Review – Illuminae – Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff


Hello Internet. And after what could potentially be the longest break between updates on this site ever, Review #55! Yeah I don’t even have an excuse for this one. It’s been ages. Yeesh. But on to the sci-fi!

Illuminae is nearly exactly 600 pages long. I finished it in about one-and-a-half sittings. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, it certainly tells of one key factor about this book: it’s not very information dense at all. On a scale of large-print Dr Seuss hardcovers to pocket editions of Words of Radiance printed with 5pt font on Bible paper, Illuminae is much closer to the former. I devoured this book in much the same time I would a manga volume or a SAO light novel. Which raises several questions, the first being “why?” and the second being another “why?”.

Why (the first)? Well the book isn’t exactly novel one would be able to accurately translate to an ePub file or a raw text file. This is because instead of just text with chapter headings this book (framing device included) is a paper representation of a staggering number of different computer files, webpages, data dumps and AI core readouts detailing in rough chronological order the events onboard several spaceships filled with refugees fleeing from a pursuing warship. It’s the equivalent of a found-footage [zombie movie] IN SPACE. [Yes, there are zombies in this book, created in the stereotypical “tests on human subjects gone wrong” plot before being set loose in a spaceship with one air network. Guess how that pans out?]

Why (the second)? Well Illuminae’s central “gimmick” is that it tells its story through a bunch of seemingly (at first) disconnected documents of varying formats and relevance which all have distinct layouts, images and fonts. Instead of using third-person omniscience to pry into the hearts and minds of our protagonists, for example, it shows us a heavily encrypted diary entry (glorious misspellings and all). Instead of telling us that a massive spaceship explodes with heaps of passengers dying it [shows us a complete list stating the names of the deceased in alphabetical order, neatly next to their passenger number and identifying photo]. Which is one of the most effective ways to show mass character death in any book ever.

But there is a problem. If Illuminae were a normal book, it would be horribly mediocre. It’s unbearably clear in the parts that are even only kinda in prose (a character describes events in like a log or something) that neither author can really hold their own when it comes to plain text. Whether this is because of lack of skill on the authors’ parts or the fact that it looks boring next to a chat log filled with typing quirks and dialogue or a blueprint of an uber-massive spaceship I don’t know. But beyond that, I believe that written “properly”, the characters and scenarios would be a little… flat. A little too predictable. A little too clichéd or expected or otherwise the same as many other sci-fi/[horror] books out there. All that really makes it interesting is the fact that it will be nearly impossible to print a pocket edition. And does that justify somewhat mediocre use of science-fiction tropes? Hell, I hope so.

Illuminae was published in 2015 by Allen and Unwen. It can be found on Amazon here.

Yours: J.M Pear

Review – Illuminae – Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff