One occasionally hears the words “space opera” tossed around the science fiction world and it is certainly been applied here. While I’m not entirely sure of my grasp of genre characteristics, it occurs to me that Grimspace is actually soap opera.
Grimspace is full of Very Serious Angst. It begins with the main character, Sirantha Jax in prison. Her unusual genetics allow her to ‘jump’ a ship through space and there was a disaster where she and her partner were piloting a ship that crashed and dozens of people died. Because of amnesia surrounding the event, she’s been agonizing for weeks, wondering if she’s falling prey to the jumpers’ end-of-life mental illness. One day a new visitor arrives in her cell, a haughty and aristocratic man. They meditate, discuss, and he offers her a choice: escape to freedom or die in the Corporation prison. It is obvious to everyone but Jax that the Corp is setting her up, but she’s too busy guilt-tripping herself to see it. Still, she’s ornery and ragey so March is able to goad her into coming along. Of course, March is the pilot of the escape ship, which will mean he and Jax have to connect quite intimately–in their minds. March brings her to a planet where some frontier-type rebels are looking to find and train jumpers before the Corp does and so break their hold on interstellar transport. It’ll lead them to a muddy planet, a space station and eventually back to Earth.
It isn’t a bad book by any means and I was motivated to try it by friends’ positive reviews. I enjoyed it for a while, although I felt like there was excessive self-pity (Jax) and arrogance (March) standing in for characterization and a general tendency to have climactic events every few pages (gun fights! chases! car wrecks! aliens that want to eat them! stranding! the end of a dynasty!) More importantly, it ended up unable to strike a narrative tone that was consistent with theme or action. Sarcastic distancing? Check. Emotional melodrama? Check. Noble self sacrifice? Check. Horror? Check. Apathy? Check. Lust? Yep. It attempts to be simultaneously flippant and angry, and then throws in emotional moments in intimacy and shocking plot revelations. I felt like everything should be In Capital Letters Because it Means Something Important. Surprisingly, there’s a fair amount of death, which doesn’t seem to play fair with the reader when one is writing pulp. The plot revelations are not really anything unexpected–to everyone but Jax-and so it ends up seeming trite.
It’s hard to put my finger on exactly why the writing doesn’t work for me. Perhaps because Aguirre takes aim at a moral of Individuals Versus Big Corporations as a theme and it seems so… ordinary. Perhaps its because the relationship between Jax and March was evident from within about two hours of their meeting each other (book-time, certainly not my reading time), although it had to be concealed in the adolescent style banter of “I don’t want to.” “You have to.” “Make me.” “Just do it.” “No, you make me.” coupled with the supposed intimacy of ‘glimpsing’ each other’s ‘secret’ thoughts.
I was mildly intrigued for awhile with the thought that Jax may be on her way to burning out mentally and becoming a paranoid misanthrope. I don’t normally do maudlin, but it could have gone there–Jax is clearly addicted to the process of ‘jumping,’ of losing herself in the Universe of the experience, and that might have been an intriguing path. Except it turns out that she has Snowflake powers, so she won’t.
Honestly, about the time they are on the Macho Man’s space station and Jax (view spoiler) I was done. I basically skimmed most of the rest, and found subsequent plot points seeming even sillier. There’s a horrible Predator-type alien that Comes To Know and Admire Jax, and if I hadn’t rolled my eyes earlier, I did then. What it boils down to for me is that like a fifteen-year-old, it takes itself Very Very Seriously with lots of Big Meaning. It compounds emotional drama with physical drama and never explores either particularly well.
Like Jubilation Lee’s review points out, it does have some similarity with Firefly, but without the compassion or charm. And that makes all the difference.