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Aguirre, Ann: Grimspace

Writer: Ann Aguirre
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 312

I first heard of this book via janicu, where she posted a Grimspace quiz, all part of a promotional effort of the author to encourage people to blog about her book and in doing so, said bloggers would be entered in a giveaway for a signed (I think) copy of the book.

Well, I didn't enter, but I took notice. Then I saw an actual advert on Smart Bitches Love Trashy Books, so at that point, I knew pretty much what this book would be: a space opera with some romance. And given the fact it's SF written by a woman, and a newbie--which always catches my eye--I decided to give it a shot.

According to Amazon, this book isn't available until February 26th, but I found it last weekend at Borders, so of course I snatched it up. I had mixed thoughts going into this book, for whatever reasons, but those mixed thoughts were put aside immediately as soon as I started reading.

In this universe, we have grimspace as a means of faster space travel instead of FTL. Now, while I don't quite get all the mechanics of how grimspace works exactly, I do understand that only those people with a specific gene even have the ability to navigate grimspace, and if I understood this correctly, only women are carriers of this gene.

Jax is such a woman, and she's close to a breakdown. Jumper for a ship that basically crash lands, she gets the blame and locked up in a Corp institute with no memory of the crash, and the Corp psychologists aren't exactly making it easy for her either.

Help comes in the form of a man named March, who busts her out without explaining why, introduces her to his crew, and takes her to a planet where she learns that there's a group of people who basically want to give the Corp a run for its money. All jumpers, you see, are snatched up by the Corp, giving the Corp a monopoly on all grimspace lines. Jax agrees to help recruit possible jumpers and train them, because she's now a fugitive, doesn't have anything else better to do, and wants to stick it to the Corp for treating her like shit.

Of course, it's never that easy. Bad luck follows Jax like a plague, and people keep dying either because of her actions or because they want to find her. Between that and the suspicion that March might be trying to kill her, Jax doesn't know who to trust, or what she should really do.

Now make no mistake: this book has all the comfortable familiarity of any space opera you see in movies and television. I had a couple of Star Wars moments, and a Firefly/Serenity moment as well. I also had moments of comparison with other space operas/SFRs I'm familiar with, like Catherine Asaro's Primary Inversion and Sandra McDonald's The Outback Stars. No biggie. For starters, I wasn't reading this book to find the most original, unique SFR EVER, and frankly, you shouldn't either. This book is fun, entertaining, and not quite total braincandy, but close enough that I'm very willing to forgive any elements that might appear derivative.

But let's make one thing clear: this book freaking SHINES, and it shines for two reasons. First, we've got voice: we've got first person, present tense, and not just any first person/present tense, but frankly, Jax has the voice of an urban fantasy heroine blasted into space. I'm not joking. The tough-girl, kick-ass, snarky attitude is on par with most all the urban fantasies I've read so far, and I have to say, that's a touch of genius. No really, it is. I know I'm biased, because I tend to like first person anyway, but this voice gives this book LIFE, and we're so entrenched into Jax's point of view that even when she makes mistakes, we're rooting for her anyway. And more important, there's not a single moment that we don't understand her motivations for doing something.

The second reason this book shines? Tension. Pure and total tension. Not only is the tension between Jax and March freaking fantastic (they've got some of the best chemistry I've seen in an SFR I've ever seen), but not a single chapter ends without some note of tension. Not always cliffhangers, but frankly, nothing wraps itself up in a nice neat bow. You want to keep reading, and keep reading, and keep reading.

Granted, the voice really helps. It's a FAST read, but it's also a tight, action-packed read. There's no dead moments. Every scene has its importance, and Aguirre handles transitions remarkably well. I was thoroughly impressed with how she kept this book rolling, and trust me, that's hard to do when you're writing in first-person, PRESENT TENSE. Present tense is hard to do, so I applaud her use of it here.

And let's face it, the story's just good. I had no misconceptions that the point was to see how Jax and March would hook up, but the larger story of recruiting possible jumpers from alien races as well as Jax hiding from the Corp was a good one that kept the story rolling. I have much love for the scenes with Baby-Z, and the humor is right on.

Oh sure, there's info dumps, but that's par for the course when it comes to first person. And yeah, we've got some standard science fantasy tropes, like telepathic abilities. Honestly, I didn't care (okay, I did sort of care, because what March is able to create with Jax is right on par with what I'm trying to do with my own characters, damn it!), because the story was executed well and like I said earlier, the chemistry between March and Jax was freaking awesome.

I thoroughly recommend this book to any fan of science fiction romance, and hell, any romance reader who enjoys otherworldly settings will get a kick out of this too. I loved reading this book because it was so much damn fun and entertaining, and I can't wait for the sequel, slated to come out this September.

I'm definitely keeping an eye on this author, and I'm thrilled I got my hands on this book when I did.

