Illuminae, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff


This book is absolutely mind-blowing. There’s no other way to say it. I’ve never read a book like it before.

I became aware of the book just by seeing it reviewed at a lot of book blogs. I didn’t read any of those reviews because I didn’t want my opinion swayed in anyway, but the high average rating obviously suggested that a lot of people enjoyed it. The cover is gorgeous—and yeah, we do judge books by them—but the description originally didn’t do much for me. I added it to my to-read list without knowing whether I’d ever get around to it.

Then two separate friends, maybe only days apart, asked me if I had read it. When I said I hadn’t, they both fiercely encouraged me to. I’m at a local library every Tuesday afternoon, and it and its sequel Gemina were on display. Because my visit there coincided with the day I had just finished a book, I checked out the copy.

And everyone should check it out.

Illuminae is set in the future. It starts on a small planet where one corporation runs an illegal mining facility, which is attacked by a rival corporation. Surviving settlers on that part of the planet are rescued by three different ships, not all of them warships, and they’re being pursued by their attacker. Then worse things happen. A biological weapon is involved, and people start suffering the effects of a nasty virus—real nasty, scary effects, which I won’t spoil here. Then even worse things happen. The Artificial Intelligence (AIDAN) tasked with protecting the survivors does some—how shall I say it?—unexpected and questionable things, which I won’t spoil here.

The attack occurs on the same day that Kady Grant and Ezra Mason—two seniors living on the planet—break up. They end up on separate ships, and their respective skills are put to use. Ezra is conscripted as a fighter pilot, preparing for if (well, more accurately when) the pursuing ship attacks again. Kady has advanced computer skills, and starts hacking the system to communicate with Ezra and with her mother (a scientist sent to another ship to study the pathogen), but mostly to find out what’s going on. She suspects information is being withheld from the public, even more so when unexpected and questionable things occur.

So we have a story of teenage angst, mixed with Starship Troopers, 2001, Outbreak (or any other virus story), and lots of other science fiction ideas. I won’t say anything further about the plot. It’s too intricate, and I would do it a disservice by summarizing it in only a few words. It was gripping, scary, and thought-provoking. I laughed, I got teary-eyed, I got angry, and I gasped. I was entertained, enthralled, and thoroughly blown away.

But the real standout achievement in this story is the unique format in which it’s told. The story is told in a more or less linear fashion, but not in any standard narration. The book is a compilation of transcripts from interviews and internet private messages, emails and memos and diary entries, computer logs from AIDAN’s datacore, and descriptions of video footage from security cameras. There are schematics of the ships involved and occasional alerts to the proximity of the pursuing ship. I find it amazing that given this format, such a compelling story is told. What’s even more mind-blowing is why it was all compiled and by whom—but that’s something about the ending, which I shall not spoil.

Even without a traditional narrative voice, the emotions of the characters are clearly portrayed. Ezra’s undying affection for Kady is palpable. Kady’s sarcasm and distrust of those in charge is palpable. Their history together, along with their developing fears, are palpable—their IM conversations are so well-constructed that it’s easy to feel what they feel. When the story needs to be tense and gripping, the analyst describing the security footage provides that. Even the communications between the ship commanders invoke hope or dread appropriately. And when AIDAN’s internal logs are introduced into the compilation…—well, that I won’t spoil.

This is a book that not only must be read; it must be experienced. I checked it out of the library. Now I want my own copy—and not a copy for my Kindle. The interior design of the book adds to its impressive overall impact.

There are many references to the backdrop of space, the billions of stars out there shining their light since before the main characters were even born. I’d like to give that many stars to this book. It will have to settle for the maximum FIVE STARS.

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Illuminae is available at Amazon

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