Friday, July 3, 2015

Illuminae

Did you like World War Z?  You'll love this book.
Did you like The Lost Fleet series by Jack Campbell?  You will also love this book.
Do you enjoy novels composed of ephemera?  You might as well just marry this book already, because ho-lee macaroni.

Wait, wait, I'm not even asking the essential question here: do you read?  THEN YOU MUST READ ILLUMINAE.


If you go through my reviews, you can probably count on both hands how many books I've raved about.  Maybe you get onto the tootsies; I don't know.  This is a rave-worthy book.

I'd heard of the llluminae Files books in passing, and snagged a copy at C2E2.  Luckily, I had a backpack in which to store all of my completely legally-gotten gains, because a 600+ page ARC isn't exactly the most comfy thing to carry around a Con.  I had seen loads of hype in the Twitterverse about this, and I fully admit that I was trepidatious about starting it.  I mean, when you do a novel in ephemera, so much can go wrong.

And Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff get this completely, beautifully, mind-blowingly right.  

Slight disclaimer: my ARC did not have all of the finished artwork/schematics/maps.  I will obviously just have to buy the book when it launches.  However, based on the thought and care put into all of the other documents in Illuminae, I'm sure they'll be amazing.

Illuminae is a story composed of diary entries, instant messages, secret instant messages, ship's logs, video analysis, and comms recordings.  They've been compiled, transcribed, and annotated by an information-gathering company called Illuminae.  The topic in question is the attack on an illegal mining facility, the rescue of the survivors, and their flight through space from the remaining enemy battleship.  That's the big story arc.  The smaller one pulls these grand space flights down to the most basic human level: a lover's spat and breakup.  Generally, I'm not a fan of love stories, but this one was so real and believable that I fell in love with our teens, Kady and Ezra.  Uh, was I rooting for them to get back together?  Heck yeah!  Uh, have I had a brain transplant?  No!  It truly was that well-written!


Actually, the novel starts with a breakup.  Kady's just left Ezra because she wants to get off this rock called Kerenza.  Kerenza's kind of a nowhere planet, except that the mining colony there isn't technically legal.  And one day, the day that Kady tells Ezra that they have no future together, a BeiTech dreadnought appears in the sky and starts blasting everything into tiny bits.

So, quick future lesson: there's the United Terran Authority (UTA) [good thing it wasn't the United Terran Internet, hee hee hee] that pretty much runs the fleets and governs the known universe.  Well, governs-ish, as it seems that they don't have a tight grip on things.  And if Darth Vader taught us anything, it's that the Force Choke is something to be reckoned with.


Stellarcorps also wield a fair amount of power.  Most of it seems to be related to gathering raw materials, otherwise known as stripping planets of whatever humans want for their own gain (hooray for humans!).  These stellarcorps also have their own ships to protect their assets.  BeiTech uses its dreadnoughts to pulverize the Kerenza colony.  As the cherry on top, a biological agent escapes and contaminates many of the fleeing civilians.  We'll come back to that later.

In the evacuation, Kady and Ezra are briefly reunited, but end up on two different ships: Ezra is aboard the UTA Battlecruiser Alexander, and Kady makes it onto a civilian research ship called the Hypatia.  A third science ship, the Copernicus, carries the remainder of the evacuees.

But space battles aren't all neat and pretty.  Alexander engaged three heavy dreadnoughts and sustained substantial damage in return.  Many of its weapons systems are nonoperational, the jump gate generator is damaged (think wormhole), and the AI that helps run the ship, the Artificial Intelligence Defense Analytics Network, or AIDAN, has been damaged.  And one BeiTech dreadnought, the Lincoln, pursues the trio of rescue ships.  The Kerenza colonists managed to get off the planet, but they basically jumped ship into a canoe that's heading up crap creek without a paddle.  Or jump drive.

And as if things weren't bad enough, remember that biological agent?  Well, it's mutated into something very ugly indeed. Phobos, as it's called, causes extreme paranoia, leading to violent behavior, mutilation, and cannibalism.  The virus seems to be contained on the Hypatia and the Copernicus, but as we all know from the way life works, viruses are not content to just hang out and chill.  They're always on the move.  And they're ready to jump ship.

Ezra is conscripted into the UTA Marines, and Kady fools everyone into thinking that she's a useless agitator, when in reality, she's hacking code like a lumberjack on steroids.  Kady is a kick-butt hacker girl, and she'll stop at nothing to figure out what's really going on.  The deeper she digs, the more scales fall away, and she sees that things are not as hunky-dory as the higher-ups are pretending.  AIDAN's behavior is erratic, the UTA is frantically classifying mission reports, and Phobos is much, much worse than originally thought.

None of this just happens overnight, though.  Ez and Kades are separated for about six months before their relationship begins to heal.  Because you don't just go from being extremely ticked off at a guy to suddenly loving him until the end of time.  You have to figure out your own heart.  And Kady slowly realizes that her demands and wishes and complaints were petty in the face in just plain surviving.  Of being human and having another human who loves you.  That's a small miracle.

I can't go through all of the amazing plot twists of Illuminae--I leave the files for your perusal.  I do admit to having my doubts at first.  I feel a bit protective of sci-fi (which is patently ridiculous, as I don't own the genre or anything), especially in YA, because in my experience it's usually just a backdrop for a tortured romance.  This, though ... this is legit YA.  It's military tactics and jump drives and rail guns and airlocks and just oh-so-good.  It's definitely my favorite YA sci-fi, and one of the more creatively constructed sci-fi books I've ever read.  Period.  Full stop, yes.  Including adult titles.  You heard me: I'm putting this up there with my Revelation Space and Agent Cormac and Culture books as gosh-danged good sci-fi.  Kristoff and Kaufman don't spend as much time as, say, Alastair Reynolds on the mechanics of quantum travel through space or alien cultures or anything like that.  But it's good and solid and smart, tackling big questions of identity, sentience, and sanity.

Please proceed to the nearest jump point and preorder this book.  Or get it from your local library (hi!).  Or hit up the local bookstore.

Masterfully and cleverly done.

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