In Retro Review: Grimspace

It's not perfect, but it's enjoyable entertainment.

Grimspace by Ann Aguirre

Published by Ace Books, March 2008. Paperback of 312 pages at $7.99.

The cover: The art on this cover is by Scott M. Fischer, with the design by Lesley Worrell. After seeing Ms. Aguirre’s name on this book, the art was the second thing that had me considering buying this. I enjoy science fiction and, based on this image, this looked pretty cool. The lead character Jax is sitting on some type of technology holding a wand or stick in her hand that could be a weapon or tool. She’s dressed like an engineer and she’s got a great tattoo on her arm. I don’t know what’s behind her, but it looks like alien technology. I wanted to read an adult sci-fi novel and this illustration tells me that this could be what I was seeking. Overall grade: A+

The premise: From the back cover, “By all accounts, Sirantha Jax should have burned out years ago…As the carrier of a rare gene, Jax has the ability to jump ships through grimspace — a talent that cuts into her life expectancy but makes her a highly prized navigator 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. Imprisoned and subjected to a ruthless interrogation, Jax is on the verge of madness. Then a mysterious man breaks into her cell, offering her freedom — for a price. March needs Jax to help his small band of rogue fighters break the Corp monopoly on interstellar travel — and establish a new breed of jumper. Jax is only good at one thing — grimspace — and it will eventually kill her. So she may as well have some fun in the meantime…” I really enjoyed the Apparatus Infernum novels she’s written with her husband, so I saw this in my local bookstore and picked it up to see what some of her past work was like. I liked this summary on the back and picked it up. Overall grade: A 

The characters: Sirantha Jax was a good character. She’s cut from the same mold as earlier science fiction characters: she’s a wise ass, she’s wounded, she’s got a skill others need, and she’s trying to find her place in the universe. I admit to having to go through a few pages before I got to enjoy her. She’s a pretty guarded character until she goes through grimspace with March, the man who rescues her. Their piloting the ship together creates a bond between the two which becomes more than a working relationship. I enjoyed Jax the most when she was honest, as opposed to being the sarcasm spewer. By the final third of the book, I was enjoying her. March is a the cliché manly man who’s now found a higher purpose. He’s just as much damaged goods as Jax, which makes having similar souls become closer much easier. He also has an ability that enables him to always know what she’s thinking, which puts her more on guard, and sets up conflict much easier. I was enjoying him by the end of the book as well, but he’s shut out of most of the last act. Another crewmember on March’s ship is Dina, the squat blonde engineer. She’s got a pissy attitude and she shows her approval with slight smiles or shoulder smacks. Saul is ship’s doctor that had me thinking Shepherd Book the whole time (and, yes, I know he wasn’t the doctor on Firefly, but that’s the character I thought of for this book). The final character onboard is Lachion, who is an asset and a liability for Jax early on. There are several antagonists in the book, a warring clan, pirates, and bounty hunters. All are fairly one-note, with one from the latter group being the exception by the book’s end. All of these characters are good types, but don’t go far beyond their initial description. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but there’s no growth or time to get to know them. Overall grade: B 

The settings: There are five specific settings in this book. To go into detail for each would ruin what Aguirre does with them, so I’ll go generic: a Corporation holding bay, a prairie world, a swamp world, a pirate base, and a semi-developed world. I enjoy sci-fi novels that go to a variety of locations, and this satisfied me. The best was the pirate base, as there’s an instant sense of “We’re not being told the whole truth” about the location. If any complaint is to be made about these places is that not enough time is spent at any location. The characters arrive, stuff happens for about four to five chapters, and then they get out of there. I would have liked to have stayed in each location for a longer time, but the story deemed it not possible. Overall grade: A

The action: There’s quite a bit of action in the book, but it comes off as unrelated to the previous event. As stated in the Settings summary, the characters arrive, stuff happens for about four to five chapters, and then they get out of there. Not everyone survives — in fact, the body count is too quick — making my interest in those that are surviving secondary because I’m expecting them to drop at the next stop, but the earlier events seem to have no effect on anyone after the fact. Yes, a few characters bemoan their surviving, but that got old. There is a constant sense of pressure to run, and Aguirre is doing that very well, but I lost track at times why. Overall grade: B-

The conclusion: This seemingly ends because Aguirre hit over 300 pages and that’s as far as Ace was willing to go. Not much is resolved and only one character achieves something that might be interpreted as growth. Overall grade: C

The final line: It’s not perfect, but it’s enjoyable entertainment. I plowed through it quickly and was desirous of more from Jax, so I’ll probably go there at some point. Overall grade: B

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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