Books: Illuminae

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

“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.


Books: Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King

This was a pretty difficult book to get into, but I’m glad I stuck with it, because it was worth it in the end.

Glory O’Brien is friendless, graduating high school, and has no idea what she wants to do with her life. Her mother committed suicide when she was 4, and both Glory and her father haven’t really been able to move past her death. Glory doesn’t know why her mother killed herself, and is afraid that she will follow in her footsteps, because isn’t mental illness sometimes hereditary? One day, Glory decides to drink a bat with her “best friend” from across the street, Ellie, and they both suddenly gain the ability to see people’s infinite pasts and futures. In the near-future, Glory sees a terrifying America in which women have been stripped of their rights, and a Second Civil War begins over this very issue. The only future Glory can’t see is her own. This newfound power, paired with Glory’s exploration of her mother’s darkroom for the first time in her life, help Glory try to better understand the world around her, her own role in the world, and the life she has to live.

This one quote from Glory’s mother, Darla, pretty much describes the journey that she goes through during the novel:

“Not living your life is just like killing yourself, only it takes longer.”

In the end, this novel is all about that journey that Glory goes through to figure out that truth and have the courage to free herself from the shadow of Darla’s death. It’s a tale of self-discovery and healing. As a reader, the process was a bit painful, especially in the beginning, but perhaps that also reflects the painful journey that Glory goes through to finally reach the ending that is her beginning.

As a character, Glory was hard for me to like, especially in the beginning. I get some The Bell Jar or Catcher in the Rye vibes from her. It’s very classic teenager jaded about her life, but in a way that is so cynical and detached and angry from the world that I, personally, found it a bit alienating, although I could also see things from her perspective. Once Glory starts to be less passive and more active about her life, I found it easier to warm up to her.

Glory visibly grows and matures throughout the novel, which is what made the beginning bearable. Things definitely get more interesting once she develops her “powers,” but it’s a bit of a wordy trek to get to that point. If you can make it past that halfway point when I almost wanted to put the book down, the finish is worth it. Definitely gave me some good life quotes to think about.


(Potential spoilers below)  Continue reading

Books: Steelheart

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

An epic book about Epics. This is one of those books that makes me stay up until 3:30 AM because I have to finish, when I originally planned on going to sleep hours ago after finishing the chapter.

David Charleston is an ordinary boy living in Newcago, formerly known as Chicago, which is under the rule of a cruel and invincible Epic named Steelheart. Ten years ago, Calamity appeared in the sky, and since then, the world has been taken over by Epics, ordinary people who gained superpowers. Most ordinary humans have since given up fighting back, but David has not. His goal is to join the Reckoners–a secret group of humans who assassinate Epics–and kill Steelheart to get revenge for his father, who was murdered by Steelheart years ago. Steelheart is the story of how he tries to do that. It’s also the story of how joining the Reckoners makes him question his motives and morals and open his mind to more than just the single-minded need to destroy Steelheart.

I love love loved it. Steelheart is action-packed and impossible to put down. Fun but gritty, light but also dark. We have David’s bad metaphors and Cody’s mumbling about daemons and fairies and witty banter to lighten the mood so it’s not dark all the time, but Sanderson also captures the desolate, sometimes hopeless, feel of Newcago, this after-Calamity world, and the fight of ordinary humans against the Epics. The book is written so visually, I’d love to see it as a movie (provided they don’t screw it up), partly because I was visualizing it as a movie as I read.

Beyond the action, Steelheart also brings up some interesting, but light philosophical questions that make you think. What if all the Avengers were power-hungry and wanted to take over the world? What would we do? Because that’s the world that the Reckoners live in. Is it possible to have “good” Epics, or does having so much power corrupt all the people who possess it? Is it better to leave Newcago as a stable city (relative to the rest of the country) or take down the cruel leader at its helm and let the city rebuild on its own, hopefully without an Epic at its head? How are the Reckoners any different than terrorists?

So much of the book is about relativity and perspective. You can compare Newcago relative to the rest of what used to be America, and then Newcago looks pretty good, or you can compare Newcago to what Chicago and America used to look like, and then it looks pretty bad. From the Reckoners perspective, they are part of a revolution–or they don’t even want to be labelled that; they’re just making the revolution possible by taking out key players–but from the perspective of the Epics and even the people of Newcago, they are terrorists trying to spread fear and terror, take down the city, so they can lure Steelheart out and take him down as well.

I love books that have a firm resolution but leave enough loose ends to keep things interesting for a sequel. Steelheartgives us an ending, but also leaves a lot of room for new beginnings. I’d love to learn more about the mysterious Prof and the Reckoners and the world in general. Calamity itself reeks of conspiracy and seems human-induced. I get a lot of Michael Grant’s Gone vibes from it, just in terms of the atmosphere and circumstances of the novel.

Good thing I read Steelheart several years after its original publication, because Firefight is just a library away. I’m super excited for some more Brandon Sanderson, bad metaphors, and Epic/Reckoner-powered action!

Books: The 5th Wave

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

This book has been sitting on my to-read list for a very long time, and after seeing the trailer for the movie in theaters, I decided that I really should read it before the movie comes out. I’m so glad I did.

First off, the blurb about this book really does not do it justice. I was afraid I’d be picking up another one of those girl-meets-boy, world-is-ending novels that hits all the usual plot points and is nothing more than that. Thankfully, The Fifth Wave is more than that.

Say what you want about the plot–I’ll admit that the whole alien invasion thing is not completely original, and is entirely reminiscent of Stephenie Meyer’s The Host or even the Animorphs series (which I was a huge fan of back in my elementary/middle school days)–but the visual, introspective, emotional experience of the read is what makes this book so great. Rick Yancey really nails the emotional and atmospheric part of this post-apocalyptic Earth. I felt the loneliness, the despair, the desperation, betrayal, and uncertainty.

(Spoilers below) Continue reading