. Viehl’s space opera, Stardoc, where Cherijo goes through space travel but doesn’t really detail what’s going on, and admits she doesn’t know how the physics works. I was cool with that scenario because Cherijo is a surgeon and her lack of knowledge makes sense within the context of her character. She doesn’t make her livelihood (not to mention won’t die) navigating spaceships. Jax not knowing anything about her job strikes me as ludicrous, and incredibly easy way to get around research or extra description.
Not to mention, in such an advanced society that has mastered interstellar travel, wouldn’t these scientists have figured out how to isolate the “J-gene” and work on programming this into a computer? Since J-gene carriers are so incredibly rare and can only live for so long before going batty, wouldn’t it be more profitable (not to mention practical) to isolate and then engineer the gene somehow? Certainly it would be a lot less hassle than tracking down, training, and dealing with J-gene carriers.
Questionable physics (or lack thereof) aside, the plot itself didn’t do anything for me. The secondary characters all sounded and felt the same, speaking with the same voice as Jax, never really fully described or fleshed out to the audience at all. Grimspace is also a romance between Jax and March (the man who broke Jax out of prison), and seems to come out of nowhere. I believe it is somewhere around page 40 where March already is in love with Jax (for no discernible reason) and crooning to her that he’ll always come back for her. Blech. Mmmkay. Also, turns out March isn’t just a badass and a pilot, but he’s also a PSI PILOT (psi=psychic, not pounds per square inch). Again, incredibly convenient, as March luuuurves Jax because she speaks her mind and this explains his inexplicable early attraction to her (despite her cussing him out every five minutes). Although I didn’t ‘believe’ that they fell in love with each other, I have to admit that once things got going and they become Official, I enjoyed the interaction between the two characters.
Anyways. After much predictable danger, running for their lives, jumping through prettiful, colorful grimspace, we get to the climax. Sirantha is scooped up by a bounty hunter and taken in as prisoner back to the clutches of the Eeevil Empire. In one of the lamest endings I have read in a long time, everything magically ends up A-OK! Jax is cleared! Jax and March are in love and fly off into the sunset together! Everyone is happy! (Did I mention that everything–climax and incredible!happy!ever!after! ending all occurs within 20 pages or so?)
I like sci fi. It doesn’t necessarily have to be hard science fiction, but part of the fun of reading this genre is to see the laws that the author creates in their universe and how characters interact in them. The previously mentioned Stardoc novels are a fine example of a space opera that captures the reader’s attention and is well written, with little to no bother with technojargon or astrophysics. AND the Stardoc books have a believeable, well developed romance subplot to boot. In comparison, Ms. Aguirre’s Grimspace pales and appears second-rate. For a supposed page-turner, this book took me an unprecedented four nights to read–and I was forcing myself to read, at that.
Notable Quotes/Parts: Hmm. Well the last 20 pages are infuriating and ridiculous. But I can’t quote those here, lest I spoil someone the delight of reading the contrived happy ending.
Oh, ok maybe just one spoiler. In addition to dear Jax having the J-Gene, it is postulated that she also has the L-GENE!!! She can jump around to her heart’s content without burning out! Huzzah!
Maybe next time if someone is near death, Jax will discover she has the R-Gene (for Resurrection) which will bring fallen comrades back to life!
Additional Thoughts: *crickets chirping*
Verdict: I actually threw the book across the room after reading the last sentence. Needless to say, I was less than thrilled. This was on the verge of being a DNF for me, but I trucked through it and almost wished I hadn’t. I’m not sure why this elicited such a strong, negative reaction from me–even though I particularly disliked the writing style, it wasn’t “badly” written. I suppose it felt very recycled to me, and highly unoriginal. Very stock Badass Anita Blake type heroine, in a BSG/Firefly/Star Wars knockoff universe. Maybe also because of all the positive hype, I had my hopes up for a lively story. Whatever. Point is, I really didn’t like it. Eye-rolling factor was somewhere near the level of the dreaded Kresley Cole’s A Hunger Like No Other.
Rating: 4 Bad, but not without some merit