THE WRONG STARS (Axiom #1), by Tim Pratt – #SciFiMonth

The Wrong Stars is the first volume in a space opera series dealing with the far future of humankind and focusing on the ragtag crew of the White Raven, whose salvage & law enforcement operations are conducted under the aegis of the Trans-Neptune Authority, one of the political entities ruling human-controlled space.

During one of their explorations, Captain Callie Machedo and her crew encounter the wreck of an ancient Earth spaceship, part of the Goldilocks fleet – slow vessels equipped with cryosleep units to allow the bridging of vast distances – sent centuries before in search of habitable planets: only one onboard cryopod is still in operation, holding Dr. Elena Oh who, once revived, warns her rescuers about the threat of a dangerous alien life form she and her lost crew-mates encountered.  Callie and her people are mystified, since the only alien race humanity came across so far are the squid-like Liars who are certainly untrustworthy, as the name they came to be known by hints at, but quite far from a deadly menace. 

As the salvage operation turns into the attempted rescue of Elena’s trapped crew-mates, new revelations bring to light the existence of another, far more ancient alien race – the Axiom – which once ruled the galaxy and might still represent a deadly threat for humans and Liars alike, so that Callie and her people find themselves enmeshed into an action-packed race to discover the truth and, if possible, avert the doom that a return of the Axiom could entail.

As with most books, The Wrong Stars stands on the double supports of plot and characterization, with the former being the strongest element. There is hardly a moment’s respite in the breathless sequence of events and plot twists that creates the backbone of the story, enhanced by a series of progressive revelations that do little to ease the burden of impending catastrophe hanging over the characters’ heads, but instead keep raising the stakes for the group of intrepid explorers.  The universe in which the story is set is an intriguing one, and the author manages to give us a good picture of it without need for lengthy exposition, also conveying the notion that humanity has changed a great deal, both socially and physically – as indicated, for example, by the presence of engineer Ashok, who is a cyborg constantly on the lookout for further modifications and enhancements. Moreover, there is a vein of light humor running throughout the story, carried by the constant quips exchanged among the crew, that mitigates the seemingly endless adrenaline rush of the events, and offers a welcome respite during the tenser moments.

Unfortunately, the characters suffer from such a tight focus on the plot, and they looked to me rather like… signposts (for want of a better word) of what actual characters should be, with not enough depth for me to truly connect with any of them.  As I read I kept thinking that the potential for each character was not fully explored, particularly where the already mentioned Ashok is concerned, or the weirdly inseparable duo of Janice and Drake, or again the alien Liar named Lantern who at some point joins the team: they all looked to me more paint-by-the-numbers aspects of diversity than anything else, which proved disappointing in light of the hints at trans-humanity and post-humanity inhabiting this future universe, not to mention the potentially intriguing race of the Liars.

Another source of frustration comes from the excessively carefree attitude with which the crew launches into unknown dangers – and into a situation that could lead to the total annihilation of humankind: their lives are constantly at stake, but I never perceived their acknowledgment of this fact, and was in turn surprised and annoyed at the way they faced mortal dangers as if they were embarking in one of their routine missions. This kind of portrayal failed to make me worry about their survival – both as individuals and as a group – because the way the story is told clearly implicates that they will survive anything: the fact that they always manage to overcome any danger, no matter how dire, and beat the worst odds, robs any of their endeavors of the suspense necessary to make such actions believable.

And on top of it all, there is an equally unbelievable insta-love between Captain Callie and Dr. Elena: first of all, I was somewhat creeped out by the fact that Callie feels the pangs of physical attraction for Elena when first observing her frozen body in the cryo-pod – my suspension of disbelief did not pass this stress test, which later colored my consideration of the told-but-not-shown mutual attraction between the two of them.  Add the unnatural ease with which Elena accepts the fact that she’s been frozen for a few centuries and that the world she knew is no more, an ease that never takes into account the element of “future shock” one should expect in such a situation, and you will understand my problems with the characterization of this novel.

Still, the core concept of an ancient alien race poised to return and wreak havoc in the galaxy is an intriguing one, and it might be the encouragement I need to try the second book in the series – if nothing else to see if some of the problems I encountered here have been straightened out.

My Rating:

13 thoughts on “THE WRONG STARS (Axiom #1), by Tim Pratt – #SciFiMonth

  1. Well, I liked your synopsis part of the review. Then I read the rest of it and this book/series definitely won’t be going on the tbr.

    Sometimes book bloggers make our tbr get bigger, but sometimes they help us from adding stuff to it. So thanks! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m sorry this didn’t work better. I’ve been curious about this series, especially since I recently read Tim Pratt for the first time and want to read more. But I will consider it if nothing else😁

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had the definite impression that the author was still feeling his way here, so to speak, so I’m willing to give this series another chance with book 2: it might improve along the road, and I’m curious to “meet” those dreaded Axioms… 🙂


  3. This is such a beautiful review!! And I really missed your reviews, so I am glad to be here again! And I loved your comparison to signpost for the characters (I mean, this is no good for the characters, obviously and it is is a shame, because I love ragtag crews and it seems like there was so much wastes potential here!! But I loved tge way you said it, I think it describes perfectly some kind of characters! And I may robe it of you, be warned! 😉).
    Back to the book, it seems like it has a ton of potential but I think that what buggered you there would bugger me a lot, too. And on top of that, there were a lot of things in the plot that rang a bell or two, it may just be an impression but it sounds like some other books I have read, and okay, this is not so surprising, but it seems to lack something quite original to distinguish it. But again, this may be just a wrong assumption.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And welcome back! 🙂
      Of course you can borrow all the definitions you want, they’re free! LOL
      Even though this book slightly disappointed me for the reasons I listed, I was not turned away from the story as I expected I might be: it’s possible that I perceived some as-yet-untapped potential that, despite the underdeveloped characters and some lack of originality, might find its way into the next one of the series. Hopefully… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Ah snap, this was one of those reviews where everything sounds so good at first and then it all deescalates and brings us back to reality hahah Sorry to hear about those flaws and problems you ran into. I too don’t think I would’ve enjoyed it too much for those reasons too. Great honest thoughts as always, Maddalena! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! Expectations can lead us astray, indeed, and prevent us from fully enjoying a story when it does not meet them. Still, I’m curious to see more about those Axiom aliens, so I might give book 2 a spin, just for fun… 🙂


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