Book Review: Illuminae, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Available in bookshops nationwide.cv_illuminae

Illuminae is an action-packed space adventure that will hold you entranced until the last page, with clenched fists and gritted teeth; it’s an intense roller-coaster of a read.

Whilst the premise may sound nothing new: a malfunctioning AI, zombies, teenage angst-romance, hackers, politics, the structure is entirely fresh and original. (Also, the zombies aren’t really zombies at all, but that’s a different matter entirely). Instead of a straight third-person narrative, what we have here is a collection of transcripts: interviews with the protagonists; emails and IM chats between them; the protagonist’s written records of events (with subsequent censoring); accounts written by an objective observer (allegedly watching security footage) and some really nifty action scenes where the pages, almost literally, come alive with dynamic text that will have you barrel-rolling the book to read it.

The story starts with Kady and Ezra, a teenage couple in an illegal mining colony in the far flung reaches of space. In the morning, they broke up; in the afternoon, their world blew apart beneath an assault from BeiTech Industries. After a harrowing escape, the two find themselves evacuated to separate vessels: The Alexander, a heavy battle-carrier and Hypatia, a scientific exploration vessel. Joining their fleet of refugees was another ship, a freighter called Copernicus.

These overloaded, under-supplied ships begin the laborous trek towards the space station, Heimdall, where a jump gate will carry them back to civilisation. However, not only are they being hunted by BeiTech’s dreadnought, the Lincoln, but something has gone very, very wrong with Alexander’s AI, AIDAN. When Copernicus is destroyed, and a terrible virus brought aboard Alexander, things start to get very, very bad indeed. In the thick of it are our heroes: Ezra as a pilot working to protect and defend Alexander against the hunting dreadnought, while Kady’s computer-tech and hacking skills become an essential key to the survival of all aboard.

With its unconventional structure, Illuminae may be a bit off-putting to some readers. However, if you want something fresh and original that will have you biting your nails with tension, then this is the book for you.

Also, I can’t wait to see the movie (it’s been optioned by Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment).

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Published by Allen & Unwin
ISBN 9781760113803

Book Review: The Gardeners 1 & 2: Master of Paxwax and Fall of the Families, by Phillip Mann

Available in bookstores nationwide.

cv_the_gardenerThis classic science-fiction tale in two volumes has now been reprinted and re-released in the New Zealand market − and thanks to Booksellers NZ, found its way into my reading pile. Now, I do not normally read science fiction, favouring fantasy, but as the synopsis sounded somewhat like a space opera, I figured it was worth reading.

And it was. Highly enjoyable, highly original, with plenty of complex political wrangling, alliances and enemies. At the centre of it all is young Pawl Paxwax, summoned back to his home planet following the death of his younger brother. Suddenly he finds himself heir to the estate, and a freak accident adds further complications to his plans for marriage and a simple life.

Phillip Mann has a truly inspired imagination. His alien races are just that − alien − completely and utterly, in almost every way. From the monstrous Hammer, to the terrifying Spiderlings (weta-inspired aliens), to creatures that seem as insubstantial as a whisper. They are all here, described in enough detail to allow the reader to paint a picture in their mind. Compounded with that are the various deformations suffered by the mostly-humans. Pawl, for example, is hunched and disfigured, another bears a ruff of feathers and most seem to suffer from some sort of physical malady. Truly, Mann has brought these (slightly demented) otherworlds to life.

Pawl is a young man, stubborn and caught in his ways, defiant against tradition and wanting to do things his own way. Through the first book he fights against what is expected of him, and wins. But at what price? Has he sacrificed his own happiness? Perhaps.

cv_the_Gardener_fallThe second book starts on a bittersweet note − Pawl may have succeeded in marrying, but is the simple life his to grasp? No. Political tides swell against him, and he also finds himself an ignorant pawn in a game more dire than any he has ever dreamed. Those he trusts will betray him, and disaster looms, a dark shadow on the horizon.

The prose is excellent and enticing, the language rich and evocative.

The lightly scattered humour, the unfortunate comedy-of-error-esque plotting and the diabolical schemings all make for an entertaining read. I looked forward to finding out where Pawl’s life led him next and could not help but feel that his somewhat selfish behaviour was leading him on a downward spiral into tragedy and darkness.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

The Gardener: Master of Paxwax
by Phillip Mann
Published by Sargasso Press
ISBN 9780473297954

The Gardener: The Fall of the Families
by Phillip Mann
Published by Sargasso Press
ISBN 9780473297961