Illuminae, and, Spontaneous

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of apocalyptic fiction- maybe because I need to know what I’m looking forward to in the coming year, or maybe because I’m secretly a little sadistic (aren’t we all?). Mostly, I think it was an accident.


I first saw Illuminae at my local Barnes & Noble. I love stories told in this format- books with files and articles and transcripts of conversation. They amuse me, and they’re usually quick reads. I picked this one up, tempted- but alas, I spend too much money on Sarah J. Maas to buy anything I haven’t read yet. That’s what libraries are for.
This is one daunting-looking novel, clocking in at 599 pages plus acknowledgements. I expected it to go very quickly, as stories in this format often do. I was quite wrong.


Illuminae is the story of the end of a world, told in a wild multimedia format. It’s clever and wild and every page leaves you praying that your favorite characters will survive- but in outer space, is anyone really safe? With their home planets blown to shreds, many people flee to starships Hypatia and Alexander. A strain of a particularly deadly and terrifying plague called the Phobos virus has been released on one ship, however, quite possibly dooming the inhabitants.

The story begins as a set of interviews with Ezra Mason and Kady Grant. They seem to be telling two sides to a story that has already been set in motion- a tactic both clever and confusing. The first fifty pages of the book are like jumping onto a moving train and trying wildly to figure out what’s going on.
The whole story is both heart-poundingly fast and painfully slow. Every page had me dying to turn to the next one, but at the same time I couldn’t whip through it as fast as I hoped. It was a novel to pay strict attention to- there are plenty of threads to follow, not all as easy as you might think.

The characters in Illuminae are vivid, funny, and relatable. Kady Grant is a gutsy hacker with wildly pink hair and a big spirit. She’s got courage, and she doesn’t buckle under pressure. She has almost too much drive and courage, but all in all, she’s a good strong heroine who doesn’t get mushy around her guy.
And then there’s her guy. Ezra Mason, who doesn’t get much of a physical description. I was forced to make up my own, which, while very attractive, won’t help you any. He begins as an average teenage boy, making jokes and swearing a lot (all censored). As the book progresses, however, he is revealed as a deeper character. He isn’t self-sacrificing by any definition of the word, but he’s clever and witty and dedicated- and serves a purpose besides being a love interest. He’s a fighter pilot!

All in all, this was a good book. It lacked a little in humor, and was mildly confusing at times, but the format was clever and the characters endearing.

The second book that I read this week in an apocalyptic theme was found (by me) in a B-Fest magazine. It looked wickedly interesting at first glance- even the cover was entrancing.


When I checked this book out of the library, I didn’t expect the storyline I found inside. I thought it would be about a girl rebelling and crossing things off of ye olde bucket list, with her wisecracking best friend and possibly an adorable love interest. Instead, I got an uproariously funny ride through Crazytown.

Halfway through Mara’s senior year, everything kind of goes kablooey (the technical term for crazy-freakin’-nuts). Literally- Katelyn Ogden blows up in pre-calc. One minute she’s there, and the next, gone  but for the debris. No one expects this to be the trigger that starts a chain of spontaneous combustion all over town. Mysteriously, it’s only present in high school seniors and only in their town.

One occurance is a fluke. Two is a coincidence. Three is a concern, and four? Houston, we have a problem. The news is sweeping the nation, and everyone wants out of Covington, NJ. The high school closes down, and all of the seniors are put under quarantine. Mara, Tess, Dylan, and the rest of the Covington teens have to make the most of their senior years, to blow up the world before it can do the same to them.

This story is profanely hilarious, done well and clever. It makes you fear for your favorite characters, and I was on the edge of my seat for most of the book. It begins with an explosion and ends with an explosion. It features ice cream trucks, Bon Jovi songs, and Special Agent Carla Rosetti here to kick butt and take names.

The characters in this book are wild, uproarious, and real. They’re the kind of kids you could find at any public high school. Walk into PS 47 Manhattan or Amelia Earhart High School, and you’ll find kids just like these. There will be a Jenna and a Joe, a Jane and a Laura and a Brian, a Malik and a Tess and a Mara. That, I think, is what makes this story so special. It’s about real kids, or real enough, kids that you could find in your neighborhood. There’s someone in here that’s like your older brother, or your best friend, or your sister, or you.

Moral of today’s story? Be careful what you read. What you see in the pages can be just like looking in a mirror.



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