Attenzione: questa recensione va in onda a blog unificati su Il Futuro è Tornato. Così, per chi la volesse in italiano.
Try to describe grimspace for us.
At parties, when everyone’s knocked back a few, there’s always someone who asks me to do that. They don’t seem to understand, it’s like trying to define red for a blind man. If you’re not a jumper, then you’re blind to the most extraordinary, primordial colors. And nothing I say will help you understand.
The name’s misleading. Grimspace means inexorable, implacable. Not to be appeased. You see, grimspace will have its due from all who traverse it. But it’s beautiful there, or we wouldn’t be drawn back, time and again, driven on by a jones stronger than anything mankind could ever devise. Jumpers burn out smiling for a reason.
In a future that sees humanity expanding through space, clonizing planets, enslaving or fighting alien races and installing space station here and there, still no FTL drive has been built yet.
Because there’s something better.
There’s grimspace, a secondary space that a rightly equipped ship can access only thanks to its jumper, and in which only jumpers can navigate thanks to beacons positioned, eons before humanity, by someone or something.
Sirantha Jax is a jumper. She’s got the j-gene and she’s good at her work. More: she’s longevous, because most jumpers burn out way before reaching 500 successful jumps and 14 years of service.
Except, Jax’s immaculate record just got stained. Sole survivor of a crash that killed also her pilot and lover, she can’t remember the accident, and the psychiatric therapy her employer wants for her is not going as it should.
When a stranger enters her holding cell and asks her to chose between fleeing or be broken by the Corp she works for, Jax opts for excaping. From there on, it will be a fast-paced sequence of adventures, unexpected encounters and emotions.
Ann Aguirre is an American author with a wide range of writing, from urban fantasy to science fiction, through young adult, and “Grimspace” is the first book of a series of six that she defines “romantic science fiction”. And it’s a fitting label.
In writing this novel, the author put together a lot of ingredients: there’s grimspace and the Corp that monopolizes the access to it; alien civilizations, both advanced and not-so-advanced; psychic powers and Chi-masters (seriously); space ships and crash landings; self-proclaimed kings, mercenaries and bounty hunters; exotic and deadly fauna; but also that vague nod to Earth as a nearly dead planet; savage worlds, with tribal political structures, pitted against bureaucratized yet bucolic planets; limb transplants, fetish bar and also a believable love story.
It could end up a mess, instead the author succeeds at balancing it all, action, respite, moments of psychological depth and those lovely exposition snippets that never sound forced, due to the voice of Jax resounding loud and clear in there too.
Jax falls into the strong female characters category, but she never sounds predictable.
As a jumper, she has always had a privileged life, and, as the story proceeds, she’ll understand she is a spoiled thirty-something, quite ignorant about life outside the Corp. She’ll also understand that she needs to grow up and change if she wanna survive her new life.
She’ll do stupid things and brave things, she’ll complicate the mess she’s in and help solve the situations.
She’s a witty person, one of those narrators who boast a lot of sarcasm and overconfidence, but she does it in a charming way, without hiding to herself (or the reader) when wits are just an armor.
By her side, a varied cast of supporting characters that it’s hard not to love, from the reluctant pilot March, to the solid, bossy presence of Dina (whom I love!), to Saul and Loras.
The plot flows smoothly, grabs you with the first chapter and never lets go through conspiracies and counter-conspiracies, gunfight, hasty escapes and heartfelt decisions.
The science-fiction side of the novel is solid and funny, the romantic one is strong but never boggles the plot with the usual and potentially trite cliché of the genre.
Grimspace is a truly fun read, that left me with the need to know what Ms. Aguirre (and the future) hold for her cast in the other volumes, and whether the author will keep the aforementioned balance in the elements of the universe she created.