Series: The Illuminae Files #1
on October 20th 2015
Genres: young adult, science fiction
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This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do.
This afternoon, her planet was invaded.
The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.
But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet's AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it's clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she'd never speak to again.
Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.
I flew in blind into this novel. I heard the authors, and I was sold. So I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this collaboration. When the ARC landed in my hands, I was so excited.
So, what was birthed from two modern sci-fi/fantasy writers? Answer: A book that was fun, beautiful, but had some slight flaws that rubbed you the wrong way at times.
Illuminae is one of the most beautiful, creative books I have come across in a while. When we read Night Film for Forgotten Friday, my most lavishing compliment was the use of current media, such as website pages, in the structure of the book. I adore interactive, non-traditional published formatting. This one not only fit the bill, but strived for fresh and inventive, and frankly pulled off their flashy, catchy novel with ease. The book is more like a portfolio of interviews, maps, ASCII pictures, reports, and photography. The book gets every last star in the creativity department. I loved how the story was presented, and I will always reach for a book with creative formatting.
Moving past the stylistic approach to the story telling, my feelings become a bit muddled for the book. I am highly conflicted on my overall opinion towards the characters of the novel. One minute, I really adored Kady, and then others, I was rolling my eyes, ready to be done with her. My final thoughts are that I really enjoyed an intelligence, vulnerable, hot-and-cold personality. I was fearful that she was slowly morphing into a Mary Sue-ish female lead. However, the authors took great care to make Kady real. Ezra was a piece of work himself, and I seriously just dismissed him overall, but Kady was the character that drew me in. She was slightly annoying, but there is no denial that she was kick-ass without dismissing her female identity. The overall pro-equality tone of the novel flat out astounded me. There was no male/female division of ranks and roles, and the authors were spot on by seamlessly folding in some very positive social structures, such as gay marriage and erasing gender inequalities. I would love to see more of this, more writing that didn’t support gay and gender issued with fanfare, but with certainly and acceptance. Big points there!
So what drove me crazy about Kady and Ezra? Well, it might be more of a character-design flaw than a character flaw.
Kady’s downfall and the most relatable-lethal flaw is the suffocation of the humor. There is very little doubt that Kristoff and Kaufman know how to quip and sass. But the book suffered from the same humor-poisoning as The Martian: when the book is filled with virtually every character coming across as snarky and smart-mouthed, then it starts to wear thin and becomes heavy handed. I get I – it is funny. Humor is the greatest medicine for somber plots. But it loses a certain sparkle when the humorous voice is adopted by everyone – no one ends up standing out. Also, it felt that the characters were more pre-teens that actual teenagers. There is such thing as death-by-funny, and this book hit it. It feels desperate and forced after a certain point.
Luckily, there was one strong, distinct voice that broke up the monotony of laughs – AI AIDAN. I suppose this is the year of the AI, and I love it. The struggle with life, conscious, morality and self-awareness felt like a throw back of the original Star Trek series: what is life exactly, and what defines morality and monstrosity. Star Trek always posed the question about digging further into philosophy, displaying fictional cultures to present something to digest, to improve upon, and to use as an example that the definition of “life” is larger than the universe.
AIDAN’s role filled me with nostalgic longings for sci-fi and social sciences going hand in hand. This might be reading a bit into the book a bit much, but there is even the now-cemented line of “stab at thee” as an homage to The Wrath of Khan, when Star Trek turns its attention to mortality and the struggle with aging and death, perfectly tying together pop culture with current fiction.
The overall ARC of the novel actually hooked me in – I loved the idea of Zombies in Space, giving the beaten-down genre some fresh life. There is no certain right-or-wrong, just a chain of events that seemed to be the only option open. I didn’t expect the novel to turn dark in certain places, but the somber and often horrific plot did relieve the lighter mood in certain spots and turn towards a heart-pounding struggle between morality and human nature.
Wade past the thick choking layer of humor, and you will be rewarded with a story that is thoughtful, chilling, uplifting, and entertaining. I am excited to see what this duo is planning for the future, as the series is slated as a trilogy. With a solid first story and a hint of what is to come, this is a novel collection that will certainly cater and entertain YA and non-YA readers.