Monday, June 13, 2011

Across the Universe (Beth Revis)

I picked up Beth Revis' Across the Universe on the strength of my fifteen-year old sister's recommendation. She knew I liked sci-fi and YA and thought that I might appreciate something like this. Solid premise. Lovely title. Rest = history.

In the simplest terms, Across the Universe is a sci-fi mystery. Sometime in the unknown future, a powerful international alliance called the Financial Resource Exchange has made space travel possible. Amy's parents -- her father a military man, her mother a scientist -- have been chosen for its first mission to make Centauri-Earth a habitable place. Along with Amy, they have been cryogenically frozen, traveling three hundred years through space in the Godspeed. But Amy is mysteriously unplugged from her cryo-chamber fifty years before their scheduled landing and wakes to a ship led by an autocrat named Eldest. Before she can find out the truth about her re-animation, one that nearly cost her her life, she must first learn to live within the ship's rules. But Godspeed has its own people, its own culture, its own morals. With the help of Eldest's successor Elder, she uncovers the truth behind Godspeed and Eldest and the fate of everyone on the ship.

The strength of novel lies in the way it boldly raises issues of freedom, race, and morality, among others. I find it very admirable that these find a place in the middle of an already engaging mystery. Similar to Paolo Bacigalupi's near-future scenarios that depict grim ecological consequences, the novel does not flinch from showing the darker side of good intentions. It is much more than the love story that the cover promises. In fact, I didn't find the romance essential to the story; I thought it would have been even more natural without it. I also thought that it tackles a little too much and that tying up all those loose ends resulted in a rather cramped denouement. I'm hopeful that in the succeeding novels, these issues can be better paced and further explored then.

I do have some misgivings. Ms Revis appears to have most of her work grounded in real science (or to be safe, reasonable conjecture on how science can develop years into the future). If it had been the science of a space opera like Star Wars, where interplanetary travel is a given and parsecs are a unit of time and not distance, then I probably wouldn't have the discomfort I have with it now. I think it's one thing to suspend disbelief about something that happens in a galaxy far, far away; it's quite another when a story grounds itself in something plausible and then misses the mark down the line.

There were tiny but very forgivable hiccups, like the mundane complaint I have on how Amy turned her bedroom lights on and off. She had to flick a switch and then speak to a computer program to make it work. I guess I just found the extraneous action off-putting because it didn't make a lot of sense for it to be developed in the first place. But I can set that aside. What really bothered me was an important piece of information revealed in the middle of the story. It's a pretty big spoiler so I won't discuss it here. Even though I'm not an expert I thought it was a rather significant flaw. If that had really happened, then Godspeed could have easily taken a better course of action than the one they ultimately did, which was presented as if it were the only solution available. I guess that really didn't sit well with me. But don't believe me; maybe I got the science all wrong.

Still, despite my apprehension over certain things, I believe Across the Universe is worth reading and recommending -- and not just to teenagers who would like a break from the dozens of paranormal romances on their shelves. There are a lot of other themes worth pursuing here and I really think it can inspire spirited discussions in classrooms everywhere. Like Amy, it is strong and fearless, and clearly echoes with the undying message of hope.

1 comment:

Sandra said...

wondering what it is you discovered there... would you tell me?