I am as silent as death.
Do this: Go to your bedroom. Your nice, safe, warm bedroom that is not a glass coffin behind a morgue door. Lie down on your bed not made of ice. Stick your fingers in your ears. Do you hear that? The pulse of life from your heart, the slow in-and-out from your lungs? Even when you are silent, even when you block out all the noise, your body is still a cacophony of life. Mine is not. It is the silence that drives me mad. The silence that drives the nightmares to me (32).
This is a review of an advance reader copy received by the publisher, Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin Group.
This book was sitting on my shelf for a while until a coworker asked, “Have you heard about Across the Universe? The buzz is that this book will do for science fiction what The Hunger Games did for dystopia.” Wow! Big words for a first novel.
The back jacket tauts it as Titanic meets A Brave New World. The author calls it Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap in space.
So, I picked it up and dove in. Now, full disclosure. I don’t usually enjoy science fiction. In fact, I can’t even name a YA sci-fi book that I’ve really enjoyed (does When You Reach Me count?). So, here we go.
Amy is seventeen years old and facing a life-changing decision. Does she allow herself to be cryogenically frozen and packed aboard the space ship, Godspeed, with her parents (one a bio-genetic researcher and the other a top-tier military officer) for 300 years so they can colonize a new earth light-years away? Or does she remain on Earth with her aunt and uncle?
When she chooses the first, she expects to be woken upon landing on Centuri-Earth, or the new earth. Elder is a sixteen-year-old boy aboard Godspeed and its future leader when Amy is found awake and trashing for survival inside her water-filled tube, 49 years prior to arriving at Centuri-Earth. Someone unplugged her and left her to die. They would have been successful if Elder hadn’t found her. Three other passengers weren’t so lucky.
The authorities on Godspeed have developed a new system of order since the Plague wiped out much of the human population generations ago. Separated from her still-frozen parents who are essential to the mission, Amy, labeled non-essential cargo, is quickly considered a problem by Eldest, the ship’s current leader.
As Amy comes to understand this new society, its rules and its disturbing practices, she fights for control. Her parents cannot be woken early but someone is sabotaging the cryo level. Can Amy unlock the secrets of Godspeed before her parents become victims or before Eldest decides she’s not worth the risk and disposes of her?
Across the Universe is as much a dystopian novel as it is a science fiction novel. In fact, the more intriguing aspects of the novel involve the dysfunctional society that has developed on this space craft, Godspeed.
Everything mundane about this world involved descriptions of the ship (and Eldest’s uneven gait – I get it already, the man’s crooked/skewed). The diagram on the inside covers were sufficient (I mean, it’s not Middle Earth). And the claustrophobia Revis conveys with Amy running until she hits metal, the recycled air and the odd animals were perfect.
But let’s start at the beginning. I was intrigued by Amy’s dreamlike state while in cryo but most of Elder’s initial chapters were pretty slow. Even Amy’s early experiences on Godspeed predicted a lot of the plot that later unfolded, with only a few twists and complications I didn’t foresee (and some that remain unanswered). And really, how much could she throw into this book? Everything but the kitchen sink, apparently. And while a lot of it worked, the novel slumped in sections.
It was fascinating to contemplate what would happen to a group of humans removed from the rest of society and Earth (like a high-tech adult version of Lord of the Flies)… though I kept asking myself how these people survived without gravity. I couldn’t help myself. I tried to suspend disbelief but Revis took time explaining how the passengers got nutrition, raised life stock, etc. and I wanted more technical explanations for long-term survival in space. (I could see how Revis was influenced by the likes of Jeanne Duprau, Mary Pearson, and Huxley.)
Overall I wasn’t as blown away as others seem to be, but I was entertained, especially after the book hit its stride (around page 125 – the novel hits almost 400 pages). Revis definitely makes you feel the despair of being trapped, limited and in a situation out of your control. Easy one to booktalk, too (though I can already see some objections to the sex within).
The writing was good. Not great. Is it a good YA novel? Yes. Good. Better than a lot, though it is a mashup of several. Will it have adult crossover appeal? Some, but I’m not putting it up there with The Monstrumologist, Octavian Nothing or, in terms of sales, The Hunger Games. But I could be wrong. The marketing is definitely there.
Characters like Harley and the Doc kept me interested. Amy also had her moments. Now, while I haven’t read The Hunger Games, I have read Twilight and I just don’t see this book having that kind of mass market emotional appeal, though I think it will be well received as a crossover sci-fi book.
Read other reviews:
Write About Now
Thoughts on the first chapter:
Good Word Editing
An interview with the author, Beth Revis: