Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff
Rock the Boat (9781780748375)
Illuminae is one of those books of which I thought I was going to like reading it. It was going to be OK and mildly awesome, because I’m not usually comfortable with reading books in experimental format. And this collection of messages, memo’s, video footage and dossiers was probably going to be a challenge. It was not. It was INCREDIBLY awesome instead of just mildly. I enjoyed this book so much, it catapulted itself to one of my favourite 2016 reads.
I think that what works so well is the combination of official documents with the informal – and often very funny – personal messages and emails. I was surprised to see that you can build an entire story from those sources alone and not get gaps because people are meeting IRL. Considering everything that is happening in Illuminae (a lot), you would have to spend most of your time on the move and speaking electronically. But it never feels as if people are being kept mobile just because it suits the storyline. Of course, being spread out on different ships helps that. But nonetheless, the story flows naturally and you forget that you are reading files. You see it form in your mind like an awesome movie reel.
I think Illuminae pulls off something incredibly difficult, and turns it into one hell of a read. Not only does the format work, the story itself is compelling. You can gimmick your book all you want as an author, of course, but you do need to have an intricate story to back it up, or it will fall flat. Illuminae is crazy built upon crazy, but to me it never felt too much or out of place. Every problem is a direct result of the singular attack on Kerenza VI at the start of the book, and it just accumulates from there as everything falls apart further and further. Which it does, you could almost say there isn’t anything NOT happening on board.
We as readers get to be in a great position during our read of Illuminae. We follow the main protagonists Kady and Ezra through everything they do electronically. Because Kady is good with computers and refuses authority (something they luckily pick up on on page 29), she hacks into classified information and so has access to what is happening across all three ships directly from higher personnel. But on the other hand, we as readers see them when they think they are alone, and we also get to be privy to other types of information, such as private emails between other members of the ship or attached Wiki-like pages. As well as Kady keeps up, we always know a bit more. But we still do not see the whole picture, because the storyline is built progressively / chronologically, so we are hardly all-knowing.
And in the middle of all the crazy things happening, there is also a really sweet love story at its heart. And kids who are dealing with the loss of their parents and their home while being pursued by a BeiTech ship bent to kill everyone and leave no witnesses. It’s not just about the action, it is also very much about Kady and Ezra’s feelings about everything that is going on. It is very well illustrated in AIDAN’s ordered destruction of the Copernicus. You see Ezra struggling with it because it doesn’t add up, and we know the AI system is faulty. But after having gathered all the information, a lot further into the book, you do know AIDAN was right and the fighter pilots wrong. Sort of. Because it is still the ordered death of hundreds of people. There is no black and white here, people. Unless you side with BeiTech. Those people are straight up, all out evil.
These kinds of interludes in which the survivors examine their own humanity and adaptability are what makes Illuminae so succesful. It is the careful combination of both action and emotion that balances out the story. We see everything happening on multiple levels: from Ezra just taking orders, from Kady trying to figure out what’s going on, and from the captains trying to get people home without knowing how to do it. I do have some slight reservations about AIDAN, but I think that this is just because I don’t care much for an AI trying to make sense of humanity when it so clearly cannot. His error-ing all over the place was a bit annoying to me, On the other hand, he did provide a huge twist multiple times in the story, so I can certainly forgive AIDAN.
I think this really is going to be one of the better books you’ve read this year. I can understand some people not liking it due to its format, or because you are less into crazy space invaders / horrible poisonous gasses/ crazy AI / scifi YA books than I am. Because I thought it was amazing, and a lot of people will agree with me. At least give it a try, because it’s a book that is going to be on every list.