Next up: Interfictions: An Anthology of Interstitial Writing edited by Delia Sherman and Theodora Goss


( 29 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 23rd, 2008 11:24 pm (UTC)
Sounds like fun.
Feb. 23rd, 2008 11:29 pm (UTC)
It's VERY fun. :)
Feb. 23rd, 2008 11:28 pm (UTC)
Ahh, didn't read behind the cut, but I want to read this! :)

By the way, did I tell you I finished "Keeping It Real" and really liked it? I'm behind on blogging though. And now I'm reading "Down Home Zombie Blues" by Linnea Sinclair - good so far.
Feb. 23rd, 2008 11:29 pm (UTC)
Cool! Can't wait to see your review!

I've got that particular Sinclair book, but haven't read it just yet. :)
Feb. 24th, 2008 12:35 am (UTC)
This one is on my to be purchased list, and I'm very much looking forward to getting my hands on it.
Feb. 24th, 2008 02:03 am (UTC)
Let me know what you think when you get around to reading it! :)
Feb. 24th, 2008 12:58 am (UTC)
I've been reading good reviews of this book, so I'd like to get it from the library but so far my system doesn't have it listed. I'm hoping once it comes out that at least one library will buy it.
Feb. 24th, 2008 01:53 am (UTC)
Does your library stock mass market paperbacks? If not, you won't be able to get it from there.
Feb. 24th, 2008 05:55 am (UTC)
There are almost 40 libraries in the system and several of them carry mass market paperbacks.

I might go with the ebook if the library doesn't get the book within a few months. I didn't even think of that until rocalisa's post below, which is kind of silly because I've been buying a lot of ebooks lately.
Feb. 24th, 2008 01:24 am (UTC)
You're giving me so many books to want to start reading... it sounds like we have very similar taste. :)
Feb. 24th, 2008 01:55 am (UTC)
Cool! Always glad to twist people into reading the books I do. ;)

How's THE NAME OF THE WIND so far? :)
Feb. 24th, 2008 02:08 am (UTC)
Thanks for a great review. I've got this one on ebook pre-order so it'll pop up for download on the 26th. I've heard lots of good things about it and I'm looking forward to reading it.
Feb. 24th, 2008 02:19 am (UTC)
Ebook? Cool! Let me know what you think of it when you get around to reading it. :)
Feb. 24th, 2008 02:25 am (UTC)
Yes, through Fictionwise. While I still buy paper books, I'm finding ebooks more and more useful. I live in New Zealand, so books take extra time to get here and cost a lot more. (An average US$7.99 mass market comes out at about the equivalent of US$20 on the current exchange rate!!) So ebooks are great as I can buy them at the US cover price and get them straight away - or at least straight away once the street date is reached.
Feb. 24th, 2008 02:39 am (UTC)
That's awesome. :)
Feb. 24th, 2008 04:00 am (UTC)
I'm so pleased you enjoyed GRIMSPACE, and thank you very much for the eloquent, articulate review. You expressed beautifully what I feel are the strong points, including the chemistry between March and Jax.

You totally sussed out what I was trying to do in terms of giving SF a bit of a feminine facelift. I did want to try to capture the essence of what makes UF such a hot property. Could it be done successfully in SF as well?

Well, readers will have to judge for themselves. Again, thank you for reading.
Feb. 24th, 2008 04:08 am (UTC)
You totally sussed out what I was trying to do in terms of giving SF a bit of a feminine facelift. I did want to try to capture the essence of what makes UF such a hot property. Could it be done successfully in SF as well?

You know, it's funny, because reading this reminded me of my reaction to John Scalzi's Old Man's War. It was a lot of fun that I couldn't put down with a strong, snarky POV character, but if I really wanted to peg the book, it's "man-adventure" (though I'll give Scalzi a wee bit more credit, because the main character's devotion to his wife is quite admirable).

But go you for bring elements of UF to SF. I eat UF up because it's so much fun to read, and it wasn't too long ago that I remember wondering what, if anything, would be a truly feminized version of SF, because so much of it is marketed to men.

Question: what made you decide on the present tense? Great choice, but a curious one. :) Is that the voice you naturally write in?
Feb. 24th, 2008 04:23 am (UTC)
"I remember wondering what, if anything, would be a truly feminized version of SF, because so much of it is marketed to men."

This was exactly my thought. This series is tailored for women. That's not to say men aren't allowed to read it and enjoy it, but I wrote it with women in mind. I've always been intrigued by the idea of interstellar exploration, but I'm more interested in the pioneer souls who would go out to meet the great unknown than in the science of how they do it.

No, this was the first time in my multifarious career that I've written in present tense. As I wrote, Jax dictated the story, and I didn't know what would happen next.

Present tense lent more suspense and immediacy because if a book is being narrated past tense, the reader has the unconscious security of knowing things must've worked out, or how could the protagonist tell his / her story?
Feb. 24th, 2008 04:26 am (UTC)
Makes sense to me. Present tense can be tricky. The criticism I've often heard is that in present tense, every moment has the same weight, which gives the prose a kind of dream-state. But with Jax's voice, you TOTALLY avoided that. :)

I'm trying to make people I know read this book, btw. :)
Feb. 25th, 2008 11:21 pm (UTC)
"I'm trying to make people I know read this book, btw. :)"

You must be doing a splendid job. I just got word that I now qualify as a national bestselling author and the book's not even officially out yet.

