The Illuminae Files and Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

So we had a drinking night. We all got hammered. We all read these books. So we wrote about them together. And shots. Shots happened, right?

Sam received an advanced unfinished copy of Gemina at the 2016 BookCon which all three of us read (see the proof, I met them, they are awesome). We will definitely be picking up the finished version because it was awesome and some of the art is unfinished. These reviews are unsolicited and honest opinions.

Virginia Sam Parker
Happy Dr. Who Drinking game. Hanging out with Parker and Sam tonight while watching Matt Smith become Peter Capaldi. This means we start with beer and then there’s some win, and before writing we deicded to do a shot (why does anyone let me mix my own drinks. It was triple sec, cranberry juice, tequila and lime – tasted bad, then kind of like a jolly racher, and then not so good again.)

Spoiler Free Overview: I’m going to be honest. It’s been a while since I read the books and I like the way Sam does summaries better than the way I do summaries so I’m going to keep this short and not so sweet. In Illuminae a mining camp is attacked and there’s massive damage and a ton of character deaths and it’s super chaotic. A number of the people escape on to one of three ships and head to a major military outpost. However, shortly during the trips the AI blows up one of the ships and shit starts going down. I’m not sure what else I can say without getting into spoilers, so…

Gemina started a few months after Illuminae and it focuses on the outpost that the miners in the first book were trying to get to. There’s a huge corporation that doesn’t want information to get out and they decide to invade this spacestation but didn’t expect the drug ring on the station to be breeding horrifying monsters that could be used for SPACE DRUGS! Yet again shit goes down.

My Spoiler Free Take: These books play around with format like crazy. There are awesome illustrations, and pictures and the writing skips between diary entries and chat logs and military reports. Every few pages the look of the book changes. That makes this a quikc read because you’re mind doesn’t really get complacent. Additionally the characters in both Illuminae and Gemina were incredibly well thought out. I always appreciate books that have badass ladies and this series has them in spades. Though I have gotten to the point where whenever the protagonists are 16 year olds running around kicking ass I start to feel really old and wonder who the fuck lets these kids deal with this stuff. I mean really.

That being said, these books show the emotional toll that comes with dealing with crazy shit. Each book focuses on two main characters and in the first book Kady (I think? Like I said, it’s been a while and even if the books are sitting right next to me, I’m being lazy) is dealing with a crazy situation and an AI and it’s clear that she is using humor to cope and even more clear that she’s hanging on by a thread. In the second book both Hanna and Nik deal with deaths of people close to them and it’s clear that it doesn’t just disappear.

I’ve been told we have talking points so I’m going to cover those a little more here, at least the ones I haven’t covered and actually feel like covering. The AI in the Illuminae is named Aidan. I’m not sure if it was ever written that Aidan was masculine or feminine, but for some reason I never gave it a particular voice. When I read I don’t get a perfect picture of characters in my head, and Aidan was never given a gender in my mind so it ended up with an androgenous voice. Though I did end up thinking about HAL from 2001 a Space Oddessy on regular basis. (I was going to look up the famous line but god did I hate that movie).

Also Sam’s review mentions a section where I got so upset that I got up, crying, left the room I was in, to go yell at her for making read this book when such a horrible thing happened. I explain what happened in the spoiler section. Because holy feels Batman.

*****Spoils Below******

SPOILERS!!!!
Illuminae: Surprise SPACE ZOMBIES! Seriously. There was a virus and it totally decimated a shit-ton of people. I mean, everyone seriously kicked ass and Aidan, while being a crazy AI who was trying to kill basically everyone that mattered to me in that universe, was still a little sympathetic. Like, yeah he’s trying to kill everyone, but it’s to save all other life in the universe. And Kady, holy shit Kady. When she thinks that Ezra is dead she takes off the kid gloves, and the fact that what she was doing before were the kid gloves? She was fucking brutal. The end of the book was absolutely beautiful. She recognized the creepy but well-meaning Aidan was sentient and didn’t want him to die. She almost died due to radiation and frankly only survived due to a lot of hard work but even more luck. And her finding out that Ezra wasn’t dead was beautiful. If you’ve read Sam’s review about how I was crying it’s when we found out that Ezra had died. I was no okay with that. I was so invested in him and how he and Kady interacted… But we find out he’s okay and due to space magic medical shit, she survives a nuclear reaction (uhhhhhh, sure).

