Illuminae is the first of a new series by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, The Illuminae Files. It’s pretty strict Science Fiction with an edge that will appeal to, well…damn near everyone. I sat down with it this week and read (most of it) in the last twenty-four hours. It took a while to get going, but once it had my attention I couldn’t put it down.
17-year-old Kady and Ezra have just had the fight of their lives, a fight that breaks the two of them up. The same day, a BeiTech dreadnought, the Lincoln, attacks the Kerenza colony, killing much of the populace before retreating. This assault separates Kady and Ezra, the latter who has now been conscripted into the Cyclone fighter pilots. Kady, deemed unfit for combat because of her less-than-obedient personality quirks, bides her time on Hypatia, a science exploration vessel. The two try to settle into their lives but everything is different now and neither one can let the other go. Between rogue AI systems, a deadly outbreak of plague, hacking into encrypted files and hard-to break databases, and mass corruption it is anyone’s guess who is going to come out of this mess alive.
Illuminae is not a traditionally formatted book. It’s a dossier file of snippets of conversation that make up a narrative story – IMs and textspeak, data analysis, schematics, interviews, transcripts, illustrated flight patterns, and hand drawn fliers. The formatting enhance the story as you go along, particularly the more tense bits of action and terror. It works very well to tell this story. It does take a little time to hook the reader, as I’ve said. I had a hard time with all of the IM chat being so tightly compacted together. In truth, I forgot who was speaking through some of these conversations and had to backtrack several times. That said, it makes sense from a writing perspective to have all of this foundation laid at once. The story and characters needed to be set up before all the action happens and that is exactly what Kaufman and Kristoff did – they set the story up for the (amazingly) glorious payoff at the end of the book.
There’s a beautiful conversation in this book about what makes up a sentient being; a human touch for the seemingly inhumane. This portion of the book was the most successful of the story, for me. I reveled in the conversations, the “I” versus “We” moments. I loved the idea of infusing the soulless with, in essence, a soul. It made a really interesting moral tale appear in the midst of all of the chaos. It also made for an excellent twist that I did not predict or expect to happen. I actually had to put the book down for several moments to ponder the ramifications of said twist and that always makes me love a book that much more – when I don’t see it coming.
I loved the two main characters. I loved their interactions and the tension between them. I felt their struggle and their depth even if it was largely meted out through interviews and emails and IM-speak. I really knew who both these characters were. By the time we do get to the (unbelievably soul-fulfilling) end we have a huge sense of who they both are and of the sense of purpose they must have within to carry them towards the end. I loved the ride in this book, the unexpectedly jarring twists and turns. I felt like I was in the cockpit of one of Ezra’s Cyclones spinning into oblivion and I loved that unexpected feeling of weightlessness. The best books do that to the reader and this book definitely accomplished that. My sense of wonder boggles.
So much love for this book and I can’t wait to see what happens next.
4.5 out of 5 stars.
– Follow the Reader –