Category: Reviews

Illuminae – Best Novel Recommendation

Illuminae – Best Novel Recommendation

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff is a mindblowing experience. Although nominally YA due to the protagonists, as with many other sci fi YA works, I thoroughly enjoyed it as an adult. The basic premise is that in the distant future, a corporation launches a devastating massacre against a remote mining colony. Two teens (still dealing with having just broken up) manage to escape but quickly wind up on separate ships trying to flee a warship determined to leave no surviving witnesses.

As with the best of thrillers, from there, the situation starts to get worse, and then the situation gets to that “How the heck did it get this bad?!! They are all going to die!!!” state, and its magnificent (and also more of a horror story than I expected). Beyond a finely crafted story and relatable characters, what really lifts this book up above the rest is the format. Illuminae is told in a “found format” of chat logs between the two teens, computer logs, memos, and the like. This sort of alternative format runs the risk of coming across as trite and silly – but not here. Kaufman and Kristoff’s use of the format is extremely effective. One space ship battle nicely captures the chaos of dogfight spacecraft. Another 2 page spread – you will know it when you get to it – I could have easily just glanced and moved on, but instead and read every bit of it while almost in tears.

Moving away from standard prose is in a way a very artificial presentation, but in another way, it can convey raw emotion so much more powerfully. It reminds of musicals in that regard. Sure, breaking into song is unrealistic, but in the best musicals, the music can carry so much more emotional content than ordinary dialogue. The format of Illuminae is much the same way. I would honestly no guess at the actual word count of this book, but the emotional journey is easily as deep and powerful as any novel I have read.

The only weakness is actually when they slide into a more traditional prose. In several points there is someone describing actions from video footage which at times was a little forced and not my favorite. However, it wasn’t overdone and for some portions it is necessary and thankfully is still enjoyable.

Overall, it was one of the best novels I read last year and certainly award-worthy. It is the first in a trilogy and the set up for the next one puts things in an interesting place and looks to be moving in a new direction rather than repeating the same storyline but with bigger stakes as often happens in a series.

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Unlikely Story – Best Semiprozine Recommendation

I have been trying to read through some of the magazines in preparation for this week, and one stood for me that I hadn’t heard of before. Unlikely Story is the sort publication that hits my sweet spot – sci fi and fantasy mixed in with quirky pseudo-academics. They publish online 3 issues a year, plus often a bonus April Fools issue of shorter flash fiction. Each issue is based around a theme of an academic journal.

So far this year they have published:

The Journal of Unlikely Cryptography (a regular annual theme) that focuses on short stories related to technology. To quote from the opening editorial:

“In these digital pages, you’ll find stories exploring the limits and possibilities of technology and the various ways it defines, enhances, and intersects with humanity. An unorthodox application of a 3D printer; the creation of private worlds; hacking the human brain with extreme video sequences; parents customizing ideal children through knitted code; a self-aware AI taking up the pirating life; and a cult seeking transcendence through transformation — all of these stories explore coding, hacking, cracking, and our relationship with technology in most unlikely ways.”

Journal of Unlikely Coulrophobia – Their flash fiction issue, this time with a focus on clowns – and all the terrible and wonderful things that implies. Apparently, it was a popular enough topic, they are publishing an anthology for it as well.

“In the exaggerated greasepaint features of the clown we find reflected none other than ourselves, the internal made external, both our internal beauty and our hidden evils.”

The most recent issue is The Journal of Unlikely Academia – Which the opening editorial explains as thus:

“This time around, rather than offering you a specialized subject, we are exploring the pursuit of knowledge itself. From the hallowed halls of venerable supernatural institutions, to fieldwork on an alien space station, and the shelves of your university library and beyond, the authors in this issue are celebrating learning in all its forms.”

This issue is the one that most caught my eye since it includes a story by Eric Schwitzgebel, a leading philosopher of mind. He often discusses the connections between science fiction and philosophy and how they can inform each other. In my spare time, I am pursuing a Ph.D. in philosophy with a focus on mind as well as medical ethics, and have taught a class in Metaphysics and Science Fiction. So our interests overlap quite a bit. His story “The Dauphin’s Metaphysics” fits well into that. It takes a classic philosophical thought experiment and posits it in a reality that may or may not be fantasy, exploring questions of identity and memory, with an interesting question of whether we can make a better, happier version of ourselves.

Another aspect of Unlikely Story that I enjoy is that they also include interviews with all of their authors on their blog. It offers an interesting look at the thoughts behind the stories as well as at the authors themselves and their other interests.

Overall, I am really impressed with Unlikely Story and it’s quirky focus issues and ideas that set it apart from many other publications out there. I am looking forward to the last issue of the year, which should be The Journal of Unlikely Entomology – their other annual topic (this time insect related), and the one odd idea that started the whole publication.