Friday, May 13, 2016

What we're reading: Innovative science fiction

There has been a lot of buzz about a young adult science fiction book called Illuminae, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, mostly because of its innovative formatting. Trust YA authors to find a method of fiction writing congruent with today's many ways of communicating. The book is 599 pages long, but that length is deceptive, because the whole story is told through a "dossier" of hacked documents that includes emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and other miscellany, so the page content of readable material is not dense.

As an older reader (not the target market, although as a teen librarian I am also a reader of these books), I have to say that for the first 50 or so pages, I found parts of this formatting irritating! Some of the graphically challenging black pages with teensy tiny gray writing laid out like a pinwheel or a wave frustrated me to no end.

Once that initial reaction was worked through, however, and I kept reading, I rapidly became first fascinated by and then totally immersed in the story:

In the morning, teenagers Kady and Ezra broke up. Or rather, Kady dumped Ezra for a variety of reasons about which even she isn't clear. In the afternoon, the planet on which they live, and where their families work in an illegal mining operation, was attacked by a rival corporation. A fleet of three ships managed to escape the planet with the surviving settlers on board, hotly pursued by the remaining warship belonging to their attackers.

To complicate matters, a deadly plague then breaks out on board ship, and the Artificial Intelligence in charge of the fleet may have been sufficiently damaged in the battle as to have "lost its mind." (Think "Open the pod bay doors, Hal," only much more extensive.) Kady is on one ship, and Ezra is on another, and much of the communication is related to one or the other of them, some of it between them but much of it also involving other personnel at various levels on all three vessels.

The story starts slowly, but soon ramps up into quite the ride. Invasion, retreat, strategy, plague, zombie-like people, a rogue artificial intelligence, a plucky heroine, and a little bit of romance--and you can't beat it for suspense.

So, I will say to adult science fiction fans, as I said to the teens: Pick it up, hang in there through the frustrating gleaning of information from random bits and bytes, and you won't put it down until its breathless conclusion. Although it's written for teens, if you are a science fiction reader, it's written for you as well. And there will be two more books in the series to which we can look forward!

Note: If I had properly grasped the significance of its dossier style to the enjoyment of this book, I probably would not have ordered it for the library as either an e-book or an audio book. This is one for which there is no replacement for the ink-and-paper format. For that reason, we are purchasing a separate copy to put in the adult science fiction collection.

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