Illuminae, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, is the first book of a young adult series titled The Illuminae Files. The story is set in the year 2575 and most of it takes place in space. The two main characters are Kady Grant and Ezra Mason. Kady, a seventeen-year-old girl with dyed pink hair, who is also a secret hacker, is aboard the spaceship Hypatia. Ezra, who is Kady’s ex-boyfriend, is also seventeen, enjoys playing a sport called geeball, and travels on the spaceship Alexander. The reason that Kady and Ezra are on two spaceships is that a corporation called BeiTech attacked their planet, Kerenza IV. Another important character is AIDAN, an AI (artificial intelligence) who runs the Alexander.
The story takes off when refugees from a ship called Copernicus, who are infected with a manmade virus created by BeiTech, try to board the Alexander. This virus was designed to attack the part of the brain that controls fear, and to make the infected people very scared. But because the virus has mutated, people who get sick turn into psychopathic murderers. To make things even worse, AIDAN, the AI, has also gone insane. Releasing the infected refugees into the Alexander and watching the ensuing bloodshed, AIDAN thinks, “Am I not merciful?”
Kady and Ezra switch places as first-person narrators for most of the story, in more-or-less alternating chapters called files. Occasionally, a file is inserted from a random character’s point of view. Later, AIDAN’s perspective comes to replace Ezra’s—for reasons that I can’t explain without spoiling a major plot point.
One thing that makes Illuminae different from most other books I have read is the formatting, which is both unique and beautiful. When AIDAN comes under attack and begins to glitch, this is shown in an ingenious fashion by random capital letters appearing in AIDAN’s sentences. Curse words are blacked out. Text is interpolated with diagrams, lists, hand-written annotations, and all sorts of schematics. Just by removing my hardcover’s dust jacket, I found so many easter eggs and hidden surprises underneath.
Even though Illuminae is a horror sci-fi story, there is quite a bit of humor too, even in the serious parts. At one point, when Ezra sends a drunken text to Kady, it sounds like a drunken teen, complete with horrible punctuation, grammar, and capitalization. I also liked that when Ezra texts his friend James, it seems like a conversation between two immature teens. The characters’ personalities are rich and varied. Some people are silly, some are loving, and AIDAN specifically is sophisticated and poetic, even in its thoughts: “If I breathed, I would sigh. I would scream. I would cry.” This particular phrase appears twice in the book, two “chapters” apart. The second time I read it, it gave me chills.
Reading Illuminae I had the strange sense of watching an AI gain human emotions when it used to have none, and develop empathy without being reprogrammed. I was glued to the story, but I felt I was a bit young for the gory parts and graphic descriptions of murder. I would recommend this book for readers thirteen and up.
Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. Ember, 2017. Buy the book here and help support Stone Soup in the process!