Illuminae | Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff | 2015 | Rock the Boat | 599p | Bought copy | Buy the book
Karenza is a remote planet, its colonists happily ignored by the rest of the Galaxy, until the day comes when two rival corporations decide to go to war over its resources and then all hell breaks loose as a bombing barrage threatens to smash the helpless world into oblivion. On reflection, teenage lovers Ezra and Kady would agree that they could have picked a better day on which to split up but, as the two scramble to safety in the small fleet of ships that come to the colonists’ rescue, there is grief in their hearts alongside the pain of watching their world literally fall apart.
But this is just the beginning. As the evacuating ships limp to safety they take danger with them. An enemy ship is in pursuit and, perhaps even worse, the survivors are under attack from a virus working its way through the ships and even the AI in charge of the lead ship, the Alexander, has been affected, becoming untrustworthy, frightening. Kady works to find answers by hacking in to the data streams of the stricken fleet while Ezra is put to another purpose, both of them realising how insignificant their squabbles have been. Everything conspires against their survival, against even seeing each other once more before the end. And that end is surely inevitable and could come from any one of so many horrific directions. Space is cold, vast and merciless.
Illuminae is an extraordinary accomplishment and no review I could write could do justice to the creative genius of its authors. First off, you need to read the print version. It is a marvel to read, to experience even, as the authors play with the shapes of words and prose, the use of colours, or rather black and white, and diagrams to reflect the human and AI turmoil of the Alexander’s flight for life. There are shocks throughout the book but the authors illuminate these moments in creative ways that don’t just surprise but also tear at the heartstrings. When lives are lost we’re made to feel it.
There are themes that might at first seem well-used and lead the reader to expect the familiar, perhaps with a groan – a zombie-like plague, an AI gone mad – but what you find instead is something completely original, largely thanks to the ingenious relationship between what happens and how it is conveyed on the page.
The story itself is told through extracts from reports, diaries, interviews, emails, briefing notes, computer logs, schematics and so many other fascinating sources. In no way does any of this get in the way of the thrilling action of the adventure or block our emotional connection to Kady and Ezra. I became so fond of Kady, willing her on to survive, her indomitable, plucky, brave, wonderful character plain for all to see and enjoy.
Illuminae is a Young Adult science fiction novel but its appeal is ageless. I adored everything about it. It’s the first of a trilogy and I am counting down the days to the second book’s publication in October. It cannot come soon enough. I crave it.