RogerBW's Blog

Illuminae, Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff 24 April 2018

2015 YA science fiction, first of a trilogy. This morning Kady broke up with her boyfriend Ezra. But as their mining colony is invaded and everyone has to flee for their lives, that fight starts to seem less important.

That's not the only complication, though. The enemy is still chasing them. There are three ships, overstrained with refugees, and the one warship among them took heavy damage in the fight over the colony. In particular, its AI has started to behave distinctly oddly. Oh, and there's the aftermath of a bioweapon attack to worry about too.

The first thing one notices about this book is its presentation, which is largely in a "found-document" format: interview transcripts, chat logs, and so on. Sometimes (as when there's a simple narrative recounting what some hidden watcher after the fact is seeing on security camera logs) this feels strained; at other times, such as when it borrows techniques from concrete poetry, it's extremely effective, not to say beautiful.

The science in this SF is sadly soft. Someone talks about the AI's "persona logarithms" (maybe the writers meant "algorithms"?) Nobody ever worries about fuel; the only problem with the ship's main drives being off-line and having to use secondary drive is that the trip to the nearest jump point will take longer and the enemy will catch up. This is space travel envisioned as a sea voyage, only you don't go out on deck much.

One virtue of the authors not caring much about the science: the book's mercifully free of infodumps – and even so, orientation will be absolutely no problem for habitual SF readers who are used to solving setting-puzzles.

In terms of plot this is largely retread: Battlestar Galactica meets mad AI meets space zombies meets lots of bad decisions by everyone (so Battlestar Galactica again); it's not too bad, if not particularly fresh, though sometimes it feels slightly too carefully set up to rub in the point that sometimes there are no good choices left.

The people work rather better. Kady and Ezra are both teenagers, clearly out of their depth, though they're doing their best; yes, their personalities are relatively unformed and too obviously driven by trauma from their past, but they're still interesting to read about. Others try to help, and sometimes even have a positive effect on the situation, though generally not. It's those people, of whom even the villains (with one minor exception) show some degree of depth, who make the book, and it's because of them I'll read the next volume.

Interviewer: How did you know BeiTech were behind the attack?

Ezra Mason: I think the biggest giveaway was the huge BeiTech logo on the warship hovering overhead.

A film adaptation is on the way, from Plan B Entertainment (the company that ruined World War Z and is making a sequel). Oh well. Followed by Gemina.

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Series: The Illuminae Files | Next in series: Gemina

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