"Illuminae" is an engaging, exciting, and fundamentally original Science Fiction Must-Read novel. Alternatively, it's a Must-Listen-To full-cast audiobook, which changes the novel into an engrossing radio play.
"Illuminae" is the story of an attack by a rival corporation on a rival's illegal mining colony the is interrupted by a navy warship and the aftermath, when thousands of survivors, crammed onto two civilian ships and the, now crippled, navy warship, make a month's long run for safety, pursued a Corporate Dreadnaught that is determined to eliminate all witnesses to the attack.
The story is presented as a series of reports, recording conversations and analysis security video footage with no prose binding them together. This may sound tedious but it's done with such skill and with such a clever structure that I believe the authors have produced a novel form that is fundamentally disruptive. It's like the leap from "Tristram Shandy" to "Pride and Prejudice" in terms of form. This is the bloom of an almost post-literate generation that has freed itself from linear text and the straight-jacket of grammar that keeps writing on the ground and has taken to swinging through the trees with the confidence of those who've grown up comfortable with Kanji/Emoli/Gif ideography.
"Illuminae" is categorised as a Young Adult novel, perhaps because two of the main characters are teenagers, but this makes it no more of soft, easy read than "Hunger Games". The action is graphic and sometimes deeply disturbing. The emotional impact is high but not immature. The portrayal of the damaged-but-trying AI is first-rate. There are strong edge-of-your-seat thriller aspects to this book. It kept me caring and guessing right to the end.
I was so engaged with "Illuminae" that I posted my reactions on booklikes.com as I went along (something goodreads.com doesn't give me the space to do. In the spirit of the novel form used in "Illuminas", I've included the unedited posts below to give you a flavour of my reading experience.
After those posts, you'll find an extract from the audiobook so you can hear for yourself what the performance is like.
"Illuminae" is the first book of a trilogy, so, if you like this, there's plenty more to come.
Source: Unedited Posts from Mike Finn's Booklikes account from the evening of 16th to early morning of 21st June 2018
Time: 6:15 pm 16 June 2018
Subject: Reading progress update: I've read 11%. and I'm worried about how sustainable this narrative approach is
This series received a lot of positive reviews in the press and social media so I picked it up even though I've never read either author
I'm now a little over an hour in.
The good news is that I'm listening to the audiobook which is an all cast production. The actors are good. The action and point of view shifts are plentiful. The unknown but suspected falls across the plot like an early morning shadow.
The conceit of the book is that the story is told through a series of files, reports and emails compiled by a covert agency and delivered to an as-yet-unnamed client.
In this regard, it reminds me of "Sleeping Giants"
My worry is that I ran out of patience for the radio-play with stage instructions read out loud narrative technique of "Sleeping Giants" after about four hours. The book was six hours long.
"Illuminae" is more than eleven hours long and is book one of a trilogy.
I'm hoping for something clever and engaging that fills the gap left by all the stuff in a novel that isn't dialogue.
Date: 11:10 am 18 June 2018
Subject: Reading progress update: I've read 37%. - OK - so the format works if I take it an hour or so at a time
I'm more than four hours into this eleven-hour novel, which, in the audiobook version, is a full cast production.
When "Sleeping Giants" was presented in the same way, I'd lost patience with it by the four-hour mark.
This time, I'm enjoying myself.
I put the difference down to the quality of the writing - the characterisation and the emotion in the dialogue / first-person reports are excellent - I found the report on a Marine SNAFU assault quite moving for example.
There is also a nice balance between a more personal relationship between the two teen protagonists and the more role-driven interactions between the captains of the military and civilian scientific ship.
I find it difficult to listen for more than an hour at a time, but I think that has more to do with the quiet desperation of the story than to the format.
Date 6:45 pm 19 June 2018
Subject: Reading progress update: I've read 54%.just met the AI and...
No other word for it.
Six hours into something good and suddenly a switch is flipped and I'm six hours into something great.
Date 10:52 am 20 June 2018
Reading progress update: I've read 74%. - I've been here before except I REALLY haven't
I'm rationing this book now as I have real life things that I need to do today. So much for, "I' can only take one hour at a time".
Right now I'm at a part that ought to be making me yawn. I've seen all the "Resident Evil" movies (now there's a confession). I know all about having a kick-ass heroine shoot her way through rabid used-to-be-people killers in a confined space with alarms sounding in the background, red warning lights flashing and severed high-voltage powerlines arcing.
I've so been there,
But never like this.
Never with a smart brave heroine who cannot bring herself to kill.
Never with rabid used-to-be people that I feel deeply sorry for.
Never with an understanding that, when this isn't a first-person shooter game but an atrocity in which everyone is the victim, that winning isn't possible because surviving can cost too much.
Never with so much damned intensity and not a single line of prose.
In my work life, there's a lot of focus on disruption as something that changes the rules in commerce, opening up new opportunities and challenging established ways of working.
The structure of this novel is fundamentally disruptive. It's like the leap from "Tristram Shandy" to "Pride and Prejudice" in terms of form. This is the bloom of an almost post-literate generation that has freed itself from linear text and the straight-jacket of grammar that keeps writing on the ground and has taken to swinging through the trees with the confidence of those who've grown up comfortable with Kanji/Emoli/Gif ideography. To an old guy like me, it's astonishing and wonderful.
Date: 12:51 am 21 June 2018
Subject: Reading progress 100% - wonderful to the very last page
So much for rationing myself. I got my real-world tasks done and then sat on my balcony in the growing dark, listening until nearly midnight.
What a ride. So much emotion. Such a cleverly constructed plot that never felt contrived but continued to surprise and delight.
I'll write a review when the book has had time to settle.
Right now, I'm clear on three things: the audiobook format for this book is a great choice, I have two new authors to follow. I'm so glad the next book has already been published.
Extract from Audiobook version of "Illuminae"
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