Illuminae (The Illuminae Files #1) by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Young Adult Science Fiction
Baa baa black sheep… OK, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t dislike this book. But wow, I don’t really understand the hype. I mean, yes, it’s a very unique book which gives it novelty and yes, there are some crazy plot twists I did not see coming. However, these two things do not a story make. So let me dissect this a bit…
The number one thing that will make or break a story for me is the characters. So the characters in Illuminae were… OK? The main characters are Kady Grant and Ezra Mason, and you get a semi-decent feel for them. This book is told through documents, IM chats, interview transcripts, etc., so you definitely get a very good feel for how they talk, and thanks to Kady’s diary entries, a little of how they feel. However, I just never connected with them at all. I only kinda/sorta liked Kady and I barely tolerated Ezra. He could be kind of sweet but he was also kind of crude, especially when talking to McNulty (who I didn’t like AT ALL). And speaking of secondary characters like McNulty, I cared 0% about any of them.
*MILD spoilers in this paragraph* The most interesting character in this whole book is the AI, AIDEN, because he’s complex and we get a lot of his perspective in the latter part of the book. But as one who’s seen a few too many Star Trek episodes where Captain Kirk literally talked a computer to death, I wasn’t sure about him. First off, no, he does not get talked to death (I really thought Kady was going to do this), but he was definitely extremely affected by humans. Way more than made sense to me. Now, I have seen a lot of other Star Trek episodes where I liked this sort of thing, particularly if we’re looking at Data in The Next Generation, but I didn’t feel this really worked. Especially when I started to get the vibe that AIDEN might be kind of into Kady romantically even though he claims he can’t feel that way? Eh. (In fact, it feels like all the guys who know Kady seem to freaking love her for reasons unknown to me.)
Another big thing for me is pacing, and the pacing in this book was very strange for me. It started off pretty good, the novelty of the story format kept me hooked plus we pick up right after a big event happens. Then after a little while I got bored as there is just a lot of talking about things but nothing actually happening, and I was a little confused about everything transpiring anyway, but wasn’t interested enough to go back and figure things out. Then about the halfway mark things got crazy and intense and good, so I was again into it. But then it kind of slacked off a little again, which theoretically is fine because breaks are nice, but I got bored of Kady and AIDEN and all that. Then the very end was pretty good but not super strong. There are enough reveals and action elements to keep the story flowing, but at the end I definitely didn’t understand why we needed 599 pages for this story.
The Format/The Voice
So overall I appreciated the formatting of the book, and it was particularly effective when we had the pages that showed outer space and the text was sparse and it felt very appropriate. However, there were a lot of transcripts and things of that nature included and all of them had the same exact voice. They were all sarcastic, unprofessional, etc. and did not make sense to me in the context of what they were supposed to be. It made a little more sense in the end (I’ll elaborate more on that when I get to spoilers) but it really threw me out of the book multiple times. You would think with two authors it would be easier for everything and everyone in the book not sound so much the same.
There were some other added elements that were interesting, like an ad for a TV show, a PSA, etc. that added context to the world that I appreciated, and weren’t as tainted by the overall voice thankfully.
The Ending (This Portion Contains *Spoilers*)
So in the end, if I understood correctly, Kady collected these documents and sent them to Leanne, so presumably a lot of the commentary was her own, which would explain the voice issue I had. At least, sort of, because I feel some of those documents should not have been tainted by her own tone. And Kady is starting *something* to fight against Leanne, the true big bad, who is behind *something* that is… uh… bad. Probably the initial attacks and stuff. This was all very fuzzy for me. I don’t understand why anything in the story happened, happened. Why were there attacks? Why was there a mutating plague? (And why do all sci-fi plagues result in people acting like zombies?) Are there going to be repressions of that in the future (other than, obviously, the detrimental death toll)? Why was the Lincoln chasing after the other ships? Why is everything that is happening such a freaking big deal other than, once again, the obvious death tolls? (And unrelated but another question I had of this book: What’s happening on Earth?)
Basically, I felt like this was all one giant set-up for something bigger coming down the road, but after this book I can’t help but wonder if it will actually result in a satisfactory pay-off. I had issues with some of the plotting and the ending of These Broken Stars as well, another book co-authored by Amie Kaufman. I like some of the sci-fi ideas she presents, but they end up playing out in ways that feel kind of hollow to me. For me, I want my sci-fi to explore the nature of humanity and confront big questions, but this is more weird conspiracies from big corporations who plot terrible, universal destruction, and I don’t feel much from the people or don’t feel myself (or the characters) grappling with big, societal issues.
Ultimately, this book is a low 4 star read for me, probably more like 3.75 stars if I was going to get very particular. It had some good elements to it, but it didn’t quite live up to all I wanted it to be. Will I continue the series? Eh, maybe. I’ll probably wait until it’s finished to see if it sounds like the pay-off is truly worth it. As it stands right now, I’m not dying to know what happened next, even if the ending wasn’t completely satisfactory on its own.
Content advisory: Moderate language – strong language is marked out for document censorship but milder language and taking God’s name in vain (g–d—, etc) is not. Some violence, though not extremely graphic. Some sexual discussion that is more implied and innuendo rather than graphic, but could be crude.
So what are your thoughts on Illuminae? Do you feel I missed the point?