Then we get to GEMINA: THE CHARACTERS FROM ILLUMINAE ACTUALLY SHOW UP HERE VERY SHORTLY AND IT MADE ME REALLY HAPPY. Also, holy shit do I love a multi-verse. At some point Nik dies and boy is Hanna crushed, though she’s still fighting to stay alive. And she’s in communication with the ship from Illuminae who is acting super confused because it turns out they’re talking to both Nik and Hanna both of whom say the other person is dead! Ugh, my heart burst of happiness. But yet again we have two heroes who have a history that explains why they can do all this crazy stuff. It’s great! This book didn’t pack quite as big of a punch as Illuminae and I can’t quite tell you why. As far as it goes I think it was mostly that, while the back and forth between Nik and Hann was charming I still have a problem with a relationship where it’s so one-sided for so long, especially when the one party is pursuing the other party even after push back… and maybe I was reading into that too much, or not enough. I can’t quite tell you. But the horrifying creatures had to grow in cows and they burst through the cows and sounded pretty much invincible. Add that into a war zone wehre all the civilians are being held after the celebration of holiday where the captain was killed in front of them. It was just pretty fucking dramatic.

****End Spoilers!!!****

Illuminae earned 5 out of 5 shots, because with the format and the plot, the tension was high the entire time.

Gemina earned 4 out of 5 shots, because while the format was still amazing (and I was reading an ARC copy so not all of the artwork was there) and the story was still fantastic (look under the cut for my love of the plot-twist) but I wasn’t quite as connected to the characters here as I was the first one. Still, a solid book.

This book is like Everclear because you kind of know what you’re getting into but it’s still gonna fuck you up.

What we drank prior to the review:
It was Doctor Who Drinking Game night… so I’ve lost count…. But I promise I’m drunk.Brief spoiler-free overview of the book
So basically you start the book with two POVs, Kady and Ezra. They just broke up. I know, dramatic right??? But hey, the day they break up their planet basically blows up. They both escape but end up on different space ships running away from the scary ship (the Lincoln) chasing after them. Stuff happens, she becomes a scary hacker girl, he becomes a military pilot punk. Also, in the attack the ship Alexander’s Artificial Intelligence called AIDAN broke and it goes all 2001: A Space Odyssey and there’s a scary virus going around too. There’s just so much happening. It’s hard to keep it straight in my brain right now.

Personal spoiler-free thoughts on the book:
You guys… So I’m not watching Pokemon this time (I know… tragedy… Blame Virginia) but these books are so so good. The format itself is so unique. It’s basically a series of video transcriptions, chat logs, emails, situation reports, and the inner thoughts of this crazy unreliable AI. On top of all of that, they use art to tell a story. For example, there’s a part where one character is outside the fuggin spaceship tryna get from one spot to another spot on the ship and they literally write the words in the path that they take around the ship in large arcs. It’s incredible.

Plot – So these books are hard to think of as boring. There are a ton of things going on at the same time. I thought I was going to be bored with the “a YA couple just broke up but have to fight adversity” troupe but it wasn’t like that at all. Not even a little bit. These books BROKE me. TWICE. Literally broken. Virginia was broken as well… she comes out of her room with tears in her eyes screaming at the top of her lungs “NO! THAT’S NOT WHAT HAPPENED” True story. She says it was 2am… it’s a lie. It was like 9pm.

Characters – Alright. Okay. So I didn’t think I cared about these characters at all. Boy was I wrong. I found myself connected to each and every character in some way. Eether it was through empathy or personal connection, I had it. They got me. They were incredibly well developed characters. Even the bad boy. I don’t particulary love that troupe either, but there were enough redeeming qualities that I adored him. Additioanlly, AIDAN. For those of you who’ve read, did you read them as a female or male? I originally thought of him as a woman, because 2001: A Space Odyssey, but then someone screwed with my brain and I couldn’t get out of the male persona.

Writing Style – I really have no words for this other than you’ll know it when you see it. It’s badass and beautiful. Read it. The end.

