Review: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff


5 out of 5

I am at the point where I hate finding a new favorite. It makes me feel bad for my other favorites. And this one is up there with my favorites.

This is the story of the Kerenza disaster. The colony has been there, chugging along, when they are attacked, by the BeiTech corporation. It’s an illegal colony with a rich mining facility – and BeiTech figures they can just swoop in and take it – what are they gonna do? Report to the government that their illegal colony has been wiped out? Our main characters, Kady and Ezra, just broke up and are at school. They manage to escape but the main battle ship that came to rescue them is badly damaged, and their attackers are still after them. The rescue ships are overcrowded, low on water, and the AI on the main ship has gone squirrely. There are all kinds of rumors floating between the ships, and it’s going to be months before they get to safety. I loved the mix of genre. It is, first and foremost, a sci fi of the military variety. It’s also got the apocalyptic touch with a virus and the ticking clock of a survival story.

Illuminae reminds me of a found footage film, but book style. It’s told through recovered data – like a modern epistolary tale. Rather than letters or diary entries (oh, but there are some of those!) it’s computer data – IM chats, emails, ship-to-ship communiques, military reports, medical records and even transcripts of security tapes. Most of the problems I’ve seen people talk about with this book are that they feel they can’t connect with the characters because of the way the story is told. Now I’m very old hat with reading… I’ve read tons and tons of old sci fi, I’ve read just about every genre, I’ve read every kind of book you can imagine. I don’t know if my ease at slipping into this is because the lack of prose didn’t bother me. The transcripts of the security tapes are the most like story telling, where the rest is just dialog. I hope I don’t come off like an asshole here, but I don’t know if it’s the youth of the people reviewing the book that don’t have the experience of reading things that aren’t just regular prose, or what. I personally had no problem connecting with the characters – I felt like all the characterization and character development you needed was right there in the dialog. And sometimes things that weren’t said left huge echoes – you KNEW something was going on because nothing was being said. I thought this was beautifully done.

Kady is the driving force of the book. She has mad computer skills but a real dislike of authority. Despite how shorthanded they are, she isn’t recruited into the military arm of the rescue (civilians are being conscripted just to keep the ships running because they lost so many people in the fight with BeiTech.) But she is working, learning more computer stuff. And through it, she gets connected with the “hacktivist” people onboard. They know they aren’t being told everything, and some serious shiz starts going down – I can’t spoil it for you, but something is going on with the AI, and there are rumors about people getting sick. Things are getting seriously shady.


Meanwhile, Ezra is trying to get in touch with Kady but she’s not answering his emails. I felt so bad for him because there is something going on about their breakup that is tearing him up – you find out later, but of course… spoilers. He’s on the ship with the weird AI and when Kady reaches out to him, he hopes she will help him find out some info on a friend. The AI continues to go funky, and there are terrible ramifications.

Then we finally meet the AI, AIDAN. His pages are nearly all black with white text and then grey when he speaks aloud to people. It’s so odd to go from this concrete dialog based info, everything is data, data, data to AIDAN’s abstract, poetic ramblings. It’s the exact opposite of what you’d expect in a thriller or a contemporary, when all the data would come from the computer and the poesy from the humans. But then again, AIDAN is horribly damaged and going cuckoo for CoCo Puffs. He’s struggling with his own existence, his loss of sanity, and how to keep the fleet together. His logic is, shall we say, flawed. I’m not a fan of gimicky type for the sake of gimicky type (see my review of The House of Leaves if you doubt me) but I felt like the way AIDAN’s flights of fancy were portrayed in artistic text added to the story. There were also pages of text that are just art, and they’re gorgeous. There’s one part where you have to spin the book to read the text. At first, I hated AIDAN, but I guess I got Stockholmed because my feelings changed at several points. I legit cried two or three times during this book.

The interesting thing about this, because there isn’t descriptive prose, you meet the characters by name alone. So this brings up the diversity question. There are lots of women in the military, in both combat and command positions who are equally as kick ass as the men. Then there is a disaster and you get pages and pages of names, and then pages and pages of pictures of people, and they are every color, size and shape, age and ethnicity of human.

There are a lot of twists, turns, deceptions, action, adventure and espionage. I loved this book so much. It just blew me away, and I read it in one day. There’s lots of empty space on the pages so that 599 page count is deceptive.


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