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Saturdays in Books

Reviews of speculative fiction, YA, middle grade, and graphic novels, along with stray thoughts, links, and pictures.

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The SFWA European Hall of Fame: Sixteen Contemporary Masterpieces of Science Fiction from the Continent
Kathryn Morrow, James K. Morrow

Review: Ascension

Ascension: A Tangled Axon Novel - Jacqueline Koyanagi
No idea if this is a series (as the "A Tangled Axon Novel" subtitle implies), but it functions just fine as a stand alone novel. Would read a sequel if there was one.

The inspiration for the universe seems to be "Kaylee finds her first ship in a universe where diversity means something more than white people swearing in Chinese," There's even a scene that feels like it was lifted directly from Serenity.

This is Space Opera, but not to my mind Hard SF. Sure it has rocket ships and aliens, but the presentation is more celebrating technology as awesome and beautiful than concerned with accuracy or technical detail. And spirit guides do magic. There is a scene that revolves around wiring, but that's as close to Hard SF as the book gets. Nobody in this book is going to address how gravity exists on spaceships, what distances are traveled at what speed, or how an engine actually functions. It does, it is, and it does.

Don't take this as a complaint, I love the aesthetics of this universe. Just, if you walk into this book expecting hard sf, you're setting yourself up for disappointment. If you're looking for Hard SF in space with romance, I suggest Falling Free.

And if you haven't picked this up because Hard SF isn't your thing, that bears reconsidering.

The characters in this book are all great. Individually, and in terms of interpersonal relationships. Ascension nails character development. It is a thing of beauty to see this band of misfits, each with their own form of damage, bang about the universe facing increasingly dire prospects.

Action packed sequences, explosions, and loving descriptions of wires and plasma abound, but there are some pacing issues at times. There are also some wonderful conversations woven into the narrative. The entire plot is a discussion of how intention and reality interact. The characters are sex positive and race and sexuality aren't barriers for individuals, while privilege in terms of economics and health are discussed repeatedly. The narrator is managing a chronic illness while pursuing her dreams, and nobody treats her like that means she doesn't belong there.

In terms of worldbuilding, I have some specific complaints, but nothing that actually ruined the joy of reading this. I mean, my biggest worldbuilding complaint is kinda lame and might just be a lack of imagination on my part:

Why do sky surgeons all wear really long braids? I like that there's a visual cue for the field. That's very cool. I just don't understand why it's something counterproductive to their function. When Alana performs engineering tasks, there are two constants. First, that she works through the pain caused by her chronic illness. Second, that she has to tie back her braids, or form them into an awkward bun in order to actually work. And yet it is the braids that mark her passion and chosen profession. Something as simple as storing wire lengths in braids to ensure you always have some to spare, or marking bands and regular intervals so you always have a flexible measurement tool would have fixed this, but no. When not working, braids mean you're a sky surgeon. When working, they are in the way. This is so ridiculously impractical that I find it hard to suspend disbelief for.

In terms of plot, I'm going to need a spoiler tag.

The act of genocide committed was for what reason, again? To make sure Nova wasn't harmed? How does that make any sense? How does strapping a giant bomb to the ships she's on, and designating it as a target sought by law enforcement not to THE EXACT OPPOSITE of ensuring her safety?

This attack was completely counterproductive to the stated goals of the person actually responsible. The crew was already dedicated to doing EXACTLY THE THING SHE WANTED DONE. And yet the attack hindered their ability to do it by forcing them to fly under the radar, damaging their ship which further slowed them down for a detour first to avoid damage and then to repair it, and made permanent enemies of them.

Oh, and when the crew finds out why they were framed, none of them seem even remotely aware of just how counter productive it was to the stated goals of the villain. Meanwhile I might have yelled, "lady, we'd have been here two weeks ago if you hadn't gotten in our way by killing an entire species and the family of the person you want to join you and then framing us for it." Well, that or something with more cussing.
(show spoiler)

For a lesser work of fiction, this amazingly poorly constructed plot point would have completely ruined the reading experience for me. As it is, while I had to put down the book and walk away for a bit, I still finished it and was left wanting to read more.