Book Review: Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi

I started and finished Jacqueline Koyanagi‘s Ascension (science fiction, 331 pages) last night. I have to admit, this book has been on my shelf for years and I just finally read it last night because I wanted an adventurous story about queer women in space, which pretty much sums up this book.

“Alana Quick is the best damned sky surgeon in Heliodor City, but repairing starship engines barely pays the bills. When the desperate crew of a cargo vessel stops by her shipyard looking for her spiritually-advanced sister Nova, Alana stows away. Maybe her boldness will land her a long-term gig on the crew. But the Tangled Axon proves to be more than star-watching and plasma coils. The chief engineer thinks he’s a wolf. The pilot fades in and out of existence. The captain is all blond hair, boots, and ego … and Alana can’t keep her eyes off her. But there’s little time for romance: Nova’s in danger and someone will do anything – even destroying planets – to get their hands on her!”

The entire cast of this book is incredibly diverse, with everyone just existing as they are without traumatic coming out stories or the agony of not being accepted by their families. Alana’s ex-wife is mentioned on page 10 and when Alana’s sister sees Alana with Tev, the Tangled Axon‘s captain, she immediately assumes they’re romantically involved and is instantly proud of her sister for scoring such a woman. Alana struggles a little bit with polyamorous relationships but it’s not done in a way showing anything other than confusion and a desire to learn, grow, and love. Nova and Marre might be asexual, as neither of them appear to experience sexual attraction to anyone in the book. Slip could be bisexual or pansexual, as she has varied romantic interests throughout the book. Ascension definitely has a lot of representation.

The universe portrayed in this book is a very uncomfortable mirror of the current western world. The economic and physical care differences in this book between normal workers and those who have basically sold out their souls to the othersiders is a stark reflection of the current situation with workers and medical conditions, especially in the United States. Heliodor and the other planets mentioned in this book have fringe areas where true workers live and work and then shining, fake cities created and managed by the othersiders where you sell your freedom and your soul for creature comforts and the lie of a better life. This really isn’t very different from the lives many Americans lead in rural and urban areas for basically anyone who isn’t a millionaire/billionaire. The main character, Alana, spends the entire book dealing with a degenerative sickness which requires twice a day medications or her body shuts down. While there are ways to treat this illness, without proper funds or societal placement, you’re basically written off as expendable. So people like Alana and her aunt Lai spend their entire lives working as hard as they can to save enough money to pay for treatment while those same people who offer the treatment profit from everyone’s pain. Transliminal Solutions owns everything, including the only ways to earn money, and by starving out all the fringe workers, they then even own the entire workforce.

What does that remind you of? Maybe a giant corporation or two being one of the only steady paychecks during a global pandemic that can then steal $62 million in tips, set up anti-unionizing analysts to keep their workers under their boots, and generally value profit for the billionaires over the actual lives of their people? Honestly, I could be talking about the modern western situation or the situation imposed by Transliminal Solutions in Ascension, a book published over seven years ago.

But, CJ, what does this have to do with your book review?

Here’s the thing – the whole purpose of science fiction is to look at the world we know and then ask the question, “what if?” Science fiction takes the technology we know or envision and shows all the ways humans can interact with that technology, demonstrating the absolute humanity in personalities, societies, cultures, technologies, and aliens that are not classified as human at all. Science fiction shows us who we might become and provides tiny tidbits of how the world can go so very, very wrong. In some ways, science fiction functions as a warning or a wake-up call, showing things going wrong and eluding to the reason they went wrong in the first place, which might encourage people living now to work harder to prevent these stories from becoming reality. After all, the protagonists in sci-fi tend to find ways to survive their space adventure and move on to other things, so why can’t we?

Overall, I would probably rate this book as about a three on my rating scale. I’m happy I read it, I’m likely to read it again, and I’m happy I own a copy.

Works cited: Koyanagi, Jacqueline. Ascension. Canada: Masque Books, 2013.

About C.A. Jacobs

Just another crazy person, masquerading as a writer.
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