Girl. Boy. Spaceship. Murder. Deception. Totalitarian political system, manipulation, and art.
I loved this book a very, very great deal.
Like Leviathan Wakes (and it’s about the only thing the two books have in common, aside from the whole space thing), Across the Universe is a dual narrative, although here it’s two first-person voices. In this case, one POV is Amy: frozen in hibernation, accompanying her parents to a new planet to be amongst its first colonists. (Which may make you ask how she can be a narrator… just trust me on this one.) On the other hand is Elder, awake on the same ship Amy is sleeping on, part of the generation crew tasked with looking after the ship while it travels to the planet – a journey of some 300 years. The story revolves around Amy waking up ahead of time. Accidentally. And she’s cranky about it. As you would be. Amy’s awakening is a disruption on two significant levels: for Elder personally, because he finally has someone around of the same age but she’s like no one else he’s met; and for the ship, not least because it is mono-ethnic – an ethnicity that Amy quite clearly does not fit. Both Elder and the ship as a whole struggle to figure out how Amy can fit in. On a ship hurtling through space, with limited resources and no way to leave if you don’t like things, fitting in seems of paramount importance. So what does Amy do, what does Elder do, and why is Amy awake now anyway?
Along with a cracking pace and intriguing plot, there are some meaty issues to be dealt with. On the large scale, there’s the issue of how a generation ship could be made to work. This is a question that has frequently taxed SF; Elizabeth Bear’s Dust/Chill/Grail sequence is one example that goes in completely different directions from Revis. On the face of it life on the Godspeed looks like it works quite well, but very quickly it becomes obvious that perhaps there are cracks that have been papered over. Connected to this is the question of leadership, and what makes a good leader; Elder is learning from Eldest, and his reflections on what works and what does not are by no means trivial. On the more personal scale is how individuals deal with trauma, and expectations, and their own inner demons. Amy’s angst over whether to join her parents, and then how to cope with being woken early, is visceral and compelling. Elder’s disagreements with Eldest and how discoveries about the ship are in some ways less shattering, but have further-reaching consequences. And then there’s Harley, who I wish had had more of a presence in the novel. An artist, impacted by tragedy, and a better friend to both Elder and Amy than either to the other. His perspective, even though we get it solely through Amy and Elder, adds great richness. And poignancy.
Also, there is a love story. But not an easy one.
Plus, that cover! Beautiful!
There is some hand-wavey science-y stuff that doesn’t entirely make sense, and for the more technically-minded this may well be enough to throw you out of the story (Niall H!). I am not that person; I love my science but I am willing, for a good cause, to be very forgiving of hand-waving when it’s not too obvious (to me!) – and as you can see, this was a very good cause indeed (for me).
This is (of course) the first in a projected trilogy. I hope Revis can maintain the awesomeness.
(To make things even more fun, Beth Revis sounds like a totally awesome person. She was a teacher, who loved teaching! She likes Shakespeare for the dirty jokes and wrote her MA on CS Lewis’ Till We Have Faces (oh I must re-read that, I haven’t read it in such a long time). She is racing her mother to see which can get to the most (US) states! That says… quite a lot, really.)
Some slight spoilers in the comments.