Review: “Gemina” (The Illuminae Files #2) by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

If you recall my review of Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s “Illuminae”, you may remember how I found it to be one of my new and one of my most favorite books of all time. It had every single thing a sci-fi geek like me would want: it has massive spaceships, a rogue AI, a cover-up that spans the galaxy, and frigging zombies overrunning spacecraft. It also has an engaging plot, complexly human characters, a uniquely chosen narrative style, and all while leaving off with an ending that leaves you wanting more. And my impressions on “Gemina”, the latest sequel and (supposedly) second in the “Illuminae Files” trilogy?

“Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare” is nothing compared to this!

From where we left off with “Illuminae”, the nefarious BeiTech Industries is still after the remaining fleet of Kerenza’s invasion survivors of the research vessel-turned refugee craft, with Kady Grant and Ezra Mason now hoping to make it to the ‘Heimdall Jump Station’. What is it? Why, the Heimdall is an orbital space station that serves as a wormhole generator for interstellar space travel by civilians and corporations alike. And it is the only way for Kady, Ezra and the rest of the Kerenzan survivors to tell their story to the rest of the universe without traveling through space for a thousand light-years (give or take).

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          However, BeiTech has planned hired mercenaries (called the Audit Team. Cute) to hijack the Heimdall and use it to destroy all remaining evidence of BeiTech’s horrific crimes, including the Hypathia. Enter our two new protagonists of “Gemina”, Heimdall’s commander-in-chief’s daughter Hanna Donnelley, and her drug dealer/friend (who’s also the estranged Russian son of a mob boss) named Nik Malikov. And don’t forget Nik’s wheelchair-bound cousin Ella, a fifteen year-old hacker genius who serves as our main couple’s version of the Oracle from the “Batman” franchise. With Radical Edward’s trolling skills.

However (big shock), hired mercenaries and a ruthless intergalactic megacorporation aren’t the only things after our heroes. There are these alien leeches that were let loose on the Heimdall, a psychotic mercenary commander named Travis ‘Cerberus’ Falk, and a rip in the space-time continuum caused by this chaos that may destroy the space station, the Hypathia, and the universe. In the words of AIDAN (the sociopathic AI from the first book), “The universe itself depends on you…no pressure.”

Goddamn, I love this series.

As always, the best part of this book is the story and how it’s presented. In the first chapter, you already know everything is said and done, yet you’re intrigued by the events that occurred and how our heroes survived it all. It’s like walking in on one of the Nuremburg Trials and listening to the different stories what went through these atrocities, but in this case with recorded IM conversations, analyzed surveillance footage and recovered pictures from the various crime scenes. I couldn’t recall what the term was in the last review, but I remember it being a digital dossier: a group of papers that contain details and/or information on a person, place or event.

The characters are extremely likeable and understandable the moment you meet them, living their idle, disengaged lives on a space station surrounding a tear in the universe. The growing chemistry between Hanna, a bored teenage girl stuck in the middle of nowhere with her father, and Nik, a disgruntled crime boss’s son on Earth who is forced to make drugs with his uncle, is really intriguing and interesting. The conversations between them as well are funny as a teenage couple can get, yet also dramatic at the same time (I nearly gasped when we learned what Nik did to be sent to prison). Really, Kristoff and Kaufman do their homework when it comes to relationship dilemmas and how they factor into survival scenarios.

Ella Malikova is also an adorable side character to survive and fight with in this hostage/planetary genocide situation. While she can be eccentric and have a fifteen year-old girl’s sense of humor (I still laugh at the IM conversation where she kept changing Nik’s avatar name as they talked), Ella is someone to never mess around with. Her role in helping Nik and Hanna save everyone makes her a valid character that helps our protagonists out. She’s a hacker that trolls with her friends, but will sacrifice herself to save others in the name of truth and what’s right.

The dossier-narrative adds additions that not only fit the tone of the previous book, but also adds to the found-file subgenre. I love how Hanna is an artist, and frequently draws on paper (with art wonderfully provided by one of my favorite writers, Marie Lu) that allow us a dive into her perspective on her ‘boring’ life. Most of it are drawings of her environment, daydreams of her and her boyfriend Jackson, her friendships, events that have happened or are about to happen, etcetera.

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(Copyright is given to Marie Lu and brought from the link here: http://happyeverafter.usatoday.com/2016/09/08/gemina-marie-lu-illustrations-reveal-amie-kaufman-jay-kristoff/)

          The futuristic universe Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff have created is just incredible, paying homage to classics such as “2001: A Space Odyssey”, “The Fifth Element”, “Alien”, “Star Trek”, countless others. The way this world operates and the subtle touches and hints at the culture range from the obvious to the downright strange. There are dangerous alien leech-like creatures that can kill by feeding off brainwaves, whose blood is then used as an illegal hallucinogenic drag on the black market, there’s an international holiday that happens on Earth similar to Thanksgiving, and swearing isn’t seen as much of a taboo as it is today. Honestly, “Gemina” follows well at commentary in the future while keeping its found-footage, Wikileaks-esque dossier while giving good storytelling, drama and incredible foreshadowing.

Speaking of which, because this book is also a visual narrative as well as a written one, it allows itself to making great foreshadowing that can play a larger role into the story. One example of this is presented early in the book, where we first see the first pages of Hanna’s notebook. At first glance it seems like something usual, until an editor’s note tells the reader to take note of a bullet hole in the corners of the scanned paper, and the bloodstain that grows the more pages you read. Ingeniously, this makes you realize something terrible is going to happen, that someone is going to be shot or killed by the end of the book. Touches like that are all over “Gemina”, and makes you wonder what you read is real or what is fabricated. Just like found-footage should do.

If I had any problems with the novel (which is a bit of nitpicking), or hell even the franchise overall, it’d be two things. First: the ending to “Gemina” has a suspension of disbelief that may seem like a huge stretch for some readers. I cannot give any spoilers away on what I am talking about (especially since it is such a plot twist among others you do not seem coming), but I’ll just say that it may tick a few readers off at how much of a coincidence the characters all go through. I didn’t find it troublesome, but some might.

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          Second: the length of the book may scare a few readers off. I checked and the length of “Gemina” is at 659 pages long, and there are sadly some readers, especially among the teenage demographic, that only like books at 200 or 300 pages. However, to them I say, “Read it anyway.” Granted, I felt intimidated by “Illuminae” and its page length at first glance, but I do not regret it at all.

Leaving us at a cliffhanger that makes me praying for the final book to come out soon, “Gemina” is the latest addition to an action-packed, scientifically philosophical science-fiction series that will leave you with paper cuts at every turning page. If you adore space fiction that allows you to explore the cosmos, touches of romance and/or intense drama packed in funny dialogue, give this one an immediate read.

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