A couple other points – This book gave me all of the feels. In the second book, someone has inserted a virus into the mainframe that causes the same stupid pop song related to things like T-Swift’s Shake it Off or Katy Perry’s Last Friday Night. These songs are annoying. They’re incredibly and irritatingly annoying but catchy. So some dude, at the very beginning of the book has this song going through the whole joint all the fuggin time. So something super serious can happen on page 500 (I’m literally pulling that number out of my ass, I looked for a page and couldn’t find it and don’t have enough patience to look (DOUBLE PARENTHETICALS I love writing this in word because it fixes my typos)) and they’re still singing this stupid song called Lolly-Pop and it just makes you giggle. I thought it was hysterical.

Also, I think that Ms. Kaufman and Mr. Kristoff should be commended in their co-authorship. I never once thought the story was written by more than one person. It flowed so well that I had no issues with the narrative or lost my palce in the story. Well done. (I’ll put the photo of us up here too 😉 ).

Last thing – Promise. My Bff and I, Parker (writing the third part to this review) work for the same company. Over the course of every day, we get on work chat and the chats that happen in book 2 are quite literal examples of our daily conversation. We both found it amusing. We say stuff like that all the time.

*****Spoils Below******

SPOILERS!!!
GUYS SPACE ZOMBIES AND CREEPY SNAKE THINGS! Seriously those snake things were terrifying I still have nightmares. Why do both books have to crush you just to bring them back? Literally both Ezra and Nik die. Is this a girl power thing? I mean, I’m all for it but sometimes people gotta die. Right?

So in book 1, I found it pretty interesting the BioTech person in charge of the attack was Ezra’s mom, and yet, she doesn’t end the attack. I think there’s more there. The Space Zombies were really creepy with that whole “pretty birdy” thing and havng the count down and percentages of infected folk. Also, when Byron got infected I got real sad. Lastly, when we found out that AIDAN was pretending to be Ezra I died. I had to put the book down and walk away for a while. I never do that with books. Not even in HP when certain main important characters died. I pushed through. This one I had to walk away for a min. Ok that’s a lie, with one of the characters in HP I through my novel across the room and proceeded to cry for a day. A whole day.

In book 2, HOLY CRAP THOSE SNAKE THINGS ARE SO SCARY. And I also found the alternate universe thing hard to follow. I mean, they gave me enough pre-work to buy it. The whole “we really have no idea what could happen” crap. But still, I am always skeptical of the two universes. And why did both Hanna and Nik have to die in the other universe? It just made it tough to buy. I think I would have been more crushed if they’d brought back Nik’s dead body.

****End Spoilers!!!****

Rating Book 1 is 5/5 Shots. Super well done. So unique. Color me impressed.

Book 2 is like 4.75/5 Shots. I’m that girl at the bar who leaves a quarter of her shot in the glass because she “can’t finish it.” I hate those girls. Again, beautifully written and incredibly unique. But for reasons written in the spoiler section I have to take off .25.

These books are like like when you ask the bartender to “make you something new” and it’s delicious.

What to pair it with – Absynthe. You literally have no idea what’s going to happen after your first drink.

Okokok so lemme preface this by saying there are a few things wrong with what I’m boutta write today: I had two family members pass away this past weekend and I’m pretty fucked up about it. I’m having a hard time giving af about anything right now, but hey, I like words, and hopefully these ones will offer me some modicum of relief. Here goes

For Dianne and Sherron

What I drank prior: Soooo it was Dr Who drinking night (is that not a thing for you? Look/ lock it up) a rough guess goes as follows: 4 yuengling, 7 miller lite, 3 glasses de vino, 3 shots de teequilaaayayayayayayyy

Brief spoiler free overview:
Picture yourself in deep space. Ore mining on asteroids is so common a thing that your whole family is on an asteroid. Mining ore. It’s so chill that you’re in high school on said asteroid. Life is grand and terraformed. These two teens are madly in love and it’s adorable and shit when BOOM THE WHOLE MINE JONT GETS ATTACKED. They both escpae and spend the bulk of the novels really just trying to survive. Their attackers did a shitty job killing everyone and they are hunting that ass down/ using some pretty fucked up methods to eradicate the evidence of there enedavors. Will Kady and Ezra be together in the end? Tune in next week on DRAGON BALLL ZE—

But seriously, Amie Kauffman and Jay Kristoff write a pair of incredibly compelling narrative in Illuminae, about attacking overwhelming odds, and they do so in consistently surprising ways. The second installment in the trilogy, Gemina, picks up right where it left off. Fancy yourself able to predict what’s gonna happen in works of fiction? These two books contain the following, in no particular order:

A love story

A evil maniacal military dickbag

Artificial Intelligence (also a dickbag)

A goddam man-made wormhole

The Russian mafia

Space zombies

Hallucinogens

Spaceship battles. TWICE.

