Listmas 2013: All the Reasons I Love the Sirantha Jax Sci-Fi Series

1828067For the past several months, I’ve been working my way through Ann Aguirre’s Sirantha Jax series of science fiction novels. Although they’re technically sci-fi romance, they’re a lot heavier on the sci-fi, especially as the series progresses. I’m currently on book 5 of 6, and lately I haven’t been able to put them down. I finish each in the span of just a few days and immediately download the next one on my Kindle.

The series revolves around Sirantha Jax, a 33-year old “jumper” — a person who is able to jack in to grimspace and jump spaceships to far distant points. (It’s the way this world does faster-than-light travel.) As a jumper, Jax has been charting new worlds for the Corp with her pilot, Mauro Kai. He jacks in with her, and during this time it’s like they share a mental space. That connection goes so deep that jumpers and their pilots often end up falling in love with each other — which is exactly what happened to Jax and Kai.

The problem is that jumping takes a toll on your body, so jumpers tend to burn out by the time they reach their 30’s. After that, any jump could kill them — so the fact that Jax is still jumping at 33 is a big deal. Jumping is a little like taking drugs and feels addicting; when Jax hasn’t jumped for a while, she gets edgy for grimspace.

At the series’ start in the first novel Grimspace, Jax is in prison. Her ship, the Sargasso, has crashed, killing everyone else on board but her — including Kai. And she’s being blamed for it. But a former mercenary named March arrives and breaks her out of prison in exchange for her joining his crew. Their objective is to break the Corp’s monopoly on interstellar travel, and since Jax is the best jumper out there, they need her help.

What follows is a fun science fiction adventure that has Jax maturing and falling in love with March. The world is also changing. There are thugs, aliens, colonies out in the middle of nowhere, diplomatic intrigues, and the threat of war from an alien race that literally eats humans — all told from Jax’s breathless first-person perspective.

With two books to go before I’m done with the series, I’m sure there’s more excitement on the way. But so far, here are all the reasons I’ve been so in love with this series:

1. Jax’s Evolution

The series is told entirely from Jax’s point of view, and to be honest, it’s a little overwhelming in the first two books. But then, Jax is a little overwhelming. She’s a fast thinker, sarcastic, and tough, and while she isn’t very good at talking about her emotional state, she’s not very good at hiding it, either.

However, her tone calms in book 3 — the same book that has her on a mission to an alien planet as ambassador, a job that’s much more somber than her usual jumping and fighting. I love how poetic the prose becomes in the later books. Whether it’s Aguirre settling into her style or Jax maturing, it works.

The books are full of references to Jax’s old life — partying hard and sleeping around. That’s her personality, but she’s getting older now. She’s making friends with all kinds of people, including aliens, and her open-mindedness brings with it a certain sense of diplomacy. She has to grit her teeth to avoid lashing out sometimes, and she certainly doesn’t lose her spark — she just starts to feel that her old life of partying is better staying in the past, and she has too many important missions and an epic romance to shoulder now.

2. An Up-and-Down Romance

I wasn’t sold on March at the beginning of the series. He’s one of those tough, close-mouthed types; I prefer romance novels with a male lead who’s more open and eccentric. Plus, March is Psi, which means he can read minds — including, and most especially, Jax’s. I didn’t like that. It felt too unscientific for sci-fi, and I worried that he would try to control Jax in subtle ways using this ability.

But by the second book, I really liked March. I think it was the way Jax described him as being mean and scarred — hardly handsome — even though he had warm, pretty eyes. I fell for the idea of Jax and March being a couple of messed up people with scars who were perfect for each other in spite of all their flaws.

And March being able to read Jax’s mind is a huge part of their connection, but in a totally different way than I imagined at first. At first, it’s a source of humor when Jax is thinking about wanting to kick March’s ass over something and he reads her mind right then. Later in the series, after their romance develops, Jax misses March being there when he’s away. It gives her a sense of connection and security that she craves. More importantly, it’s a key way for them to communicate with each other privately even when others are around.

Their relationship has ups and downs throughout the series. Jax has already been married and lost the man she considered to be the love of her life, so falling for March takes time for her to accept. There are times when she pushes him away for his own good, and vice versa. In the third book, March is dealing with major issues after killing so many innocents in a war, and Jax has to “break” him. Some of these down periods I don’t necessarily love, but overall, I appreciate that the relationship has realistic ebbs and flows. By the end of book 4, their romance feels real and weighty because of how much you have seen them go through together.

3. Complex Characterization

Some of the best sci-fi out there follows the crew of a spaceship. The Sirantha Jax series joins that tradition as it follows Jax, March, and a crew of “regulars” who show up on the ship in (almost) every book. By book 4, there are several touching scenes in which Jax basically admits how much she has come to care about all of these people she works so closely with, and even though they’re a tad over-the-top at times, I totally felt feelings when I read these scenes.

The fantastic cast of characters includes a mechanic who is actually an exiled princess. Jax’s best friend is an alien bounty hunter named Velith who is able to shapeshift, looks like a giant bug in his natural form, and once tried to kill her. Jax’s AI takes the body of a pleasure doll to walk around, then ends up splitting herself between several cleaning bots, and now is part of Jax’s spaceship. And just when I thought I loved Doc (short for “Doctor,” of course), I learned about the troubles in his romantic relationship of many decades and realized that nobody is perfect. You never know what’s coming next, but that’s exactly why these characters are always interesting.

