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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Review: Across the Universe by Beth Revis

Goodreads summary:
Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.


Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone-one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship-tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn't do something soon, her parents will be next.

Now Amy must race to unlock Godspeed's hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there's only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.



I've heard conflicting reviews on this book, and after reading it, I can see why. I'm conflicted. Beth Revis is a good story teller, weaving elements of sci-fi, romance, and mystery together into one cohesive plot that really makes you stop and think, could this happen? Would a world such as this really be a bad thing? I love stories that can give me that "wow" factor, and Across the Universe did. But at the same time I can see why some had a hard time with it.

The story is told in alternating points of view, from that of Amy, the girl who goes into the cryo-chamber and that of Elder, future leader of the world (inside the spaceship) where Amy wakes up. Using this alternating POV, we get to see what's happening while Amy is asleep, which is helpful. It also helps us when the mystery is presented because it allows us to see things that neither Amy or Elder can't. But at the same time, the double POV slows the story down immensely. Much of it is backstory and world building - in Elder's world (as we see how the ship/society works) and then in Amy's world (as we see her thoughts as to what her life was like before). Unfortunately all of this made the story drag. I wanted Amy to wake up already so that the story could begin - and she does - on page 70. Once Amy is thawed though, the book does take off, and as with any good mystery, I wanted to keep going until I had figured it all out.

There's another aspect to this book that I think will have people divided, and those are the plot holes and plausibility issues. The science in this book is really one where you have to just kind of take it in faith that it could happen.... someday. But looking at it from today's perspective (and as a scientist), I was cringing at some scenes. A lot of it seemed to be there just to elicit a "fear" or "shock" response in the reader because the why and the how of it all (the genetics and the breeding program) just didn't make a whole lot of sense. In fact sometimes it was downright laughable. There was also one central plot element that is completely wrong, and you don't need to know a whole lot about science (you just need to watch CSI) to figure it out. There were other plot holes, such as the presence of a very young girl who is injecting rabbits at one point (even though we're told early on that Elder is the youngest person on the ship), and there are loose ends that aren't tied up (like in the beginning a big deal is made of the fact that Amy and her family are frozen one year too early, yet this is never brought up again). There are other plausibility issues in the story too, but let me stop there because I think you get the picture. Looking back, I see so many areas where Revis could have avoided digging herself into a plausibility grave that I wonder how much effort she put into thinking things through. Granted, the world building was pretty good; I had an immediate sense of what the ship looked like and how it ran and I marveled at some of the technology just as Amy did. The premise of the whole story was phenomenal; I admire the idea itself. The characters were believable, and I felt emotionally caught up in everything that Amy was going through. It's just the delivery of the science that was off.

To put it in perspective, let's talk a little bit about another book/movie which I know you've all heard of - Jurassic Park. I love Jurassic Park. A couple years after it came out, I also read  a book entitled, The Science Behind Jurassic Park, or How to Build a Dinosaur, by Rob DeSalle and David Lindley, in which JP is picked apart one nucleotide (or claw) at a time. I remember after reading this book that I felt a little let down. Not a lot, but a little. It takes a good imagination to figure out how to build a dinosaur, and keeping in mind that JP was written over 20 years ago, it was pretty darn inventive - even though the whole concept was a wash from the get-go. There were ways in which Crighton could have made JP more believable and in line with what is scientifically possible, BUT (and here is the big but) while the science in JP may have been lacking, the story itself dug at a theme that is at the core of humanity. Across the Universe parallels JP in that the science could have been better (a whole lot better), but it's still a good story, and the themes in it are pretty much universal. And I guess that's where I sit, glad that I was given an enjoyable reading experience, but a little let down that it couldn't have been done better.

7 comments:

Karla Nellenbach said...

I actually bought this book the day it came out...and still have not read it. Epic reader fail, I know. But, for me, I have to be in the mood for sci-fi, fantasy, or books that require me to suspend belief and simply have faith in the author. I'm too analytical and tend to ask far too many questions for that to happen often. But, i will read ACROSS THE UNIVERSE...eh...someday.

E.J. Wesley said...

Awesome review, Angie. I've heard tons about this book. Reading between the lines of your review, is it fair to say that it isn't truly a sci-fi story, but more of a YA book with sci-fi elements? To be honest, most YA fails to fit neatly into any kind of genre. There aren't that many TRUE fantasy YA books, YA thrillers, etc. The exception would probably be Paranormal Romance, but that genre was kind of started in YA.

Again, really enjoyed your thoughts.

Jolene Perry said...

I read it and liked it, and will probably read the rest, but yeah, it wasn't AMAZING, and I definitely had to just let some things go...

mummazappa said...

I really enjoyed this one, and not being very sciency-minded I didn't even pick up on the errors. Then I read a review which explained some of the simple scientific things that BR got wrong, which I found interesting. I guess with this kind of thing writers should either be meticulous and do a ton of research to back up their premise, or should just skim over it entirely and focus on the story telling. Anyway, there was lots to like in this one and I'm looking forward to reading the second one. I do wonder if there is more to the story that hasn't been revealed yet that might explain why some of the information doesn't add up - maybe there are secrets that are yet to be revealed.

Angie said...

EJ - yeah, you probably could say that, even though it's marketed as being a sci-fi.

mumma - you are exactly right. If a writer doesn't want to go into details then they should focus on the story telling and not try to explain things. The more they try to, the deeper they dig themselves into trouble. I did a post on this a while back. The one that really gets me is with the fingerprints though. I wonder how much criticism she got on that one. I'll probably read the next one too, but it won't be a rush out and get it sort of feeling.

Nomes said...

love your thoughts on this angie O.o

my husband read this and thought the same way.

however, i had a good time reading it despite it's flaws. for some reason i can go along with scince-fail for the sake of a premise (yet i cannot with dystopias ~ weird)

xx Nomes

will you read the next one?

Angie said...

Nomes - i'm impressed that your husband read it! Can't get my husband to read anything. :(

I probably will read the next one - library loan.

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