I think it’s ironic how I have never heard of the authors Amie Kaufman or Jay Kristoff until I read their most recent collaborated novel ‘Illuminae’, but I find it to now be one of my most newly favorite novels of all time. Period. It has everything a space survival romp needs, and may have taken other ideas from popular films and games, but meshes them into a wonderfully addictive read.
This book is so good that even Marie Lu, one of my favorite authors and the writer of the ‘Legend’ and ‘Young Elites’ trilogies, calls it and I quote:
“A mindscape that you’ll never want to leave.”
And if you’ve read my previous reviews on her books, you’ll completely understand why I agree with her 100%. Everything about this book is perfect, from the environments, the atmosphere, the narrative style(s), the story, and especially the characters, this is an adrenaline rush equivalent to the recent Mad Max movie.
In the 26th century, the galaxy has been divided into two rivaling mega-corporations trying to out-compete each other. They are the Wallace Ulyanov Consortium (or WUC), and the merciless Beitech Industries. In the year 2575, an illegal WUC mining colony on the polar planet ‘Kerenza’ is attacked by Beitech warships and the civilians are forced into three space shuttles attempting to flee the planet’s destruction, resulting in a wild goose chase between them and a lone Beitech destroyer. These three spaceships are the small research vessel ‘Hypathia’, the massive battlecarrier ‘Alexander’, and a medium-sized freighter ‘Copernicus’.
Our main characters in this are ex-couple Ezra Mason and Kady Grant, who broke up the day of Kerenza’s obliteration and are separated in different ships. Kady does her best to avoid her ex-boyfriend’s messages, and focuses on hoping this would be over. However, things go from bad to worst. Six months into escaping through space, the Alexander’s AI nukes the ‘Copernicus’, and both ship’s captains are forced to cover it up in fear of panic.
However, Kady and Ezra slowly realize that not only is the AI becoming hostile, but a deadly bioweapon courtesy of Beitech Industries may be the reason why the Copernicus was destroyed. And it may have gotten onboard.
Will they escape? Will our characters find out truths from lies? And will justice be found for the crime Beitech, and maybe a few other humans on the space vessels, have done?
The book is cleverly written like Stephen King’s ‘Carrie’ where it’s basically a catalog of reports. However, instead of newspaper clippings and simple interviews, we have recorded conversations on IM boards, surveillance descriptions, analyst notes, maps of the interiors of ships, and declassified files, telling the aftermath of the story taking place, and is ingeniously placed in a way that it gives ‘Illuminae’ its own personality with each page. Nonetheless, it isn’t where it feels like a textbook of random information or a journal from Gravity Falls; ‘Illuminae’ tells a coherent narrative with complex witnesses and thrilling drama.
How do I best describe it? Imagine an Internet creepypasta of found footage set in the Dead Space universe along with the feeling you get after watching Sandra Bullock in ‘Gravity’. That’s this book in a nutshell. Every page you read has a purpose, whether it be read artistically, visually, or orally by a reader. The authors of ‘Illuminae’ take full advantage of this unique format.
For example, there’s a section early in the novel after the Copernicus is destroyed, showing the names and photos of the deceased civilians. At first it seems like a way to fill up the extra pages, until you realize that Kady is hiding something from her ex that is personal, without giving anything away, it is a clever way of ominous foreshadowing that could easily be missed.
The political landscape in this world is also very blurred when it comes to morality and what makes the truth valid. In fact, reading this novel feels like touring through Reddit or Wikileaks or even a sliver of the Deep Web, not knowing what you read is honest or fabrication. ‘Illuminae’ is the type of novel that makes you question the narrative without boring you to death. It makes you question what’s legit or what are lies, and I freaking love these types of novels.
And at the center of it all is Ezra and Kady, who are given the gleeful personality of being cynical but caring intellects who think alike. Both are smart and try to keep a level of calm, but are bound to lose themselves in their emotions are losing family and friends. Granted their arguments over their failed relationship can get tedious at times, but I laughed at the good humor thrown into their IM dialogue.
Even the insane AI (called by the abbreviation AIDAN) has a personality that you grow quite fond of. He has a generic personality of going HAL 9000 on the crew because he’s convinced it’s best for the survivors, but I love how he admits how curious humans are. I even love how he interacts with Kady later in the novel, and they both form a fragile comradery that makes you afraid if AIDAN (mainly because you never know when he can be threatening).
It may seem like an average space survival, but ‘Illuminae’ is a journey through the depths of humanity’s morality in isolation, with innocent refugees becoming psychotic murderers about space vessels, a looming enemy out to destroy you in the name of secrecy, and AIDAN peering over your shoulders like a spectator in a stadium. Full of space operas, a destructive AI, a ship littered with hallucinating killers, and two romantic leads with enticing personalities makes Kaufman and Kristoff’s ‘Illuminae’ one of my new favorite novels.
If you have any questions or already have an opinion on the novel, feel free to leave any comments. Thanks!