By Robert Charles Wilson
Axis is the second volume of a projected trilogy whose first installment, Spin, won the prestigious Hugo Award for best novel in 2005. In terms of narrative it makes a substantial break with Spin, beginning some decades after the end of that book and only re-introducing one of its main characters in a marginal role.
The human predicament, however, remains the same. Earth and, after its human settlement, Mars, have been wrapped in a kind of membrane that has taken them out of time, preserving each “down through four billion years of galactic history like a tulip bulb wintering in a dark cellar.” Human destiny, it appears, is being managed by some incredibly ancient and advanced cosmic force referred to as “the Hypotheticals.” But no one has any idea to what purpose.
At the end of Spin an arch appeared linking Earth to a new planet specially created by the Hypotheticals for our colonization. Axis takes place entirely on this “world next door” and follows the adventures of Lise Adams and Turk Findley as a search for Lise’s father gets them involved in the consequences of an attempt by a cult of “Fourths” (humans given an extra long lifespan thanks to Martian genetic technology) to breed a special kind of being who will be able to communicate directly with the Hypotheticals.
Wilson’s theme is the relationship between theology and science, specifically as this plays out with regard to evolution. The Hypotheticals are the ultimate Intelligent Designers, but also a collective, universal, possibly eternal consciousness. Or God, by any other name. A God we may be in the process of joining or becoming.
Axis is a tighter, faster-paced novel than Spin, but also more conventional minded. The mystery of the Hypotheticals is hardly advanced at all, while the plot falls back on such fantasy clichés and Bible scourings as the coming of the Chosen One (Isaac, son of Rebka) to a desert people. One suspects the Hypotheticals were reading the Dune series when they set all this in motion.
As befits the second novel of a trilogy, Axis is also very conscious of its state of in-betweenness, with arches opening at either end to new worlds. Wilson plays it close to the chest when it comes to guessing what to expect for a finale, but in the meantime he delivers a thrilling and imaginative romp through the middle future.
Review first published in Quill & Quire, September 2007.