“A superhero space opera for grownups.”
Wistful Ascending is JCM Berne’s heart-pounding superhero space opera and the first installment in his Hybrid Helix trilogy.
Rohan is a hybrid, with a human mother and an alien father from the imperialist il’Drach race. He has inherited superpowers from the paternal side of his family, including super strength, toughness, and the ability to fly. After spending a decade fighting an intergalactic war, Rohan now wishes to live a quiet, anonymous life as a Tow Chief Second Class on the space station Wistful, using his superpowers only to help visiting spacecraft dock on the station.
The universe of Wistful Ascending is full of diverse alien races that would make Gene Roddenberry proud. True to Captain Kirk form, there is also romance between Rohan and a beautiful alien woman, Tamara. Fortunately, JCM Berne presents the romance in a tasteful and realistic fashion, as two adults with established, independent lives full of real-world doubts about themselves and their relationship.
The most prominently featured of the alien races is a species of space bears. Not having a name for this species in human tongue, Rohan calls them Ursans and gives their leader the name Ursula. Reading about the Ursans was a lot of fun, particularly as Rohan ponders what relationship they have, if any, to the bears of his native Earth.
Wistful Ascending is full of space action. Despite Rohan’s superpowers, JCM Berne conveys a real sense of vulnerability for our hero. I found myself holding my breath while reading several of the action scenes.
One of the most innovative aspects of Wistful Ascending is JCM Berne’s worldbuilding, which includes sentient space stations and spaceships. I thoroughly enjoyed the dialogue between Rohan and the space station, Wistful, as well as the sense of mystery about Wistful’s history.
JCM Berne’s writing is crisp and witty, and his character work is excellent. However, the pacing suffers a bit, especially in the first half of Wistful Ascending. Also, the abrupt tonal shifts between chapters can be jarring, with chapters of high-intensity action immediately followed by low-key conversations over coffee.
Through his compelling storyline and realistic character development, JCM Berne convinced this cynical grimdark reviewer that superheroes can actually be cool. Although the first half of the book has a rather lighthearted tone, the plot darkens considerably in the second half as Rohan comes to terms with his inner demons and sense of, yes, wistfulness.
Overall, Wistful Ascending is a fun, action-packed story with relatable characters, witty dialogue, innovative worldbuilding, and enough thematic depth to balance the more lighthearted aspects of the story.