I couldn't wait to read Axis. Wilson is one of my favorite writers, and a sequel to Spin would surely be awesome. It's hard to live up to expectations like that, though, and now that I'm done, I'm trying not to feel disappointed. On its own, Axis is a fine book, one of the few decent sci-fi novels this year. The problem is, I've come away from every other Wilson book going, "Wow, that was amazing!" With Axis, although I enjoyed it, I just wasn't blown away like I expected to be.
Wilson is an accomplished storyteller. He specializes in taking big, crazy "What-If" scenarios, making them plausible, and viewing them through the lives of credible human characters. What if Europe were suddenly replaced by a wilderness? What if gigantic war memorials began appearing from the future? In Spin, the Earth is enclosed in a barrier by an unknown alien power, nicknamed the Hypotheticals. After a few years inside the barrier, Earth emerges four billion years into the future, with a transdimensional gateway in the Indian Ocean that leads to a new, inhabitable planet, Equatoria.
Axis takes place thirty years later on the new frontier world. The story follows Lise, an intelligent, 30's-ish woman who is looking for clues to her father's disappearance 15 years earlier. Her search leads her into the shadowy world of the Fourths, humans who have illegally taken a Martian longevity treatment. The ultimate goal of the group is to establish contact with the Hypotheticals, through Isaac, a boy with special abilities. On the run from the authorities, Lise and her companions end up learning more about the Hypotheticals than they bargained for.
As with any Wilson novel, the writing is superb and the characters well-drawn. The ideas are interesting, and there's action and intrigue and romance. The story starts slowly, but builds to a ferocious climax. It's all good... yet it still seems smaller than his previous books somehow. It's like a kid in class who always gets 100%, and this time he got a 92%. It's still good work, and it's still better than almost all the other kids, but it's not quite the triumph you're used to. It's hard for a sequel to be as creative as its predecessor, and perhaps it's unfair to expect it to be. But there you go.
The verdict? I enjoyed Axis, and I recommend it. But if you're new to Wilson, start with Darwinia or Spin.