TBR Challenge: Ascension, by Jacqueline Koyanagi

This month’s TBR Challenge theme is “something different,” so I chose Jacqueline Koyanagi’s Ascension: Tangled Axon, which is science fiction with romance between two women, two things I rarely read. I’m drinking from the firehose of end of term work, so I’m amazed I managed to finish it, but I did. Please excuse this review, which is dashed off on my iPad so short and unedited. And I find “ascension” very hard to spell, embarrassing for an English-teaching church lady.

Alana is a “sky surgeon” (engineer) who longs to work in space but ekes out a meagre “dirtheel” existence on planet where, like many places in her universe, the inhabitants are being crowded out by Transliminal Solutions, a corporation/empire/not clear exactly what from another universe that promises to fix all your problems if you only have money. Alana and her aunt have a painful degenerative disease and are trying to save enough for the cure Transliminal offers.

Then the ship Tangled Axon arrives looking for Alana’s sister Nova, a “spirit guide.” (Why they want her and what exactly a spirit guide is remains unclear for quite a while). Alana stows away on the ship and adventures ensue.

Ascension is Koyanagi’s first novel and I think it shows. There are some good things about it, particularly the depiction of living with an illness and the anxieties it creates if you can barely afford to treat it, which rang true.

In the early stages, I was really enjoying Alana, her love of her vocation, her yearning for space. However, parts of the novel are slow and there is a lot of Alana ruminating on her feelings–for sexy captain Tev but also about her sister, her illness, and so on. The romance wasn’t that developed; I wasn’t sure why Tev and Alana fell for each other. And sometimes the narration felt heavy handed. I noticed the crew was a found family long before those words appeared in the text. Trust the reader!

When I do go for sci fi I’m not after hard sci fi with lots of details about science and technology, but I was nonplussed by the role of the “spirt guide” and the more fantasy-genre philosophizing about souls that goes along with Nova’s role, as well as the secret of Transliminal’s technical dominance, which I found both implausible and under-explained. The world-building is pretty bare bones. There’s some lovely description, especially of Alana’s first views of space, but also some over-writing (and sorry I don’t have actual quotes here; this is where the short of time thing comes in).

A number of Goodreads reviews of this compare it to Firefly, which I have never seen. I think if you liked that show and/or like the Found Family trope more than I do, you would probably like the book more than I did. I didn’t hate it, I’m just “meh.” But I was “meh” on Becky Chambers’ Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet too, so that tells you what kind of grouch I am. 😉

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9 Responses to TBR Challenge: Ascension, by Jacqueline Koyanagi

  1. Sunita says:

    I’m with you on the Chambers style of SF, but there’s apparently a real audience for it. It’s kind of like workplace comedy/drama but in space. Which is not what I read SF for, but horses for courses.

  2. Dorine says:

    You made me laugh at the “English-teaching church lady”. Words are so much fun – I love it when I discover I’ve been using a word incorrectly forever. Picture me gasping. LOL I hope work is going smoother and you can find time for more good books. Sci-Fi is something I don’t try often as it never matches how I think it should be.

  3. I loved ‘Firefly’ but DNFd Becky Chambers book. Whatever that signifies (probably a big nada). I remember when ‘Ascension’ first came out; I was uninterested then. Given your review, I don’t regret my decision to skip it. Too many books, too little time…

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      There’s never enough time! I think that I like more action when I’m in the mood for science fiction. Or maybe less New Age-y fantasy stuff than this had. I wasn’t expecting that.

  4. I enjoyed Ascension but it’s probably not the first book I would hand to a relative SF newbie? But do let me know if you ever want to dip a toe in the waters of science fiction, cause I’d love love love to give you some recs!

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      Well, I love Murderbot by Martha Wells. I think my problem here was that I didn’t care about any of the characters besides Alana, and even she started to wear on me. This was maybe a first book problem as much as anything else. The characters didn’t feel fully formed.

  5. Janine Ballard says:

    I’ve been curious about the Becky Chambers books. Rosario loved the first one, but another friend gave it a DNF.

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