Novel Review: Axis

It was lovely in its intrinsic glow, a rainbow shining in colors without names. It was an arch for things to pass through, but it didn’t lead to another planet.

Things were passing through it now. From the utter blackness inside it, where even Isaac couldn’t see, luminous clouds ascended to the stars.

Robert Charles Wilson’s Spin won the 2005 Hugo for best novel and praise within and without fandom. The sequel, out this past September, looks at events some years later. The stars have returned, humans have settled on Equatoria, and the 34th of August brings something from the heavens….

There were three daily papers in Port Magellan but only one news channel, overseen by a bland and complexly multicultural board of advisers. It broadcast in fifteen languages and was, as a rule, interesting in none of them (41).

Title: Axis

Author: Robert Charles Wilson
ISBN: 0765309394, 978-0765309396
First published: 2007.

Available from


Years have passed since the events of Spin, and humanity has settled areas of Equatoria. A journalist, Lise Adams, a pilot with a shady past, Turk Williams, and several genetically-altered humans become involved with Isaac, a child illicitly bred to communicate with the unknown intelligences that have been meddling with humanity.

Government agents close in, debris rains from space, and something stirs beneath the Equatorian surface.

High Point:

The pacing and the story picks up significantly in the final third of the novel, as we race towards an uncertain encounter with something utterly alien, but theologically somewhat familiar.

The Fourths, altered people with extended life-spans, have been presented with subtly alien characteristics. Despite their humanity, they really aren’t like us.

Low Point:

The pacing lags in other places, as Wilson’s characters engage in expository conversations.

Perhaps it’s a Fourth Thing.

The Scores:

Originality: 3/6. Humans encounter the gods regularly in SF. Forget even the weightier written offerings or 2001; how many times have crews of the Enterprise met a god? That’s not quite what’s happening here, but the underlying plot will nevertheless be familiar. Wilson does, however, present an original take on the matter, as we learn more about the Hypotheticals.

Imagery: 6/6 : Memorable description includes the passage through the Arch and the incidental details of the new world, but also the fantastic growths fostered by the ash that falls from the sky.

Story: 4/6. Comparatively little happens, though Axis is the central book of a trilogy, with Vortex (as yet unpublished) completing the cycle.

Characterization: 6/6. Wilson renders his principals believably. His less sympathetic characters here have greater complexity than in some of his earlier work.

Emotional Response: 4/6. The novel raises some interesting questions about natural systems and processes, and the degree to which we could think of them as living.

Editing: 5/6. I must repeat my standard comment on Wilson. He describes the incredible with engaging prose. However, he also includes extended passages of Infodump.

Overall score: 5/6 Axis is fine, but not as impressive as Spin, and certainly to be read as a sequel. My overall sense of the book may improve, of course, after the third book appears.

In total, Axis receives 33/42

One reply

  1. .
    I loved Spin and was hoping to tackle this book on my next vacation. I had heard it was a parallel novel dealing with characters on the same timeline as the first book but I guess not…

    At times during Spin I was getting frustrated at how slow the plot was moving. Looks like this novel is no different.

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