Illuminae

Illuminae CoverIf you know me or read my blog enough, you realize I have…. opinions… on what is now called “young adult fiction.”  I don’t care to climb on my soapbox today (however, last week a blogger called one of my reviews “dyspeptic,” which periodically has me in giggling fits.) Needless to say, I don’t really read a great deal of whatever passes for “ya fiction,” but this novel just kept interesting me whenever I saw it. So it got lumped in with an Amazon order.  Illuminae was first published in 2015 and is co-authored by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff.  It is, allegedly, the first in a trilogy of novels (I believe the second is to be released in October 2016.)

There will be some spoilers (as usual) in this review, so read at your own peril.  The story takes place in 2575, beginning on the planet Kerenza IV.  The planet is of interest because it has large amounts of hermium, a particular ore.  The Ulyanov Consortium mines, illegally, the hermium.  BeiTech Industries launched a surprise attack on this mining colony.  Distress calls were answered by the United Terran Authority.

The entire novel is presented in a somewhat unique format. Technically, it is told in digital files that have been collated of the event into a sort of long dossier.  So, the reader “reads the story” in the form of e-mails, documents, and memos that were real time during the event, but then were saved and packaged into a complete dossier.  The majority of the documentation is instant messaging communication, e-mail, and memos from the two main characters:  Kady Grant and Ezra Mason.  These two are teenage survivors from Kerenza who are on “refugee” ships.  The day of the attack, these two teens broke up from their romantic relationship.

I recently read Marisha Pessl’s Night Film and that novel also utilized some non-traditional formatting to enhance the storyline.  I reviewed that favorably, and in my review I did suggest that readers should prepare to see more of this sort of inclusion of faux digital media in novels. I think Illuminae is the first novel that I have read that relies entirely on this sort of format.  Honestly, at first, it is slightly difficult to get into, as they say.  However, by page 100, I think the formatting is very engaging and the reader should enjoy the process.

For the most part the characters are okay, a little bit stereotypical qua teenagers, but still likeable enough. I guess this is considered young adult fiction, but I don’t really quite see why. I’m thinking about the actual content here. I mean, whenever there is a cuss word within the text it is blacked out (like old censorship documents), but there is enough context to know exactly what is being said.  And, well, some of the non-cussing parts push the boundaries more toward an older reader than a younger. I have no idea, really, what age group, but I don’t think anyone under 17.  (But I have a USSR attitude when it comes to youth, so……………..)

The novel has zombies in it. Well, they are not called zombies in the novel.  But what else are they?  They are victims of the virulent Phobos virus.  The patients display symptoms 12 – 24 hours after exposure.  They have increased physical stamina, but most interesting is that the victims also display intense psychological changes. They become highly paranoid and emotional.

Pop culture seemed to me to be saturated with vampires. And then zombies. I guess I feel like the zombie-craze [pun!] should be winding down.  I am quite tired of zombies, myself, but perhaps teenagers cannot get enough of them. I did not hate the usage of this zombie stuff in the novel, but I honestly would have rather seen a more technological problematic for the heroes. Like androids, computers, or clones. I suspect the authors really wanted to give the characters some emotional torment. After all, they are survivors of an attack that wiped out most of their friends and family. What other survivors there may be are now victims to a zombie-making disease. So, if the authors were going for traumatize the youth – this works fairly well. Still….. zombies…..

The best part of the book is that the villain changes. Who is the villain?  There is no obvious, simple villain here and I think that is very good.  Obviously, the authors want the reader to take a look at morality within a shifting context. The UTA refugee-holding ship is partially run by a massive artificial intelligence.  It’s nicknamed AIDAN.  It becomes damaged in the original battle above Kerenza and it may or may not be malfunctioning to a varying degree.  The storyline has a lot of twists and turns involving this “character”  and most of the thrill factor in the book comes from dealing with AIDAN.  However, I was disappointed that towards the middle and middle-end of the novel the authors turned this machine into that eye-rolling, daydreaming, Tinman-wishes-he-had-a-heart thing.  I don’t necessarily think that all A.I. dream of being human and having emotions or whatever the heck a multitude of authors think. (Cp. Data on Star Trek).  This was a little bit of a let down for me.  However, I must reiterate, this is a “ya” novel, which I take to mean:  stuffed with emotional drivel.

Looking past these criticisms, though, I did enjoy this novel. I will try to remember to get ahold of book two when it is released. I liked the characters and I do want to continue the storyline.  Overall, three stars is a fair rating, I think, because though the whole plot is not entirely unique, the format is.

3 stars

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4 thoughts on “Illuminae

  1. I think you read more “YA” than you think — even if it wasn’t labeled as such (well, it was, as a “juvenile”)…. I mean, does Laumer or early Heinlein or Leinster have more complexity than modern YA? Nope. So, it’s a matter of historical context and classification.

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