Science Fiction Though the Decades

Thursday, May 3, 2012

2007: Axis (Wilson, Robert Charles)

Unexceptional in all regards: tedious and unexotic (2/5)
From May 2, 2009

The sequel to the mind-bending novel Spin: sheathed in the mysteries of the Hypotheticals, the Spin, the Martians and the Fourths. Axis was a welcome sequel which could shed some light upon the mysteries left over from Spin. Alas, the curiosity is yet quenched.

"...the "world next door"--the planet engineered by the mysterious Hypotheticals to support human life, and connected to Earth by way of the Arch that towers hundreds of miles over the Indian Ocean. Humans are colonizing this new world--and, predictably, fiercely exploiting its resources, chiefly large deposits of oil in the western deserts of the continent of Equatoria. Lise Adams is a young woman attempting to uncover the mystery of her father's disappearance ten years earlier. Turk Findley is an ex-sailor and sometimes-drifter. They come together when an infall of cometary dust seeds the planet with tiny remnant Hypothetical machines. Soon, this seemingly hospitable world will become very alien indeed--as the nature of time is once again twisted, by entities unknown."

The novel proved to be a quick read as it contains limited simple characters, limited locations on the New World and a simple, linear plot. In those regards, the novel is fairly blasé, hardly a worthy sequel to an award-winning novel. The only engaging aspect of this novel is the residue of mystery and awe carried over from Spin. The "ashfall" which takes place in Axis is commonplace throughout the novel but is never grabs my attention. The Fourths, also, while a major point in this novel, seem no different than the unaltered humans and so do not garner any excess consideration. It's just in the last 10% where answers surrounding the state of being of the Hypotheticals and "ashfall" are hypothesized, regardless of how unfounded and unsatisfactory they may be.

The relationships between the limited characters are dry and sometimes even itchingly tedious. Even the dominant love triangle surrounding Lise (along with dull Brain and drab Turk) plays little into the plot. The only characters which got any rise out of me were two agents from Earth inspecting the Fourths on the New World. Their additions to the plot were thin, but Wilson's introduction was classic: "Sigmund was tall, sepulchral, flinty. Weil was six inches shorter and stout enough that he probably bought his pants at a specialty store. Weil was capable of smiling. Sigmund was not." (122) This may be the only smile you'll receive from the entire novel.

Much of the New World which Wilson explores here has Asian overtones. The shipyard where ships are deconstructed is our point of entry into this strange planet. First Wilson states that Indian and Thai workers dominate the yards, but some pages later he writes that Indian and Malaysian workers make up most of the task force. At the same time, the village on the shore near the ship yard is an Indonesian village (more precise, a Minang village). However, the only cultural additions to the pages where the village of Minang is spoken are limited to their language (the one word "Ibu" is an honorific which means missus) and the false statement that the written language is curvilinear. If Wilson wanted to include Indonesian, Indian or Thai culture into his novel, the effort would have been welcome as it needed some exoticism or flare to reflect from the pages.

Lastly, Wilson tends to repeat himself throughout the book. He mentions the same things about the Fourths over and over again as well as descriptions of the strange flora. There are even some fallacies in the plot flow (regardless of how inane they may be, they shouldn't have been present). In one passage Lise makes her way out to the all terrain vehicle to grab some foodstuffs while on the next page she has to put on her boots because it's stated that she hadn't left the room since they had all arrived.

After this total dud of a sequel, I haven't raked up enough interest after five years to bother picking up the third book in the trilogy: Vortex (2011). Please do read Spin but prepare for disappointment with the second instillation.

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