Ascension: A Tangled Axon Novel by Jacqueline Koyanagi

Publisher/Date:  Masque Books, Aug. 2013
Genre(s):  Science Fiction, Romance
Pages:  336

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

When I was 7 or 8 years old, I wanted to be an astronaut. Believing I could do anything at that age, I imagined floating among the stars and exploring our solar system. I wanted to feel weightless, unbouyed to Earth. I was also curious whether there was other human life in this big wide universe. I still do.

Reading ASCENSION: A TANGLED AXON NOVEL by Jacqueline Koyanagi is what I would imagine this would be like. In this sci-fi tale with romance mixed in, Koyanagi has created a character named Alana Quick, a dreadlocked sky surgeon in Heliodor City on the planet Orpim, whose life is fixing space ships with her aunt Lai and barely getting by. Alana’s debilitating illness, Mel’s Disorder, makes her job that much harder, but repairing these vessels are her lifeline to the sky, her first love since childhood. She always wanted to be an engineer aboard a flight crew, and when a Gartik ship with its members looking for her sister, Nova, she figures this is her chance to stow away and make the money she needs to support her and aunt and cure both of them from Mel’s once and for all.

Alana doesn’t really have much of a reason for the crew to keep her once she’s caught, since now they have another mouth to feed, but the captain — a blonde bombshell in a tank, cargo shorts, and boots — needs Alana’s sister, and only Alana knows her whereabouts. Her engineer’s locs alerts them that she knows a bit about repairing and maintaining ships, so they make room for this hitchhiker.

And the ship is crowded: we meet Ovie, the reigning ship engineer whose half-man, half-canine characteristics confound their new passenger; Dr. Helen Vasquez, better known as Slip, the medical officer ready to repair any bruises and bumps the crew will undoubtedly occur on their journey; Marre, the ship’s pilot with an interesting condition that endears her to Alana; and Captain Tev Helix, the self-assured leader of the ship’s tight-knit family. Once they allow Alana to stay, and eventually take on her sister Nova, it’s truly a full house.

Yet their target is simple, the same one Alana has when she hides in the craft’s cargo bay: invade Transliminal Solutions. The infamous corporation holds the remedy to Alana’s illness and can help others on the ship as well. Its cure-alls are known throughout the universe, but like any big business, it makes them unattainable to those without the resources to obtain them.

Alana could barely to afford the just stabilizing meds that keep her working without much pain; even with the drugs, the searing pain to her nerves can stop her from doing her life’s greatest passion – repairing space ships, making them sing again in the Big Quiet. It’s a love affair that no woman has been able to match (her ex-wife can attest to that). But being aboard the Tangled Axon might just make her think of having more than one passion in her life.

Digging into Ascension was treat for me. I haven’t read many science fiction novels, and the fact that this book has a black lesbian protagonist was a big draw. Alana is headstrong, albeit impulsive (jumping aboard an unfamiliar ship comes to mind). And for someone so into her work, she quickly fell in love with the Captain, and the romance between them is slow-building, though almost sluggishly so.

I enjoyed each character having his/her own backstory, ones that propel the story forward, the most convincing one being Alana and sister Nova’s tenuous relationship. Siblings with a difference of what constitutes a meaningful life, they never really saw eye to eye even as children. Nova’s successful career as a spirit guide has afforded Alana the shop in which she and Aunt Lai work, but Alana has never felt respected by Nova for her choice to be a “dirtheel” playing with ships for a living. Flying though the black gives them a chance to see past their careers, air their differences and possibly heal their bond.

Koyanagi’s creativity is evident, as the sexually-fluid world in which Alana lives and the details surrounding their travels to Transliminal are not hard to follow, but being inside Alana’s head can be; she’s a classic overthinker, especially when it comes to love, but I have to admire her tenacity to fight past her disease to follow her desires – both in the sky and on the ship.

I still wish I could be in space, though. Sometimes I wonder if there are other humans out there, ones more evolved than we are. Ascension gives me taste of what it may be like.

Reviewed August 2013