smwrites: A woman sits at a typewriter, pages flying, a plug in the back of her awesomely big-curly hair. (Default)
[personal profile] smwrites
Jacqueline Koyanagi’s Ascension is a fun, rough adventure through space with a quirky crew. I don’t read many books with recent publication dates, but picked this one up on account of knowing the author—and I’m awfully glad that I did, as it soothed nerves I didn’t realize were frayed. The novel is built on an ethos that finds self-realization in reaching awareness of human nature defined by multiplicity. Koyanagi herself could win a game of marginalization bingo, and her experience is present throughout in the form of characters who are people with identities or bodies outside the mainstream (any writer who manages to avoid both pigeon-holing and erasure deserves a round of applause).

Before I move into discussion of how Koyanagi goes about this, I would like to touch on a few other elements of the reading experience. The prose is idiomatic, quick, and casual, a reflection of the character’s voice: that’s fine; it isn’t to my taste. The author has a fine sense for words, which is quite clear in passages where uncanny world-alteration shenanigans occur; there are several erotic scenes that get a thumbs up, as well. Less a matter of taste: I find the plotting weak, saved primarily by how it cinches beautifully at the climax. Foolishness by Alana sets up too many conflicts. You could argue for this being a characterization choice—she is consistent. One could blame the brain fog.

Which brings me back to what—admittedly—I am most focused on: the element that makes this an adventure story open to identification by those who normally have to shove themselves into unfamiliar shapes.

Alana has a chronic illnesses that causes loss of motor control, pain, and death within two years of onset. It is controlled by meds (the cost and availability of which are constant concerns), but I can count the scenes in which the character is not in pain on one hand. She spends a good deal of time struggling with and telling the reader about her illness, and at times it’s tiresome, too present—which is exactly right. The impact on her life, socially and psychologically as well as physically, is an accurate portrayal insofar as my own experience with chronic pain is concerned, and that isn’t something I can say for many books.

One scene in particular struck me. In it, Alana’s sister expresses her desire to bail on her body before it gets old—because, y’know, it starts to hurt, and your memory fades, and you have to depend on medical intervention to keep on going. Alana has something of a nonresponse to this, thinking that it “came from a kind of healthy privilege [she] couldn’t begin to process” (167). This is a statement of fact, I believe; it is not meant to evoke pity for the character or to teach the able-bodied reader to better appreciate their health. This is something that you hear on a regular basis as a person with chronic illness, and you learn to shrug it off, get on with the conversation. Or with adventuring, as it may be.

Also handled with unusual intelligence is a character’s species dysphoria. His depiction brings to mind folks I’ve known, which is to say: he does not perceive himself (and is not perceived by his loved ones) as damaged. The author and narrator alike take his self-image as true without feeling the need to be legitimized by an outside authority. Alana finds this—along with a few other things—new; it’s an interesting reflection of what, in this world, has become normal. Gender, sexual orientation, and race appear to have minimal negative impact: black women occupy high positions of power within the novel, and a woman captain goes uncommented on.

All in all, I’m glad to have spent an evening with this book, and I look forward to reading more of Jacqueline Koyanagi’s work.
Bonus: I am pinched for book space, so my copy needs a new home. First person to comment with their email address gets it (shipping is on me).
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smwrites: A woman sits at a typewriter, pages flying, a plug in the back of her awesomely big-curly hair. (Default)

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