Sunday, September 4, 2011

Axis (Book)

A young woman looking for the truth about her father’s disappearance. A man just getting by day-to-day. A boy created as a part of a daring experiment. A newly divorced man trying to protect his ex-wife. A Martian woman trying to prevent a repeat of a tragedy from her childhood. A scientist obsessed with trying to communicate with a higher power. An old nurse still affected by the death of her brother. A woman trying to nurture the son she did not want born. 

Axis is the sequel to the Hugo Award winning novel Spin and is the second book in Robert Charles Wilson’s Spin Sequence. The novel was nominated for the 2008 John W. Campbell Award. For me the characters are what make the novel worth reading. Even the secondary characters have interesting backstories, and many grow or have revelations as the book progresses.

Briefly, Axis takes place on Equatoria, the planet linked to Earth by an arch built by the Hypotheticals. One of the major characters is Isaac, who has known from his birth that he is “special.” The adults he lives with in a remote commune expect something from him. As the story progresses, he learns about his unusual purpose. The second major character is Lise, a woman whose father disappeared when she was a child. Newly divorced, she is obsessed with learning the truth and enlists the aid of Turk, a man without a purpose but with some very interesting friends. Assorted Fourths, people who have been physically and mentally changed by taking a longevity drug, play important roles in the various storylines. Diane, who was a major character in Spin, also appears in Axis. As the novel progresses, everyone is affected by a mysterious ash that falls at the same time as the annual meteor shower.

Like many sequels, Axis was a bit of a letdown for me. I still was immediately drawn into the plot and did not want to put it down. I also found a number or ponderable ideas. One set of ideas centered on ethics: the longevity drug, experimenting on a fetus that would otherwise be aborted, genetic engineering, organizations that make their own rules. The second ponderable idea relates to the Hypotheticals. When I hear scientists talk about alien life, it is almost always some variant of the plant-animal, water-based life we encounter on earth. Why is it always us science fiction folks who have broader expectations?

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