Diversity in “Ascension”

ascensionAscension by Jacqueline Koyanagi
Masque Books, December 4th, 2013 (Science Fiction / Space Opera)*
My rating: “Vacation by the beach” doesn’t really qualify, since it’s a more thinking book than that, but I give it the equivalent 3 stars. I probably will go here again. 4 stars. (3.5?)

As just about everyone knows by now, Ascension is about a queer woman of color who is a struggling sky surgeon (starship engineer/mechanic). She has a debilitating immune disorder that causes crippling pain without medication. By making an impulsive choice to stow away on a starship that visits her repair yard in search of her sister, she jumpstarts her transformative voyage from lonely, selfish, planet-bound surgeon to accepting, loving member of an odd but familial starship crew.

I liked this book. And that’s about all the enthusiasm I can muster. I really enjoyed stepping outside the traditional science fiction (genre fiction) characters and relationships. It even stretches the familiar space opera framework. However, the setting and worldbuilding were vague, and although the characters are intriguing and complicated,  I never found myself wholly absorbed in their story.

Where this book shines is in its diversity and the relationships between characters. The Tangled Axon, the ship on which our protagonist, Alana Quick, stows away, is crewed by a band of very unusual people. The captain, Tev, and the medic, Slip, are in a poly-amorous lesbian relationship (but Slip wants to have babies with Ovie, Axon’s male engineer); the captain lost part of her leg in a horrific accident; Ovie is at heart a wolf; and the pilot fades in and out of corporeality. This last is what drives the plot, when it’s not being driven by Alana’s quest for companionship, purpose, and “The Big Quiet,” as she calls space.

As Alana’s relationships with the crew and captain develop, her ideas of love and “normal” expand and shift to accommodate the crew’s unusual lifestyles. The romance between Alana and Tev is complicated, unique, and steamy. Alana’s sister, Nova, contrasts starkly with Alana. Nova has spent all her life convinced that she is destined to move beyond the physical and become energy. Alana, on the other hand, is fully focused on her physical form. Their uneasy sisterly relationship adds yet another complication to the mix.

This isn’t a typical space opera, because the universe is premised on multiple parallel universes, like neighboring universes in the real world, but alternate realities instead of different solar systems and planets. And there you have the source of my confusion. I kept expecting the worldbuilding to follow more science fictional rules.

The worldbuilding was vague and had an unfinished feel. I had trouble making sense of the universe, because very little was explained until near the resolution of the plot. It did avoid long descriptive passages and info dumps, which no one likes, but I found the elusiveness of the worldbuilding frustrating.

I enjoyed engaging with the different worldviews represented in this novel, but I was never completely absorbed in the story. It was thought-provoking, interesting, but not engrossing. A quick, fun, and easy read, I recommend it for everyone interested in reading diverse science fiction, as well as fans of space opera and romantic science fiction.


*e-ARC provided by NetGalley



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