Review Detail

Illuminae Featured
Young Adult Fiction 1954
Intergalactic Melange
(Updated: November 13, 2015)
Overall rating 
 
3.3
Plot 
 
3.0
Characters 
 
3.0
Writing Style 
 
4.0
This mashup of tried and true concepts makes for an accessible sci-fi experience, and is likely to appeal to fans of Battlestar Galactica. The plotline is notably similar, featuring a hodgepodge space-caravan of civilian refugees and myopic military personnel fleeing for their lives across vast distances—being pursued by a force committed to their eradication. Now throw in a crazed Artificial Intelligence with a god complex (a la Hal from 2001 A Space Odyssey), the horror elements of a mutating virus that turns people into high-functioning zombies (a la the Reavers from Firefly), a dash of angst-ridden teenage romance conveyed almost exclusively over text-based communication, and you have Illuminae.

The story is set 560 years into a future where starships have the ability to generate wormholes and humans have expanded throughout the galaxy, if not the entire Universe. We open straight into a survivor interview with a computer savvy 17-year-old girl named Kady, the day after her tiny mining colony was attacked by a competing corporation and she was forced to flee—making it out along with her mother and her very recently ex-boyfriend, Ezra. Their three evacuation ships are damaged, undermanned, and closely pursued--facing many months worth of travel in an attempt to reach a “jumpgate” they all hope will take them back to civilization and a chance at justice. But with the threat of a shipboard contaminant and a malfunctioning A.I. system added to their trials, their odds are steadily dwindling.

What I Liked:

Illuminae deserves the ‘Most Interesting Cover of the Year’ award—hands down. The unusual formatting and texture proves to be reasonable preparation for the book’s actual layout. Despite the daunting size of this eclectic tome, the beak-up of media types and simplicity of the YA-targeted writing makes for a fairly readable venture.

The wide array of literary material used to convey this story is impressive, allowing a sundry dynamic and sometimes frenetic ambiance. Mediums include: diary entries, typography, interview transcripts, instant messenger conversations, briefing notes, emails, casualty lists, personnel photos, classified documents, status reports, surveillance footage summaries, ship maps and diagrams, ASCII art, and disjointed pseudo-poetical A.I. commentary.

On the up side, the visual diversity does wonders to stave off eye and attention fatigue.

What Didn’t Work For Me:

On the down side, the visual diversity sometimes makes for a twitchy flow with jarring transitions.

For this reader, the incredibly modern (i.e. non-futuristic) feeling text speak was grueling to get through. While on the one hand the poor grammar, lack of capitalization/punctuation, and degraded leetspeak makes some degree of sense on the hacker side of authenticity, it also makes for rough reading that—combined with the relative immaturity of the main characters—impeded emotional connectivity. As a result, the dialogue between Ezra and Kady rarely felt natural. (Fortunately, such communications comprise a mercifully small fraction of the book’s total contents.)

Unfortunately, nothing about the second-chance distance romance actually endeared me into caring about what happened to the main characters. Kady (handle name: ByteMe) is staunch enough as a hacker-type character—brimming with scathing sarcasm and emotional constipation. But Ezra came off as dim, crude, and uninteresting. Readers may find more reason to form attachment to his semi-crazy marine friend, Sargent McNulty, than they do toward the intended hero.

Sadly, there are little by way of memorable quotes. And though it’s well-paced, few things outside of the formatting come off as particularly surprising or original. For this reader, the impulse to keep reading was driven by the desire to find out if the evil BeiTech would ever be held accountable for their genocidal act of corporate warfare.

Content Note: While there’s a fair bit of innuendo, there is no actual sex depicted at any point in this book. Coarse language is frequently implied but censored out, for cleverly explained reasons. The degree of horror/graphic violence does seem to be stabbing for shock value, following along the same disquieting lines as Event Horizon.

(i.e. If you’re looking for an experimentally artsy zombie apocalypse in space, you’ve come to the right place.)
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