Illuminae was recommended to me by a friend, and peaked my interest because it’s written in the good old found file form I used for my dissertation piece. I didn’t think that my dissertation would ruin the form in my opinion for about a month, so it took me a while (and getting my grade back) to eventually pick it up and give it a go. And I’m so glad that I did. Illuminae follows the story of Kady and Ezra, two recently broken up teens whose home planet is attacked, leaving them both on different ships in an escape fleet trying to uncover a whole bunch of craziness. The characters themselves annoyed me a little bit at first, having to wade through their messages to each other was painful and genuinely made me cringe, but that just added to the reality of the characters. All seventeen year olds make me cringe, I’m not sorry. The characters were well rounded, and had intertwined backstories that was exciting to unravel and learn about bit by bit. However much I loved the characters, we’re here for the SF so let’s get to it. There are definitely SPOILERS AHEAD.
First of all, I loved the ships. The spaceships that is, I wasn’t shipping any characters. Due to the form of the book there was multiple maps and floor plans of the ships which I just really loved looking at and studying. Call me a nerd, but a spaceships floor plan in a SF novel is about as exciting to me as a map in a fantasy novel, by which I mean I loved them and I nearly cried. The variance in ships was interesting to me, there were larger battle ships and smaller science vessels that couldn’t make long distance travel without a larger companion. This called to mind those small fish that latch onto sharks and feed off them to survive, and I like the idea that space travel can be associated with the ocean. Although the authors clearly didn’t intend this I just loved the idea and thought I’d throw it out there.
Second of all, I loved the warfare used in the novel. The characters fled their planet due to capitalist disputes about the mining going on there, and the biological weapons used mutated into a terrifying disease aboard the ships that caused sufferers to basically become blood thirsty crazed killers. And I won’t lie, I loved it. It felt like space travel got an upgrade with zombies, except these zombies are still smart, still human, and are their best friends. I love it. As well as the biological warfare, the larger ships used nuclear weapons against each other which really surprised me. However, as the book goes on it made a little more sense to me, in this future the battles are fought throughout the universe, what really happens if you set off a nuke in space? Aside from hurting the people you’re fighting not much, even the radiation poisoning has a futuristic cure that I thought tied it up quite nicely, but I wish it hadn’t. I love a bit of gore, hence why I loved the terrifying disease plot, but I feel if an author wants to use nuclear weapons in their story and doesn’t explore the general horror of it then they’re missing out!
And finally, the final part of this book that basically made me lose my mind, you guessed it, it was the Artificial Intelligence. Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m a little too obsessed with robots and AI and god did I love this one. The use of the form let us see directly into the AI’s mind, showing its thoughts and inner monologues as data files which was actually quite haunting. Throughout, the reader is unsure of if the AI has been damaged or if it’s simply doing it’s job using logic human emotions couldn’t allow and it felt quite reminiscent of Asmiov’s I, Robot, but really a lot more terrifying. I really hope that the future books keep the AI aspect because the AI as a main character was incredible!
In spite of all my freaking out about this book there was one small problem I had with it. The form, though extremely impressive for most of the book, failed a little a few times. There were some parts that had a dark grey font on a black background that was infuriating to try and read, and some dialogue was strewn about pages in no particular order which (although great at depicting the chaos of the scenes) disrupted the reading process for me so badly I put it down for a little while. If you’re able to see past these few little issues I think it really is worth a read, and not just for YA audiences, it’s an excellent book and perfect for any SF lover.