Shannon (Giraffe Days)'s Reviews > Doubleblind

Doubleblind by Ann Aguirre
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's review
Oct 13, 09

bookshelves: sci-fi, 2009, favourite
Read in October, 2009

With Morgut attacks on space stations and planetary settlements escalating, the ousted Farwan Corporation's supporters pirating space ships, and the Syndicate coming out in the open to offer protection from the Morgut - for the right price, the success of Sirantha Jax's mission as the Conglomerate's ambassador to Ithiss-Tor has never been more important. She needs to broker an alliance with the one species who successfully drove off the Morguta couple of centuries before, but there's a big problem: the Ithtorians hate and despise humanity, seeing them as smelly carrion-eaters with no manners.

Jax arrives with new scars, both physical and psychological. Her lover and pilot, March, has become a cold killing machine who can't stand to be touched and only remembers that he loved her. She won't give up on him, but she has no idea how to fix the mind-reading Psi - Mair, a powerful Psi and Chi master, fixed his mind the first time through violent and painful means, ways Jax can't access and honestly doesn't want to. The idea of causing him more pain and nightmares on top of what he's already experiencing is anathema to her.

But at least he hasn't run away to become a mercenary, at least he's here with her on Ithiss-Tor, as unstable as he is. Her best friend, the Ithtorian bounty hunter Vel, is with her to translate and guide her through the intricacies of Ithtorian etiquette, and her PA, Constance (now in her realistic human casing), is also a huge help. Jael, her Bred bodyguard; Dina and the pilot Hit; and Saul the geneticist, are with her as well, but all eyes are on Jax. No one really believes the irresponsible Grimspace Jumper who used to get drunk, dance on tabletops and display her breasts to the news cameras can actually pull this off. At worst, she'll add a new enemy to the Conglomerate's list. At best, she might escape with her life.

I could gush endlessly about how much I love this series. It's superb. Each book just gets better and better, the stakes get higher, the details more complex, the relationships more complicated, the intergalactic world more vivid.

Jax grows within each book, and from book to book, slowly maturing and becoming less and less selfish in the face of more and more demanding and tragic circumstances. A great deal happens in these books, but the characters never become lost amidst the plotting - if anything, they strengthen it and bind it tighter together. While Jax narrates, her growing ability to truly see people, wonder about them, try to empathise and understand them, gives us fully fleshed out supporting characters - and it's testament to Aguirre's skill that even when, in Grimspace, she was selfish and whiny and running from her own feelings and needs, you never tired of her but grew attached to her spunky ways and the characters around her, characters that we saw more clearly than she did.

The plotting is tight in Doubleblind, but I'm still figuring out the connection between the story and the title. A "double blind" is a study, for example a test for a new drug, where the test groups don't know whether they have the drug or a placebo. Taken metaphorically or symbolically, it's not an obvious allusion and the best I can do at this point is take it as a reference to Jax's tenuous diplomatic mission, the inscrutable Bugs and their own scheming, and the "unexpected" traitor. I say that in air quotes only because it wasn't unexpected to me - the only thing predictable was the traitor, and who was behind them. But there was plenty else to keep me guessing.

The way Aguirre handles the alien race, the "bugs" as the humans call them (because they look much like the insect aliens in the movie District 9, though more human in size), is excellent: their alien qualities come across well, and even Vel, who has spent so long amongst humans and is the only Ithtorian who likes humans, is undeniably alien. He doesn't have the same reactions and responses, his clever mind works differently, and you never forget what he is or that he is completely Other. But we do get to know him here, and he's become one of the most vivid characters in the series. I'm very fond of Vel.

I absolutely love the way Aguirre handles Jax and March's relationship. At the end of Wanderlust I was left in despair and had to wait nearly an entire year to get my hands on the third book - that's a year of anxiety and heartbreak. By the end of Wanderlust Jax and March had become so much a part of me that I felt Jax's pain - and March's - like a physical ache. That tension and despair carries through here, and I loved the way she "fixes" him.

Speaking of the year-long wait, if you haven't started this series yet I recommend you read the books close together. Even though Jax does some recapping, there was a lot I'd forgotten, details that are important - not to mention these books build like an ongoing climax, and even though this has one of the more complete endings, it also feels like the story has only just begun.

One thing I noticed that I really have to mention, is the issue of a private company - in this case, the Syndicate - selling their services to the government - in this case, the Conglomerate - for a high price. It's a timely and subtle dig at the way the US government contracted out all its services to private corporations, especially for the Iraq war, based on the idea that they can do it better but at the cost of billions and billions of taxpayer dollars, most of which disappeared into "overheads" and resulted in half-finished, dodgy jobs.

The Syndicate want the job, for a high price, of going to war against the Morgut. There would be a lot of money at stake, and it wouldn't surprise me if they were somehow egging the Morgut on to escalate things. Their use of advertising to gradually connect the idea of the Syndicate=safe and peaceful life in people's subconscious adds to this: visual commercials showing people relaxed and happy while Syndicate employees do the cleaning and cooking and war-faring in the background, seep in and become established fact. As one character puts it, "There will come a point when people just won't care about the truth, and all the exposés in the world won't matter." (234)

This is one of the things I love about Fantasy and Science Fiction: their ability - or potential - to explore our own issues in a "neutral" environment. Doubleblind is a delicious, entertaining read, but it'd be a shame to miss the deeper meanings too.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Joy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joy wonderful review--

Manteltje Amazing review! I stopped reading this book 6 months ago halfway thru. Not smart, like you said, read them close together. So thank for the recap and thank you for reminding me why I like this series so much.

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