Monday, October 24, 2016

REVIEW: Illuminae (book) by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Illuminae is YA science fiction. I got it via interlibrary loan and unfortunately reviewed it a few weeks after turning it in. I did the best I could, considering that I didn't have the book on hand to check details.


The day that Kady and Ezra break up is also the day their whole world falls apart. The illegal mining colony they call "home" is attacked by BeiTech, a rival corporation. The survivors, Kady and Ezra among them, end up on one of three ships: the Alexander, a battlecarrier that tried to come to the colony's rescue and was severely damaged in the process; the Copernicus, a freighter; and the Hypatia, a scientific exploration vessel. The three ships end up on the run from a BeiTech battleship, the Lincoln.

Because so many of the Alexander's crew were killed or injured in the initial attack, any civilian survivors with the right personality or training are conscripted. Kady is seen as being too angry, bitter, and closed off to work well with others. She stays on the Hypatia, even though her hacking skills are excellent and improving every day. Ezra is transferred to the Alexander and trained to become a fighter pilot. Unfortunately, the ships have more problems than just the Lincoln. The Alexander's AI, AIDAN, is damaged, some of the survivors might be sick, and it isn't always clear who can be trusted.

The whole story is told via interview and chat transcripts, video footage descriptions, memos, and more, all collected and arranged by a mysterious group for their equally mysterious employer.

I'll start off by saying that AIDAN was the main reason I read this book. I like sci-fi with prominent AI characters, particularly if they're at all sympathetic. Despite AIDAN's actions, I did feel sympathy for it. Although it technically did exactly what it was programmed to do (albeit without consulting its captain first), it was shut down, the equivalent of knocking it unconscious. I didn't really blame it for feeling confused and betrayed. That said, its later decisions were pretty horrifying. Wow, that was some screwy logic.

One problem with AIDAN, from my perspective, was that it took a long time for it to really join the story. In fact, quite a few things took a while to show up. The disease aspect started far enough into the book (maybe 150 pages?) that part of me feels like it'd count as a spoiler to talk about it too much, but at the same time I think that aspect would be a huge selling point for some readers.

This whole book leaves me feeling torn. The story was gripping, as things went more and more wrong for the survivors and their military escort. The authors' use of countdowns was very effective – a countdown of the number of days/hours before the Lincoln would catch up to the Alexander and the rest, of the number of uninfected people left on the ship, etc. However, I had problems staying emotionally connected with the main characters. Ezra and Kady's relationship did nothing for me, and they seemed so different that I'm still not sure how they became a couple in the first place. I didn't really like Ezra, and Kady seemed, unfortunately, like a cool-but-antisocial hacker girl stereotype. She didn't even try to make friends. Seriously, how did she and Ezra end up together?

I wasn't a fan of Ezra from the beginning, but the part where he really lost me was in a chat with his friend James McNulty. I can't remember what the argument was about, but at one point he threatened McNulty by saying he'd have sex with McNulty's sister. It was phrased more like “I'll get back at you by seducing your precious sister” than “I'll rape your sister,” but I still flinched, and it wasn't until later that I realized Ezra and McNulty were actually friends and that this was a joke-threat. I'm pretty sure that the authors meant it to be realistic dialogue between two teenage male friends, and I know there are guys that talk like this, but I don't have to like them. And so I didn't really like either Ezra or McNulty, especially when this same thing happened again later on in the book.

Another thing I had issues with was the format. I really wasn't a fan of it – it's one of the reasons why I didn't pounce on the book when I first started hearing good things about it. I got used to it after a while, and I enjoyed certain aspects of it, but I outright disliked others. My least favorite thing was the parts that were almost like concrete poetry, with text formatted in a way that illustrated the action. While I could admire the way it looked, I had trouble figuring out how to read it. It also bugged me that some of the ASCII art wasn't really ASCII art, but that's more of a nit-picky thing. There were other parts of the documents format that seemed sloppy or not quite believable for the format, but I later discovered that this was probably intentional. Kudos to the authors for those little clues, I guess, although they irked me at the time.

I don't regret reading this, but I didn't love it the way a lot of other people did. I'm still debating whether to read the sequel. If the romance here didn't really work for me, I have a feeling that the romance in the next book, featuring new main characters, will probably be even less appealing to me. Also, I still haven't heard if there are any AI characters.

Additional Comments:

I think the e-book was on sale a while back, but, honestly, I have to wonder how much of the formatting survived the transition into e-book form. I'd recommend playing it safe and sticking with a paper copy if possible.

No comments:

Post a Comment