Posted in: AztecLady Reviews, Guest reviews
Wanderlust, by Ann Aguirre
The second novel set in the Grimspace universe, Wanderlust starts a few days after the last events narrated in Grimspace. Like Grimspace, Wanderlust is narrated in first person, present tense by the heroine, Jax. While much more self aware at the beginning of this book than she was initially during the previous one, Jax is still very much inherently selfish and a loner by nature. Getting used to caring, and getting used to her own reactions to those feelings for others, take some doing.
Not that there is much space or time for introspection during the chaos that seems to follow Jax wherever she goes.
Sirantha Jax doesn’t take chances… she jumps at them.
Sirantha Jax is a jumper, a woman who possesses the unique genetic makeup needed to navigate faster-than-light ships through grimspace. Jax has worked for Farwan Corporation her entire career. But now word’s out that the Corp deliberately crashed a passenger ship, and its stranglehold on intergalactic commerce has crumbled—which means that Jax is out of a job.
She’s also broke due to being declared dead a little prematurely. So when the government asks her to head up a vital diplomatic mission, Jax agrees to do it. Her mandate: journey to the planet Ithiss-Tor and convince its inhabitants to join the Conglomerate.
But Jax’s payday is light-years away. First she’ll have to contend with Syndicate criminals, a stormy relationship with her pilot, man-eating aliens, and her own grimspace-weakened body. She’ll be lucky just to make it to Ithiss-Tor alive…
Without further ado, here’s the transcript of Issek and myself’s discussion of Wanderlust.
Issek: My biggest problem with the book—which I liked, by the way—was the slowness of the beginning chapters. Kind of like that first part of a roller coaster ride where it seems to take forever to be dragged, oh so slowly, up that first incline. Which is followed, of course, by the very quick descents.
azteclady: And twirls, backtracks, sudden stops… and that sensation that your stomach is somewhere behind you and will never catch up?
I: YES! Lots of thrills and chills and you never seem to get a chance to catch your breath after they get out of one tight spot before Jax and her motley crew are back in another, even tighter. Jax even comments on this when the group finally makes it into the expected safety of an emergency hangar—she thinks, “Since our luck usually works that way, I expect a firing squad to be waiting for us, or maybe a pack of Morgut…”
a: And here’s where the first person, present tense narrative pays off because we only know what she knows—as she knows it
I: Right, it works best when there’s lots of action seen through Jax’s eyes, which means we (readers) don’t know what terrible things are happening to the other characters, and that adds to the tension and drama.
a: Exactly—that is the limitation; and yet, it also serves the purpose of having other characters explain things to her, so that the reader learns them. It helps that Jax keeps remembering how self-absorbed she has been all her life, so that it makes sense just how much she *doesn’t* know about politics, economics, and all the other dynamics of her universe.
I: She keeps growing throughout both Grimspace and Wanderlust. In fact, I was convinced, almost until the end of Wanderlust, that this was going to be one of those stories where the journey would be more important than the destination. Then the ending proved me wrong. Not that the journey wasn’t extremely important.
a: Oh yes, that’s the other thing I really loved about both books, the characterization. The recurring characters (Jax, March, Dina, Velith) all show growth, but they remain themselves, there is no sudden turn into someone else.
I: Most of the characters in Wanderlust, with only a couple exceptions, were needed in the plot (and those two exceptions were pretty much dumped early on in the book)
a: Oh yes! Which reminds me… did you like how some of the characters from Grimspace, who seemed to be “done with” returned to play key parts in Wanderlust?
I: Yes, especially Vel (who I think is the first alien species I’ve come across with a British sense of humor, if you will).
a: Oh Vel is just wonderful! Dry and subtle, indeed. In fact, if I cannot have Bunter (from the Lord Peter Wimsey’s books) I want to have Vel (and his pack)
I: Vel is great. I marked a few quotes, if I may?
a: Oh please do!
I: When they’ve gone from one frying pan into yet another fire, Vel says, “Our situation is less than ideal.” I couldn’t stop laughing! Another time, when the group is smearing themselves with camouflage treatment in preparation for a dash across enemy territory, one person asks Vel why he isn’t using any. His response, “Because I’m special,” is priceless. I thought so anyway. Yes, he’s special, gimme more Vel! He needs a book all his own!
a: There were several laugh-out-loud moments for me, certainly from Vel’s dialogue, but also those passages which show Ms Aguirre’s deep affection—and vast knowledge—of the tried and true traditions of B-horror movies.
I: But… she had her characters avoid the typical “let’s split up and search” stupidity that everyone who has seen a B-Horror movie knows all too well. Even though she tricked me into thinking that that was exactly where she was heading.
a: Indeed *chuckling* it was one of those, “Oh no, she won’t…!” … and she didn’t
I: The secondary characters are very easy to like.
a: One thing I enjoy very much that all of them are individuals in their own right with secrets, habits, idiosyncrasies. From speech to behaviour.
I: Perhaps easier with them than with the two main ones, in fact. Possibly because we see them filtered through Jax’s sarcastic sense of humor, but when she muses about herself, she is much less forgiving of her own faults.
a: God, yes! This is a much darker book than Grimspace, for sure, because Jax is no longer as oblivious to her own nature—and her faults—as she was. She now appreciates those around her, and looks upon them with affection
I: You thought so? Maybe, but I thought that overall the tone—once past the first part of the book—was brightened with frequent snatches of humor. Jax, thinking about herself, yes, she is much darker, here. Tell me that this line isn’t funny: (Dina) “So if you know how to handle your tools, I won’t say no to an extra hand.”
a: Oh, Jax is funny—in a black humour way. But her introspection is much much darker. As you said, she is much more forgiving of the others’ faults and humanity. But she’s ruthless in judging herself—and finding herself wanting.
I: One objection to the plot: It takes us until almost the end to learn the reason for Jax’s “diplomatic mission.” Can you think of a good reason why we—and Jax—couldn’t have been told at the start?
a: You know, you are right. I can’t really think why the true reason for it wasn’t spelled out before.
I: About Jax and March and their relationship. Jax has a problem with her fragility (in both senses of the word) and anything that smacks of dependence
a: Yes! and this compounds all the other issues that weight in her relationship with March. Then we have March’s own decisions—which he knows will hurt Jax, but which he feels compelled to make nonetheless.
I: March has serious issues of his own that Jax may—or may not—be able to help him overcome
a: And that is why I say this book is darker than Grimspace. The better Jax knows herself, the more insurmountable the issues seem to be.
I: Agreed, but it’s lighter too, in another sense. Because I felt that there were more instances of humor that really worked in Wanderlust. And I really can’t wait to find out more about Madame Kang.
a: I want to know more about Ithiss-Tor myself!
I: Yes, so do I. I want to see how she fares at building an alien society. I’d say Ms Aguirre does very well in the traditional Sci-fi aspects of these books
a: And coming from an avid, and widely read, reader of Science Fiction, that assertion has some weight more than when I say it because I’m not as knowledgeable.
I: You’re knowledgeable, you’ve read everything Jules Verne ever wrote. A question for you: did you guess the plot twist that occurred at the end? I confess cluelessness, myself.
a: I didn’t see it coming, either. It worked very well to tie up several loose threads, It was quite clever, I think.
I: I enjoyed Wanderlust greatly, and I give it 8.4 (out of 10)
a: And I give it 8.75