"For the week ending 2/24/08, GRIMSPACE is #8 on B&N's science fiction & fantasy mass market bestseller list and #36 on Borders group SF&F mass market bestseller list."

So thank you very much!
Feb. 26th, 2008 12:01 am (UTC)
Congrats! :)
Feb. 24th, 2008 09:46 pm (UTC)
I definitely agree with you on the two strong points of GRIMSPACE, especially the narration--if not for Jax's voice, I probably would have gotten bogged down in the (somewhat lackluster) plotting. It's kind of funny, when you asked me earlier about derivative novels, the only example I could think of was Asaro--but I didn't bring it up since I discovered Asaro in the first place from your extensive reviews and I figured you'd already have her in mind.
Jul. 21st, 2008 01:35 am (UTC)
Hrmmm. Like others, the biggest drawing point for me was Jax's voice. Tensions wise, eh. Didn't really buy it but it didn't really deter me from the story. Still, I am mainly a sci-fi fan rather than a romance fan so I may be biased in this regards.

The plot is a little weak -- the original breakout and the rationale to agree feels off (no one ever seems to ask if the other person is lying, just assumes they're telling the truth, which has interesting consequences in certain segments), the Slider's solution was a little too cute to resolve the situation. March is basically a terrorist - albeit one that doesn't end up going the whole way - but that little tidbit is conveniently swept away.

Still, it's an okay book. I might check out the sequel if I see it on the shelves but I don't know if I'd go looking for it.
Oct. 4th, 2010 10:52 pm (UTC)
This was a book I thought got better as it went on. Significantly. That's good, because I nearly gave up on in it and I almost went "this just isn't for me."

I'm glad I stuck it out because in the end, I enjoyed it a good bit.

What nearly lost me was the pacing at the start. I felt like I didn't have time to orient myself or to particularly care about what was happening to anyone, including Jax, who I was inclined to like because she was kind of mouthy and I appreciate that in a heroine.

So, during the great "Attack of the Invisable Death Locusts" I was going "Redshirts are dying everywhere. Five seconds ago we were on a space station and people died all over the place there too. I care why?..."

And then we were enjoying the politics of some backcountry world Jax had basically never heard of! And I was like "I care about this...why?..."

I appreciate, however, that Jax kind of seemed to have the same response. And I'll give the start some slack, because Jax was in a very, very, bad place, and it's a first person POV, so some leakage into the narrative is something I can give a pass (though I suspect it was more "author finds her ship legs" than "author is showing you how disoriented Jax is.").

The book tightens up significantly after the first third, and I started to feel emotionally engaged with the characters, and I CARED whether Jax and March stopped being morons and I CARED when people started to die. I'm glad I stuck with it. I just wish the first bit had made me care a little more about what was happening.
Oct. 5th, 2010 12:21 am (UTC)
Look forward to your thoughts on the second book then! Just remember my warning, and keep reading on to the third!
Jan. 16th, 2013 06:05 pm (UTC)
As promised...

The second time around this book fared better than the first unfinished attempt: it might depend on my expectations being now different, or because I read – and liked – Enclave, which prompted me to try this series once more. It was a fast read too, enhanced by curiosity, and I must admit I'm intrigued enough to want to go on.
Sirantha Jax – once I warmed up to her – is a good character, mostly because she is as far as humanly possible from the stereotype heroine: she's neither young nor compellingly beautiful, she sometimes shows the kind of attitude that makes my hands itch (LOL) and, above all, she's massively flawed. Add to that the scars she's carrying, both physical and psychological, and you get a compelling protagonist.
Yet the book failed to draw me in completely, as it happened with Enclave, because at times the storytelling feels forced, especially where romance is involved. Ok, we all understand that Sirantha and March are destined to fall for each other, but I would have liked for that to happen over a longer stretch of time, especially considering the kind of emotional baggage she has to deal with. For similar reasons, the ending seems hurried, the strangest part of it (IMHO) being the bounty hunter turned deus ex machina.
Still, a good, entertaining read, so... no complaints.
Jan. 16th, 2013 09:42 pm (UTC)
If you continue the series, I will warn you that book two, Wanderlust, is the weakest installment. The rest of the series picks up from there for a very satisfying finish. I'll be curious to hear your thoughts on Vel (the bounty hunter) as you continue the series (if you do, of course).
Jan. 17th, 2013 05:37 pm (UTC)
If nothing else, McGuire's Toby Daye taught me that patience is always rewarded, so I'll try and stick with it. And of course I'll let you know how it goes :-)
Jan. 18th, 2013 03:05 am (UTC)
It can be a good lesson indeed!
( 29 comments — Leave a comment )

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