(Bruh. Read these shits.)

Personal spoiler free thoughts:
Plot: The astronomy nerd in me (minored in it, have autographs from Stephen hawking, went -twice-to space camp) loved the plot and technical execution of these novels ( with ONE exception. Spoilers, dear.) I was continuously roped into caring about both the physical safety of these characters as well as the lovey-dovey/retribution stories that are a significant arc throughout. I was never bored, and furthermore, I cared. I gave a shit. To be able to carry that through two novels and 700 some-odd pages says a lot. Characters: while we do see a few boring tropes arise in our characters, I found them continuously surprising in a number of ways. (Oh you thought this son-of-a-druglord-fuckboy was gonna be a POS? NAH. Oh you thought the sociopathic-semiomnipotent AI was gonna come to your aid? WRO –wait. Well. kinda?). Some characters are flat, but our protagonists, antagonists, and most characters you spend more than a few sentences on evolve tremendously, which is fitting considering how dire their situations become. Only at one moment did I find myself actively disbelieving a character’s behavior. I’m hella critical and read FOR these kinds of things, so such a feat is an achievement indeed.
I’ll finish with a bit of praise: AIDAN, the artificial intelligence piloting one of the ships, is the most interesting and compelling character I’ve read in a while. AIDAN not only (d)evolves quickly, but is a catalyst for other characters.

Writing style and pace: I almost wrote a sentence that described the style of these novels as “contrived”. Here’s why: there are moments where the layout of the words on the page are as effective and affective as the words themselves. Entire sections are written as military reports summarizing video and/or audio feeds recovered from the spacecraft in question. Dialogue between characters is literally more often espoused via instant messages (And emoijs. O.o) than via actual words spoken aloud. There are moments where some of this “dialogue” sounds like my good friends and I chatting via IM at work. Acronyms fly around, lolz are lolled, ellipses abound. For a digital native like myself, these things were easy enough to break down but a less tech-savvy reader may run into trouble connecting.
A standout to me are the “illustrations” in these books. Entire pages function as concrete poems wherein the shape of the words on the page add meaning. Imagine reading a firefight, but there is no narrative, only dialogue. These fools manage to capture spatial and temporal changes and events with the literal location of the words on the page, their size, their density, their orientation. Literally something I had never seen before from a work of fiction, and when I have seen it in other genres, never has it been so extensive, and to me, never has it been so effective
There are moments where characters have “dueling pages”, wherein lover girl’s actions take place only on left-hand pages, and lover boy’s on the right. There’s a plot reason for this mirroring, and it is fucking stupendous to me. A novel idea, well executed
the novels regularly give you checkpoints. Literally T-minus x minutes until things are FUBAR. And they are hella effective companions to the pace that the authors were able to capture more traditionally. The rising action in these novels draw you in innocuously; suddenly I realized while reading that my brows were furrowed, my mouth hanging slack and that Hannah and Nik HADNT EVEN REALIZED THAT THERE WERE 5 FOOT MAN EATING DEATH SNAKES ABOARD. Seriously. if the climaxes in my personal life were as intense and prolonged as these I would have long since died of dehydration. Powerful, powerful stuff. Do they resolve well? Considering that these are intended to lead toward a heretofore unreleased concluding novel, I’d say yeah. I don’t leave either of these novels “satisfied” (heh) but only because I want more, not necessarily because there are unanswered questions or poorly tied loose ends. Spoiler:

I hate spoilers, go somewhere else for super gory deets:

Rating x/5 and what drink it’s comparable to:
Illuminae: 5/5 shots of patron
Gemina 4.5/5 shors of cuervo
The change is because by the time I get to gemina, I KNOW I wanna get fucked up. Idc that I’m probably gonna hook up with my ex and feel like vomit(ing) the next day

What to pair it with:

I’d pair these novels with a nice IPA. Maybe Bell’s two-hearted ale, only because you need to get through a bunch of hundred pages of IMs and concrete poems that literally make you turn the book over sometimes. If you drank liquor, you’d drop your book. Like I did. Twice

One thought on “The Illuminae Files and Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

  1. Pingback: DRUNK REVIEW: Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff | Will Read For Booze

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