Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Illuminae (The Illuminae Files_01) - Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Summary:  This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she'd have to do today.  This afternoon, her planet was invaded.

The year is 2575, and two rival meg-corporations - XXXXXXX and XXXXXX - are at war over a planet that's little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe.  Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it.  With enemy fire raining down on them, exes Kady and Ezra - who are barely even talking to each other -- are forced to fight their way onto the evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But the warship is the least of their problems.   A deadly XXXXX has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results.  The fleet's AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what the XXXX is going on.  As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it's clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she'd never speak to again.

BRIEFING NOTE: Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents -- including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more -- Illuminae is the first book in a heart stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.  

(Summary from book flap - Image from

My Review:  Kady Grant and her ex Ezra Mason are survivors, fleeing after the bombing of an illegal mining operation on their home planet.  Three ships managed to escape in the chaos, badly damaged and with far more civilian cargo than their life support systems are designed to carry.  Now, they are being hunted by a rival corporation, something is terribly wrong with the AI system designed to protect them, and a mysterious sickness has begun to plague one of the ships.  If they hope to survive, Kady and Ezra must set aside their differences and work together to uncover what others are so desperate to keep hidden.  If only they weren't on separate ships.

I can't honestly say that until now I have never read a book quite like Illuminae.  Instead of the standard narrative, the stories of Kady, Ezra, and others, are told after the fact through a variety of documents -- emails, IMs, classified files, transfer requests, after action reports, therapy transcripts, memos, surveillance footage summaries, journal entries, computer generated artwork, AI command code, and more -- all compiled by the mysterious Illuminae Group.  Initially, the format was a little confusing but, once my brain adapted to the new style, I looked forward too seeing what medium would be used to tell the story. The author also included tpyos, censored commentaryredacted (redacted) and handwritten text to keep things real, as well as the occasional blood spatter or disturbed scribbling to heighten the suspense.  I was thrilled by the entire concept, which felt unique and ridiculously creative, and impressed by the massive amount of work that must have gone into telling the story outside the standard form.  

Illuminae was primarily plot driven, but it was still possible to glean information about the primary characters from the different documents, with many of those documents contain the POVs of other, more secondary characters as well.  Kady and Ezra read like many angsty, teen characters -- she is driven and defiant, while he is laid back and heartbroken -- but there are several other characters in this book that go beyond the standard -- specifically a rogue artificial intelligence (AIDAN) and the mysterious Illuminae Group (IG).  When AIDAN is damaged in battle, it veers off the rails and takes some unusual steps to save the fleet.  As time goes by, AIDAN takes on a larger role in the story, morphing into a character of sorts with slightly poetic and wildly psychopathic tendencies.   The Illuminae Group is the story's first narrator, occasionally leaving comments or notes clipped to files that remind you of their presence, but for the most part you forget they exist except at key points in the book.  However, the IG also factors into the story in ways you might not expect.  

A surprising (but delightful) element of the story was the occasional word clouds and lines of text that formed images and conveyed action as it was happening in the story.  For example, the ship-to-ship communication between pilots during a particularly intense battle in space was represented with text that followed the path of their ships, before an explosion sent the words straight out from a central location, like a star-burst.   The artistic element was utterly unexpected and felt like a kind of concrete poetry, that swirled around the page, occasionally requiring the reader to rotate the book to read all the text.  Another example is when an AI breakdown is illustrated with text that recreates Edvard Munch's The Scream.   I don't know if the end result was art in story form or story in art form, but I loved it.  

Fans of the movie Serenity and the TV Shows FireflyDark Matter, and The Walking Dead will notice that Illuminae has a similar vibe. I would love to see it made into a movie, though they might have to cut a few things to get it to a PG-13 rating.  Towards the end, the story is fairly intense, occasionally creepy and although I wasn't terribly attached to the characters beyond the obvious desire to see them make it out of their predicament, the action and suspense made it hard to put down.  There are more books in the series (Gemina and Obsidio), but the story ends with enough closure that I feel like I could walk away now or continue down the rabbit hole.  If I take the leap, I'll let you know.

My Rating:  4 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Violence, sexual innuendo (some is of the 'locker room' variety while other is more violent), and profanity.  Most of the swearing is redacted in the form of a big black block over most of the letters.  However, it's not like you don't know exactly which word they are using when they say ----ing, so you totally hear it all in your head.  If you count all of the redacted words, there is a ton of swearing in this book.  If you don't then what is left is still a fair amount of profanity in the form of religious exclamations (OMG-d and the like).

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