The Aggressive by Gem Jackson is a gut-wrenching explosion of a debut, and one of the best sci-fi books I’ve read this year. I first heard about it in this positive review, so I was excited when the author offered me a copy in exchange for an honest opinion. I’m glad to see that Dean from FanFiAddict wasn’t exaggerating!
“They were twenty minutes away from docking at the Lancaster Orbital when Tem realised the crew of the Enigma were dead.”
The story begins with intelligence agent September ‘Tem’ Long and her partner Tariq arriving at Lancaster Orbital, Earth’s principal space station. Their agency deployed them after the military vessel Enigma ceases all communications and assumes a collision course with the Orbital. The situation rapidly becomes a crisis as the Enigma nose-dives into the station, killing thousands of people and destroying crucial infrastructure in orbit, including the Earth’s ‘beacon’ necessary for FTL travel. While it’s clear that the tragedy was an act of terrorism, Tem thinks she knows who was behind the attack, and suspects something even worse is coming.
Buzzwords like ‘terrorist’, ‘separatist’, and ‘special agent’ don’t always pique my interest, so I’m delighted that I made the time for this epic book. The Aggressive is aptly named, completely discarding subtle tension for head-to-head confrontations, sinister politics, and visceral scenes of violence that aren’t for the faint of heart.
The three protagonists range from loose cannon to completely unhinged serial killer. Jackson alternates between their POVs and weaves them together in an unpredictable way. Several secondary characters are introduced throughout the story and form alliances that I’m excited to see in the next instalment of the Titanwar saga.
“She reached out and gave his arm a squeeze. It felt like the sort of thing a normal person would do. Tariq didn’t look impressed.”
Due to lack of tact and her cavalier approach to investigating, Tem is assigned to low-profile cases, keeping her away from the public eye. Recently she has been following the trail of an elusive criminal who she believes is behind several atrocities. But he is a master of his art, and all she has is a name.
Anton Biarritz is an interplanetary contract killer who’s only signatures are his tendency for violent murder, and never getting caught. I love Jackson’s decision to write from Anton’s point of view. He is probably the most interesting character to observe, as he attempts to play the role of diplomat and suppress his violent urges. I thought reading the perspective of both fugitive and detective would kill some of the intrigue; instead, it ramps up the action and leads to some thrilling scenes.
“One year on from that spectacular, glorious moment and he was an astronaut. A naked, wet astronaut trembling on cold, wet bedsheets without a uniform. Or underwear. Alone and ten thousand miles from a friend.”
Leon Wood is a newly trained pilot aboard The Aggressive, ASPA’s most formidable military vessel. Growing up on Titan and being regarded as provincial, Leon has had to work twice as hard to secure his position. When he is assigned to co-pilot a diplomat’s commercial ship after the Lancaster Orbital attack, Leon thinks he will finally have the chance to prove himself. Instead, he experiences the dangers of space travel first-hand. Out of the three protagonists, Leon goes through the most significant character development, and his experience with trauma and anxiety is effectively portrayed.
The Aggressive is a perfectly orchestrated sci-fi thriller that will appeal to fans of recent titles like Velocity Weapon and Stormblood, as well as grimdark readers looking for a sci-fi (spacedark? grimspace?) escape.
There are plenty of pleasing sci-fi elements, and I learned a couple of new physics concepts like Kessler Syndrome, which is critical in the early chapters. It also never occurred to me that you would experience acceleration in space, though perhaps I’m just an unobservant fan of sci-fi.
I mentioned in my review of The House of Styx that I previously avoided near-Earth sci-fi stories, thinking that they aren’t as expansive. However, I love Jackson’s close-to-home setting, where the military’s primary function is to protect commercial interests from pirates and extremists.
“This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.”
The Aggressive is an excellent example of how under-appreciated great self-published books are. Whether or not it’s Jackson’s goal, I wouldn’t be surprised if this book gets snapped up by a big publisher.
Thank you to the author for providing a copy, and congrats on a great debut – please write the sequel soon!
Trigger warning: Threat of rape, death of children.