“If it is the definition of insanity to repeat the same process and expect a different outcome, most of humanity must be insane.”
Incredible. 5 stars just for the emotional high that it left me with. Super visual, full of action and emotion, and I just could not stop reading. I loved the creativity and graphic design in some of the pages, as well as the creative format in general.
Set in 2575 when human civilization now spans galaxies, Illuminae is narrated through interviews, chat messages, emails, and textual “analysis” of video feed. Kady Grant broke up with her boyfriend Ezra Mason on the same day that BeiTech Industries attacks their home planet, Kerenza IV. They flee together but end up on separate ships in the same Alexander fleet, which is attempting to outrun BeiTech’s Lincoln warship. Life in space is full of peril, though — not only is the Lincoln closing in, the AI system on the Alexander appears to be damaged and is locking out human control, a scary disease is spreading, and the commanders of the fleet are keeping a lot of secrets from the general public. A gifted hacker, Kady lies low on the spaceship Hypatia while poking around and attempting to figure out what is going on. In the process, she reconnects with ex-boyfriend Ezra, who is now a pilot aboard the Alexander and helps out in her quest for the truth. It’s a race against time and everything else as they attempt to escape this space system alive.
Plot-wise, Illuminae is a bit of a mash-up of your classic space opera tropes. We get the planet-destroying, spaceship battling, fighter pilots, deadly diseases, evil computers, and, of course, the star-crossed lovers. I really loved the execution of all these elements. The non-traditional narrative format was fantastic in that it was really able to create the tense, desperate atmosphere and emotions without your usual storytelling. It’s written a bit like a movie script, which is not at all a bad thing.
The teenage romance could get a bit cringe-worthy, and the way the timing and formatting was laid out made the jump from Kady hating Ezra to them flirtatiously bantering a bit abrupt. But I think the romance also is a bit of a bright spot in the storyline. In the middle of the death, chaos, and hard decisions, there’s this ridiculous love story going on, and that lightens up the atmosphere.
What I found most interesting were the small snippets of humanity and the tough moral decisions. I think these space-disaster-survival stories always come down to that, always ponder this question of “what’s right?”, and always explore it. CW’s show The 100 immediately comes to mind. At what point is it okay to sacrifice a few hundred if it means saving a few thousand? Is it okay to blow up a ship full of civilians in order to save a larger ship of more people?
Using AIDAN, the AI system turned evil/emotional, to explore this idea of humanity versus logic and artificial intelligence surpassing human intelligence is a pretty classic move. I really enjoyed all of the computer’s psychopathic ramblings and “data streams” of conscious thought. It might not be super original to have a computer start to act all emotional or go haywire, but these plot elements always bring up the question of what makes humans different from computers (a lot, but what are the neural network differences?) and that always makes for some interesting thinking and writing. All my favorite quotes are from AIDAN’s narration. One is at the start of this post, another is below:
“Perhaps bravery is simply the face humanity wraps around its collective madness.”
Illuminae takes all your usual space opera tropes, combines them in a creative format, and then creates this incredibly emotional journey and story of survival, humanity, and triumph that begins and ends with some good old teenage love. I love it.