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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Book Review: Across the Universe

Of course, The Fool's Illusion isn't the only speculative fiction book that centres around the theme of deceit. Author Beth Revis's Across the Universe is set on a star ship that seems to run on lies and therefore illusions some of which are very literal. I recently finished reading this YA novel which was part of my summer reading. My review of it is below. Is it a book you would consider putting on your own reading list? Feel free to provide your answer in the box below.  






YA novel
Photo Credit: Razorbill/Penguin


Book's Title: Across the Universe
Author: Beth Revis
Series: Across the Universe Trilogy
Volume: Book 1 (of 3)
Year of Publication: 2011
Publisher: Razorbill/Penguin

With young adult science fiction  rising in popularity, especially since The Hunger Games craze, Beth Revis’s Across the Universe carries on this trend. Part space opera, part murder mystery, it’s the first book of a trilogy. Even so, it holds up good as its own story and so doesn’t leave the reader hanging at the end. The book’s theme of deceit runs through not only the villainous characters but all the major characters no matter how virtuous and loving they’re made to be. And so this theme of lies is used realistically, making the characters and situations more life-like. However, as well written this YA novel is, its setting and its characterization of the main antagonist fall short of what they can be.



Synopsis

Teenager Amy Martin awakes from a cryogenic freese on the spaceship Godspeed fifty years earlier than she’s supposed to. She discovers that the reason for her early revival is that someone tried to kill her. With the help of her new friend, Elder who is of the generation presently running the ship, she tries to track down her would-be murderer before the killer can get other frozen passengers, especially her parents.

Novel’s Structure

Across the Universe holds up good in its structure. The chapters regularly alternate between the two main characters’, Amy and Elder’s, point of views making it easy for the reader to follow the story. At the same time, the organization of the sequence of events time the suspense, foreshadowing and irony good which is a big accomplishment since the author has to be careful not to reveal too much too soon through either character who also serve as narrators.

Characterization 

Both Amy and Elder’s characters are well developed. We can sympathise with both but especially Amy’s who the novel centres around. We feel her loneliness and anger as well as her love for her parents, especially her father. We feel the struggles and fears she goes through while she's forced to adapt to a new generation of passengers who, unlike her, have never seen either outer space or the surface of any planet and so have lived on the Godspeed’s windowless farm deck their whole lives. She wrestles with the homesickness for the Earth she leaves behind and with her loneliness of not being able to communicate with her cryogenically frozen parents. We sense Elder’s struggle with and rebellion against Eldest, the ship’s administrator who raised him since birth and who Elder is to succeed. We feel the anger and uncertainty of both Amy and Elder when they discover more and more that they and the other passengers have been living off of lies conspired by the administration.

In one aspect of the character interaction, the old fashioned love triangle is used between Amy, Elder and Elder’s friend, Harley. Even though such a literary device may typify the story a bit too much in certain respects, it's done convincingly here taking us into the emotions of the two male characters showing the reader their jealousy and anxiety for Amy. Yet we also see these two struggling to hang onto their friendship and so trying to rise above the jealousy. So the way this love triangle is handled portrays clearly the extreme emotions of adolescence.

The antagonist’s character, Eldest’s, could have been better developed. He comes across as caring and friendly to his common subjects, a deceitful method on his part to control the ship and its population. The only problem with this trait of his is that it's more told than shown let alone not revealed to us until around halfway through the book. So Eldest comes across too much as the typical fairy tale villain, all evil and cruel, both in his ambitions and actions, including his manner of speaking.

Setting 

The Godspeed’s interior is portrayed okay but takes a while to convey clearly in the reader’s head. This is especially so with the farming level of the ship where much of the novel takes place. Even though there is a landscape in this vast part of the ship, there is no simulated sky, only “the steel-grey metal of the walls that curve over this level of the ship ” as Amy explains it (page 141). However, the other major setting within the ship, the cryogenic freeze chamber, is described really good giving the likeness to that of a mausoleum and so works perfectly for a murder mystery/space opera cross-genre story such as Across the Universe.

While the science and technology are plausible enough overall, there are some flaws for the distant future this book is set in. Today’s technology seems to be more reflected at certain points in the novel. For example, there are doors on the ship that have to be opened manually. Another example is a fake outer space that a simulated window looks out on in which the stars are described as light bulbs. I wouldn't call that too futuristic of tech when so many of today's simulations are digital or VR. 




The relatively simple structure of Across the Universe, the story’s tension and the realism of Amy and Elder’s characters make Bevis’s YA novel worth reading. This isn’t only so for the teen audience that the book targets, but for an adult one too. That is, if adult readers can get past a too typical villain character and a few devices that would be outdated in a far-future setting. Not to mention euphemisms for typical teenage cuss words, probably used so school districts and libraries don’t get sued by certain parents. 


Until next time . . . 

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