Saturday, 10 March 2012

Across the Universe by Beth Revis

Across the UniverseI picked up Across the Universe by Beth Revis after hearing lots of good things about it. I suspect these high expectations contributed in part to my not enjoying it quite as much as I’d hoped I would.

The premise of the story is: a generation ship is being sent to another planetary system. It will take 300 years to get there so the colonists are cryogenically frozen for the duration. One of the main characters, Amy, an American teenager from our near future, is coming along on the ship because her parents are crucial to the colonisation effort.

But Amy is woken up not on their new home, but fifty years before they land. Someone has tried to kill her by unplugging her. But why? Other frozen people aren’t as lucky as Amy when they’re mysteriously unplugged. Who is trying to kill the colonists and why? It’s bad enough that she’s on a ship with planetfall so distant, now Amy is desperate to find out who the murderer is before her parents are unplugged.

The other main character is Elder, around Amy’s age and destined to be future leader of the generation ship. He is under the tutelage of the current leader, Eldest, who is mean, dictatorial and has little faith in Elder’s leadership abilities. Like Amy, Elder also wants to find the murderer and prove to Eldest that he will be a good leader.

I wasn’t expecting this book to be quite as much of a dystopia as it was. I don’t want to spoil anything, but when she wakes up, Amy finds herself in a very different world, and not just because it’s a spaceship. All the people we relate to as normal are dubbed crazy and relegated to the psych ward and all the allegedly normal people act more or less like mindless drones. Why? Until Amy comes along, it doesn’t occur to Elder to question the state of things, but once he does, his perception of society quickly unravels.

Some interesting aspects of society are examined inAcross the Universe, for example what can happen when the dissemination of information and human history is strictly controlled. At one point, Amy is attacked and I thought the way that was handled in the text was very well done. She was traumatised and doesn’t just shake it off like a few too many books would have had her do.

On the other hand, one aspect that irritated me a little was related to Eldest being an unlikeable person and obviously a dishonest leader. I very much felt it was unnecessarily to compare him to Hitler to emphasise how unworthy of being admired he was. Yes, it also served the purpose of showing how Earth’s history had been re-written, but that was done elsewhere with other historical figures, so it just felt like lazy writing to invoke Hitler.

Although some aspects, like the above, were a bit heavy-handed, I enjoyed the general exploration of the sociological ramifications of the generation ship society. There were some secrets aboard ship that, as a reader familiar with dystopian concepts, I worked out before the main characters, but at no time were these drawn out tediously, which was nice.

One thing that really peeved me, however. It was the blatantly wrong science Revis chose to make vital to the plot. It made me angry. I can’t explain it without spoilers, but if you don’t mind being spoiled, I wrote a ranty detailed blogpost about it at my SF Writers’ Guide to Space blog.

Overall, I’m undecided as to whether to read the sequel. On the one hand, I am interested to read about the sociological implications of the events towards the end of the first book. On the other hand, I suspect my blinding rage against the sciencefail might mar the experience a little. It is remotely possible that Revis could redeem some of the science, but I don’t have much faith in that. I might decide after a) reading some reviews of A Million Suns and b) waiting a bit for the fury to die down.

3.5 / 5 stars

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