I’ve mentioned before that I’m often late to haul my ass to the spaceport before the shuttle leaves for the ship. But I’m lucky to have good friends who see to it I’m scooped up out of the bar where I’m arguing some moot point and beamed aboard before the captain warps for deep space. So it was when my friends here at Spacefreighters Lounge and Heather Massey over at The Galaxy Express (with an excellent series--Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 --ending with an interview with the author that you MUST read), dragged me out and pushed me in the direction of SFR writer Ann Aguirre.
Aguirre is the author of a series of books featuring space navigator Sirantha Jax, a kickass bad girl with a galactic reputation for wild living. Jax is one of the few humans in the galaxy with the genes and the skills to guide starships through “grimspace”, the disorienting and dangerous dimensions between “jumps” that allow long distance space travel. Her bosses in the major business conglomerates that rule the galaxy consider her a valuable asset despite her tendency to impulsive action and, uh, shall we say, unpredictability?
By the time we meet Jax in DOUBLEBLIND, the third book in the series, life has conspired to kick her butt pretty thoroughly. I haven’t read the first two books (see Laurie’s review of the second book, WANDERLUST), and I don’t want to give away a lot of plot points, either. But it’s clear from the way Aguirre reveals Jax’s character, that the bad girl has begun to grow up. She often compares herself to “the old Sirantha Jax”, wishing she could take the easy way out like that younger girl might have. This older, wiser Jax has been given a mission of monumental importance, as a diplomatic envoy to a closed, xenophobic society on a planet of strategic significance. And she’s not sure she’s up to the challenge.
Sirantha Jax is already a character we can’t help but love—independent, brash, funny and brave. But in this book, she is also forced to look at herself and wonder if she hasn’t been selfish or afraid or immature on a more fundamental level. That she comes out on the other side better for the examination speaks both to her character and to Aguirre’s immense skills as a writer. A character is supposed to grow in the course of a novel (or a series). We forget that sometimes in this age of the sequel for the sake of the Almighty Dollar.
Because this is romance, as well as science fiction, many of the changes we see in Jax come about as a result of her relationship with her lover, March. As the book begins, March is suffering from severe psychological trauma and has shut down all the emotions he once shared with Jax. In fact, he’s a threat to her physically, as he is to almost everyone around him, though she refuses to believe he’d hurt her. In typically stubborn fashion, she won’t give up on him, and eventually finds an innovative way to get through to him—just in time for him to become crucial to the outcome of her mission on Ithiss-Tor. (I will say the romantic interaction is both sparse and mild, by industry standards, but the emotion is heartfelt.)
Because this is science fiction, we have some wonderful concepts to spark our imaginations. Aguirre has already given us “grimspace” in earlier books, with all the genetic implications and physical problems that go along with it. In DOUBLEBLIND we see Ithiss-Tor in detail, a world designed by (intelligent) bugs for bugs, in which the interiors (furniture, wall coverings, floors, etc.) are all alive, as if you were living in a terrarium. That is brilliant! We also get Aguirre’s ingenious solution to March’s problem, which I won’t spoil for you here.
And because Ann Aguirre is a writer of exceptional skill we get her wonderful turn of phrase. I can’t tell you how many times I had to just stop and admire the way she’d put the words together. “Melancholy brushes me with its dove gray wings.” “I feel the ice of her regard all the way down in my bones, and despair tries to follow.”
I mean, all you can say is, “Da-yum, gurl!”
Fans of the Ithtorian Vel will be more than pleased with the insight the book provides into his past. The former bounty hunter has a major role as Jax’s interpreter and advisor on his home planet. But some surprises are in store for followers of other crew members as the story reaches its conclusion.
Aguirre wraps up the loose ends of this storyline by the last page of DOUBLEBLIND, but this is not the end for Sirantha Jax, March, Vel and the rest of the crew. Aguirre has several more Jax novels planned for the series. I can say I eagerly look forward to more. This is spacefaring SFR at its best.