Jay Kristoff, Amie Kaufman
Illuminae Cover



The best feature of this book is that it is really quite beautiful, there are so many clever ideas in here and different ways to express the written word. I don't think this book would describe itself as a 'graphic novel' but it really is. The book plays around with format and presentation quite successfully. I read the ebook version and although my Kindle couldn't really handle some of the small text I can imagine that the print version of this book is a joy to behold.

The novel is presented as a series of case notes, interviews, data pulled from systems and so on to create a story. Some of the sections were wonderful, for instance when things happen out in space the text 'glides' across the page like a flight path, it really is quite clever.

The story itself? Well, it's girl and boy break-up, planet they live on is attacked by an evil megacorporation. Boy and girl escape to spaceships, still avoiding megacorp. Spaceship AI goes bonkers, space zombies wreak havoc and girl kicks ass to save the day. Quite a lot to like in there for me, especially space zombies (it's actually a good idea if you're ever stuck for an idea to take an established film or book and put it in space - fuck, I've plotted the screenplay in my head for 'Gremlins in Space' many times and of course the amazing franchise Leprechaun when it couldn't go ANYWHERE ELSE with it's series of ever decreasing value released the awesomeness that is 'Leprechaun 4: In Space' but I digress...)

I can see why some people would absolutely love this book, sadly I'm not one of those though....

The target market is definitely YA and it's a genre that has limited appeal for me. Now I love me some space opera and all that and there is definitely quite a lot of action in this one but I think the tone of the book really annoyed me - maybe a younger audience would lap it up but I really hated how the main characters all talked to each other. Now I know that they are all aged about 18 but they are so very annoying. Half the book is composed of 'instant messages' between characters and I'm of a generation that can't stand illiterate text speak but for me reading the book is like entering the mind of a handful of annoying teens. All the men are giving it 'your mum / sister', there is the inanity of texting things like '*waving hands around' - I mean what the fuck is that about. I know people really do text like that I don't want to read it.

Considering boy and girl are in and out of love in seconds it's quite puke worthy reading their interactions (and the end result of this relationship is actually DISAPOINTING - as I have a cold, cold heart). I couldn't stand Ezra (boy) immediately as he is a ridiculously caricature of the high school jock, great at sports and has the maturity of a five year old... I took a long time to get to like Kady, the heroine also - straight away we're informed that she is hot (and in a really weird way she tells the reader that she has an amazing ass too). She's also got techy smarts better than thousands of other people who are on the evacuee ships, she channels the spirit of Sigourney Weaver in kicking ass on board the tight confines of a ship - she is so fucking perfect (with the hunk of meat in tow for a boyfriend). Now I don't know but is she supposed to be aspirational for young women?

(As an aside why on earth can we not have normal teens in these kind of books with very real vulnerabilities and insecurities - why isn't Ezra crap at sports, why isn't Kady overweight - yet more self prophesising about what teens should be in media....)

There's also a very real stylistic device to get this book into the children's section of bookstores / school libraries. There is no sex - Kady and Ezra are very PG, they are 'in love' but the impression is they have spent a lot of time holding hands. Now I really don't mind this except later in the book Kady refers to the smell of Ezra because she 'sleeps in his T-shirts to remind her of him when he is not there'. Seriously? What kind of teenage dude takes off his worn t-shirt, leaves it at his girlfriends house then runs off home topless? If they are fucking then that's great, if not that's great too but there is a real confused message in this book about their relationship.

Equally annoying is that on seemingly every page the characters are swearing yet it is blacked out. FOR FUCK'S SAKE - if your characters are swearing on every page then show this, it is actually puerile to black all this out. If you want to have a book suitable for children then don't have your characters swear - it doesn't really matter. You could easily have a character say 'Sh...' or not bother. But no, this book has characters who are supposed to be edgy by cussing all the time and the presentation of this is just very, very childish.

Despite all this, there is something about Kady that I did eventually get too like. The book does take such a long time to get going and actually is quite boring for a long while but it really picks up towards the end and is quite exciting. We've got space zombies running amok, a spaceship closing down on our heroine and an AI that is content to slaughter thousands for a perceived good. AIDEN, the AI is quite a clever character as it explores what it is to be scared. It is quite a touching, sensitive end to the book and the interplay between AIDEN and Kady is quite clever.

Not really my thing but I can see how this could be a special book for others.