The universe owes you nothing, Kady. It has already given you everything, after all. It was here long before you, and it will go on long after you. The only way it will remember you is to do something worth remembrance.
Illuminae (The Illuminae Files #1)
Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff | 2015 | 599 Pages
Girl and Boy meet. Girl and Boy break up. Girl and Boy have their homeworld attacked by an evil mega-corp and find themselves at the center of a daring escape, a vicious plague, and a scheme helmed by a computer who wants to protect his users.
It’s a space adventure that also happens to be an adventure in reading. The story is told through a compiled report consisting of chat logs, interview dictation, encyclopedia entries, and other visual files. The transcripts unfold all of the action, creating a story that is frantic, mysterious, and filled with heaps of innovative narration.
The format of the book is hands down the best part about it. Rather than tell the story outright through the standard linear, third person narrative, it drops the reader into a pile of paperwork that tells the greater events in its own way.
The plot had some fun twists to it and benefitted from the unreliable narration. Comments from the compiling team helped to piece together the timeline and add context to the mysterious and sometimes confusing events within the story.
Those different file types are really well designed. Letterheads, images, and typographic changes differentiate one section from the next. The book could’ve just as easily done everything in the same font and style, but the writers took the extra step to make each chapter feel unique and plausible. Like these actually were authentic documents strung together. If you read this, absolutely get a printed copy.
While the format made for a very interesting reading process, some of the components just fell flat or suspended my disbelief a little too far. The security camera portions in particular, were quite awkward. They read like flowery narration rather than the video summary that they were meant to be. It’s hard to put my finger exactly on it, but those segments (and to a lesser degree the AIDAN thoughts) pulled me out of the process. They just didn’t flow as well as the other file types.
Furthermore, the chat transcripts made sense within a narrative standpoint, but they made it difficult for me to fully connect with the characters. Chatspeak dialog only takes you so far and it made some of the events less emotionally meaningful than they could have been. That lack of connection ended up hurting the plot, since the stakes seemed ultimately lower.
Finally, and this is just a weird peeve, but the redaction of profanity made absolutely no sense. YA basically dictates “no swear words! This is for kids!” So at the start of this book there is a memo drawing attention to the fact that despite a month’s worth of digging, hunting, and declassifying, the compiler had to waste time keeping all the profanity blacked out. Why? I mean, other than the fact that the meta book itself could not be marketed as YA? If they had left that tiny comment out of the memo and just used no profanity at all then sure, it may have been less realistic. It’s a story about mostly adults who are in a crisis. They would be swearing. BUT if it was absent I’d just chalk it up to the genre. Putting it in, and then arbitrarily blocking it out because the director doesn’t like potty words made me roll my eyes SO HARD.
Should You Read This?
Despite my gripes (and wow I wrote way more about those… easier to complain than praise I guess?), I did enjoy this book and will probably pick up its sequels at some point down the line. The novel concludes very neatly in some ways, but it opens the door to future, wider reaching mysteries. The second book, Gemina, is expected out next month.
I would recommend Illuminae. If you’re looking for a YA SciFi novel or just a unique reading experience, pick it up for sure. The format is really interesting, and the 599-page count shouldn’t even scare you off since many of those pages contain very few words.
I would like to see this book written as a full “adult” novel, because I think the setting and the story would benefit from being free of the YA-genre chains. But either way, what we have is still a crazy ride!