4. Surprising Action Scenes

The Sirantha Jax series is packed with action, and every scene offers something unique. It’s easy for me to get bored when reading action scenes, but Aguirre has mastered the emotional side of these scenes. Jax is tough but hardly fearless, and watching her tremble over things before reacting — either out of instinct or after planning a careful attack — is exciting specifically because you know how unsure of herself she is at these times.

There are all kinds of action scenes: space battles, hand-to-hand fights, survival scenes with aliens who are trying to lure Jax and her companions into a trap to eat them alive. And they’re full of surprises. I won’t give anything away, but in book 4, a bloody battle took a totally unexpected turn thanks to the technology Jax has implanted in her throughout the series.

5. Well-developed Alien Races

I’m a sucker for aliens in science fiction, and the Sirantha Jax series develops alien races with aplomb. So far, the main two races explored are the Ithtorians and the Morgut, and both are memorable.

The Ithtorians — Velith’s race — are bug-like to human eyes but can shapeshift to look like other races, including humans. Though Velith at first takes human form to make Jax more comfortable, over time she gets used to him, learns the details of who he is, and hardly notices when he’s in his natural state because she’s so accustomed to it. When she’s named ambassador to Ithiss-Tor — a tough job, since the Ithtorians consider themselves a superior race and have a bad history with humans — she asks Velith all kinds of questions about Ithtorian culture. She even learns their wa, a special bow that can convey a sort of poetic message to the subject; it lets her gracefully send Velith and other Ithtorians deep messages without speaking any words.

Meanwhile, the Morgut are huge, beastly creatures that nest in places humans frequent, lure them into traps, and then devour them as meals. It’s disturbing and, at first, a little over-the-top — but that’s because the humans see them that way. By book 4, it’s clear there’s more to them than first suspected. For instance, they are able to jump through space in ways human jumpers can’t yet achieve. And they have big, complicated conquering plans beyond just feeding.

The alien cultures are probably my favorite aspect of the worldbuilding in this series. If you can only read one book, I highly recommend Doubleblind for an in-depth look at the Ithtorian race.

siranthajax

I first heard about Grimspace through the Vaginal Fantasy bookclub, which you can check out on the Geek and Sundry YouTube channel or here on Goodreads. Since the series is such a fun blend of sci-fi action and romance, I recommend it if you’re into easy, fast-paced science fiction reads. Put it on this year’s to-read list. =)

— Ashley

9 Comments Add yours

  1. C. T. Murphy says:

    This probably isn’t in my typical sci-fi wheelhouse, but I’ll keep it in mind since you recommend it. I would’ve otherwise never even considering reading these. I do love a good series though!

    1. Yes, I love series! It’s so fun to be able to pick up that second book and beyond and meet those same characters again. =)

  2. twdyen says:

    I am glad that you’ve found a good sci-fi to read. For me, they are usually too unreal (inconsistent) or too dry (too focused on certain scientific theories). For example, why does it take a jumper (someone with special abilities) to perform space travel? I don’t see the need to involve anything biological to travel beyond the speed of light. Mind reading is okay, except that we can’t explain why mind readers never existed before but will be plenty in future. Mutation is mostly gradual based on actual observations. A brief explanation of how the ability will actually appear, evolve and mature can be interesting.

    Mind reading usually implies both reading and writing. Otherwise, a two-way communication cannot possibly be achieved as described in most novels. However, how are we supposed to know that a thought comes from inside or outside? Sometimes, an inspiration can come to you in a very abrupt way. Does it mean that a mind writer actually exists to make this happen? Not necessarily. However, if a mind writer asserts his or her voice, then identification becomes less an issue. Another problem arises when multiple mind writers exist in a conversation. There must be a protocol to follow to achieve a conference. So, I presume that mind writers must know to maintain their particular voice when they speak or broadcast then. Some novels describe mind readers that can communicate across thousands of miles. It’s better to think through these abilities before writing a novel. Realism matters! By the way, we are not dealing with mind writers that lie or fake one another yet. Most sci-fi characters tend to be very naive and unreal. However, that doesn’t change the fact that I love the sci-fi genre.

    1. Yes, I know what you mean. Realism is definitely important! In this series, the mind reading really bothered me in the beginning because I couldn’t think of a scientific basis for it. The jumping is because jumpers have a special “J-gene” that gives them this special ability, but the books don’t explain in detail how that works.

      I think of this type of science fiction as soft sci-fi, I guess. I prefer hard sci-fi that’s very scientific (without being too dry, like you said!), but sometimes soft sci-fi is a lot of fun. Especially when the story is so interesting and has so much depth, as this one does. =)

      1. twdyen says:

        Hard sci-fi tends to be very hard, so hard that it forbids faster-than-light travel, in which case aliens probably won’t exist or they are too far superior to humans. But, again, if they are allowed to go that fast, why not us? Without aliens, sci-fi gets very boring because it becomes too difficult to create a fantasy world. See, it’s got to be a magic kingdom or an exoplanet, or it will be too politically incorrect to pick a geographic area to talk about a made-up civilization. The thing is, if an author prefers sci-fi to fantasy, he’d better to do some background research to maintain the realism of his work. Anyways. You are right. The story is more important.

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