This is the sequel to the brilliant Illuminae. Intriguingly, though, it could definitely be read as a stand-alone book. There’s an entirely new set of main characters, and while the events do flow on from the initial ones they’re taking place in a completely different part of space. What little background knowledge might be useful is provided as part of the briefing documents.
Note: if you didn’t enjoy Illuminae (and I understand the style isn’t for everyone), don’t come to this one.
Like Illuminae, the novel is composed of ‘found’ documents, here presented as part of trial. Those documents are things like IM-chat transcripts; descriptions of video surveillance, complete with occasional snarky comments from the tech doing the description; logs of emails, and other communications; and a few other bits and pieces. It means that the narrative isn’t entirely linear, and this works really nicely – the story of what has happened, and what the characters are like, comes out slowly and… I guess organically. There’s a few bits where people are described in reports or get talked about, but in general we learn about them through their words and actions.
The setting for the main narrative is a space station, guarding a worm hole that has gates to several different systems. Something terrible happens, and things must be done by unlikely heroes. Exactly the depth of the Terrible Things and how they might be resolved are the focus of the story. There’s crawling through air vents and unlikely alliances, hacking both computer and physical, general death and destruction and mayhem, betrayals and banter. And it all happens over a really short space of time so that it feels quite desperate and breathless; when I had to put it down 50 pages from the end to go out for dinner (I’d read the rest of it that day), I was horrified at leaving everyone hanging.
This is an immensely fun book. I can imagine it working on reluctant readers – or those who think they only like graphic novels – once they got over the thickness of it, that is, since it’s a very graphic piece of work: each page is designed to look like what it’s meant to be, whether that’s a chat transcript or legal documents. Or excerpts from an adolescent girl’s diary. Each ‘chapter’ feels short and punchy because none of the documents are very long. It’s a clever pacing trick.
A very entertaining and enjoyable book. I am excited for the next instalment.
In which we welcome a new member of the Galactic Suburbia: Next Gen, and embrace the awards season.
Baby News: Happy birth to future feminist awesome little dude Samuel, and congrats to his parents, Alisa & Chris as well as newly minted big sister Mack!
Mark Oshiro, ConQuest & the whiteness of cons/fan spaces
Mark Does Stuff Etc.
Mark’s original post
Mark’s follow up
Stephanie Lai at No Award on Taking Up Room in Con Spaces
(also Ben and Han Solo at home)
Alex: Finished Molly. Triton, Samuel Delany; Wicked + Divine; Illuminae, Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff.
Tansy: Molly also, Gentleman Jole & the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold, Marvel Avengers Academy, Gilmore Girls, Buffy Rewatch with Daughter!!!
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I’ve been meaning to read this book for ages… like since it came out. Heh.
When I bought it, the sales assistant was very pleased for me. She warned me that she’d got to 200 pages, worried that she wasn’t enjoying it, gave it another 50 pages… and then finished it at like 3am the next morning. So it was good to know that at least one other person found it a bit hard going and then BANG it got better.
That’s kinda how I found it too.
The overview: this is written in a ‘found footage’ format – emails, reconstructed IM chat, reports, etc. It’s reconstructing the events which have happened over the last twelve months from the moment that a bunch of space ships suddenly opened fire on a colony, and just a few people manage to escape courtesy of a UTA (United Terran Authority) ship that happened to be nearby. The focus is Kady Grant and her ex-boyfriend Ezra, whom she helps to escape because dude, she’s not that cold.
As I alluded to, there was definitely a bit of a dead patch for me; I was finding the interaction between Kady and Ezra a bit laboured. But it seriously picked up, and while I didn’t finish it in one sitting I came very close (about 80 pages one night, the rest the next day). I can completely understand why this has already been optioned for turning into a film.
I really liked the format. Although something I’ve very bad at is keeping an eye on the dates of things like emails or reports, it was an important thing to try and remember because checking the progress of events was sometimes vital, so I found myself going back a few pages sometimes to check on them. I loved the inclusion of things like the space ship specs, and there were a few sections where the authors and designers did some wonderful things with typography and format and it really added to the atmosphere and aesthetics. Giving the AI a very particular look – white type on black (except its direct speech, which was grey) was brilliant. Obviously this isn’t going to work for everyone, and it would be really dangerous to see this overdone – it would be so easy for it to become a cliche (maybe it already it is and I haven’t seen it? It’s still fresh for me) – but for now, I’m loving it.
As well as some fairly excellent action scenes, Kaufman and Kristoff also engage in some philosophical issues. The main one is that of AI sentience and how humanity might deal with it, deal with it going against their instruction/commands/ demands. It’s just slightly off-central – the plot doesn’t work without it but they could have had less introspection; I’m glad they didn’t, though, because for me it lifted the book just that bit into not-just-rolicking-fun.
Things I suspect Kaufman and Kristoff are fans of: Battlestar Galactica (the reboot); the Expanse series by James SA Corey; Arthur C Clarke’s 2001.
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
Firstly, on formatting: having all of the names of the people who died on Copernicus actually listed? Slayed me. And then followed by pictures of the same? Magnificent touch. And then when I started picking out names of my friends from the Australian spec fic scene? SHEER BRILLIANCE I LOVE YOU.
So then there’s the twist. Oh. My. I really didn’t expect it: that the AI, AIDAN, has been mimicking Ezra for simply hours to lure Kady over to the Alexander to fix the problem it has that only ‘meat’ can deal with? That’s magnificent. I loved it. Because I’d been getting a bit sick of those two – and indeed I’m not completely over my annoyance at their relationship, although the revelation of why they broke up made it slightly better for them to get back together – and to then discover it was actually a ploy… Kaufman and Kristoff, NICE WORK.
I still don’t entirely love Kady and Ezra as a couple. I think this is partly an issue with me being old and cynical, because I think “17? 18? really?” – which is mostly my problem. But I’m not going to not read the rest of this series. I fully intend to read the heck out of the next book, that’s for sure, and shove this book into the hands of whoever I can find that’s just about old enough to appreciate it.