Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Review: Axis by Robert Charles Wilson

Axis by Robert Charles Wilson
Published: Tor, 2007
Series: Book 2 of the Spin Sequence
Awards Nominated: John W. Campbell Memorial Award

The Book:

In Spin’s direct sequel, Wilson takes us to 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.”

This is the third book I’ve read by Wilson, after Spin and The Chronoliths, and I am planning to eventually read the final Spin Sequence novel, Vortex, which I have already purchased.  I think I hold a minority opinion, but I enjoyed Axis as much as if not more than Spin.

My Thoughts:

Axis is a sequel in the same universe as Spin, but it follows an almost entirely new cast of characters.  One could argue that the story is still about ordinary people attempting to cope with unexplained (and potentially unexplainable) phenomena, but that would also be a fair description of every Robert Charles Wilson novel I’ve read to date. The main active unexplained phenomenon this time is the ashfall, though humans are also still coping with the Arch that connects the Earth to the planet that has been named Equatoria.  In terms of the new planet, I enjoyed reading about what kinds of people moved there and what sort of organizational infrastructure developed.  It was kind of interesting how ordinary such a strange thing can become when it is a constant in everyone’s lives. The ashfall was more disruptive and undeniably strange, and attempts to understand it drive most of the plot.  In the end, I felt like the story was more about the ways people approach the search for understanding, rather than the answers they may or may not find.
The many ways to search for meaning were illustrated by the many viewpoint characters, each of which was trying to find or understand something. Lise was a recently divorced woman who was trying to learn what happened when her father vanished years ago.  Her ex-husband Brian provided a viewpoint from within a questionably corrupt organization, and he was set on his own path of discovery by Lise’s inquiries.  Lises’s sometimes-lover Turk aided her in her search, while also trying to figure out his own future.  Their investigation led them into a Fourth community, a group of people who had taken the Martan longevity treatment to gain a fourth stage of life.  This Fourth community was focused on the idea of communication with the Hypotheticals, with the Martian Sulean Moi and Avram Dvali supporting opposing views on the path to accomplish this.  In addition, there was the wonderkid Isaac, who some hoped would play an important role in understanding the Hypotheticals. With so many characters, there was naturally a bit less time to develop them all.  For this kind of story, though, I think it was more valuable to have many perspectives on the situation than to know one or two characters especially well.

The story may revolve around the search for the answers to various questions, but I think the novel was more concerned with the process of their search and the value of what they are able to understand.  In short, one should not really go into this novel expecting to get a definitive answer about the nature and purpose of the Hypotheticals.  There is some progress on this front, but much is left unexplained.  I was pretty satisfied with how the story wrapped up, both in terms of many of the characters’ arcs and with the new direction that it looks like the final novel will take. I’m looking forward to seeing the final conclusion of the series, in Vortex!

My Rating: 3.5/5

I thought that Axis was an excellent sequel to Spin, though it is a very different sort of book.  Axis is the story of many characters over a short time span, most of which characters are newly introduced in this novel. The characters may not be as deeply explored as in Spin, but I appreciated having many different perspectives on the events of the story.  I enjoyed seeing what happened with the world through the Arch, and how humanity managed to make this new marvel feel commonplace.  The ashfall and a Fourth community’s goal to communicate with the Hypotheticals provided a new mystery, and the ending still left many questions unanswered. I am curious to see how the final novel will (or maybe won’t) answer them!

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