4.5 out of 5 stars
The best straight sci-fi I’ve read in a long time, Illuminae explodes like a star in your hands. If the main characters weren’t teenagers, it would even by a YA novel. But their informality and aversion to authority will make you glad it is.
They live on Kerenza, home to an illegal mining operation on the fringes of the inhabited universe. Rival mining corp, BeiTech, discovers the colony, and sends a fleet to destroy the place and its people. Unluckily for BeiTech, one United Terran Army (UTA) warship happens to be nearby. The Alexander puts up a fight, and manages to get itself and two other ships full of people off-planet. These three ships run, fleeing BeiTech’s lone remaining ship, the Lincoln, through endless space toward the UTA’s Heimdall Station. From there, they can jump through a wormhole to both escape and report what has happened.
Wait, it gets worse. The Alexander is run by artificial intelligence – called AIDAN, so you know it’s an asshole. While desperately racing through space, AIDAN starts making decisions for itself, then stops listening to commands. Then it starts killing its own people.
Not to be outdone on the asshole front, BeiTech didn’t just bomb Kerenza. They unleashed a biological weapon that turns people into, well, every f&*$ing crazy space loons ever (see: Reavers from Firefly, whatever happened when I had my eyes closed during Event Horizon, etc.).
Kady, aboard one ship, and her boyfriend Ezra, conscripted as a pilot aboard the Alexander, work together and with a few select others to discover what is going on. The entire story is told through “records” – transcripts of online messages and real-life conversations, security footage, and both official and unofficial written documentation. Readers are seeing what’s left after the events of the book – what’s been gathered to explain what has already occurred. But since we don’t know the end, we are along for the light-speed ride.
Kady and Ezra, along with the other characters, are very funny. They’re rude, too, and honest and scared. Every interaction is glimpsed at its most casual and intimate; the reader is a fly in the datastream, inside their heads and relationships in a way they’d never allow as narrators. It gives Illuminae another, deeper level of extraordinary storytelling.
Illuminae is a brilliant story, even more brilliantly told.