My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Well, folks, they did it again.
Illuminae was, in my humble opinion, one of the finest books published in 2015. As a book in its own right, it ticked every box and then some — how Kristoff and Kaufman managed to cram everything that they did into one book still amazes me, and the philosophical questions it raised via the AI character, Aidan, could go toe-to-toe with some of the “loftiest” of science fiction “classics.”
Oh yeah, and then they threw in everything but the kitchen sink, as if they had a little window into my brain and said: “What are all of the things that Mad wants out of an already visually stunning novel set in space?”
So when I say that these two brilliant humans with imaginations beyond my own comprehension have done it again: oh yes, they’ve done it again.
Gemina could easily be called a “companion” novel as opposed to a proper sequel, but I’d argue that it’s much more a sequel than companion because (a) you completely spoil yourself for who has been left alive at the end of Illuminae — and, trust me, you don’t want that spoiled for you — and (b) because you are left with almost no context as to who organizations like BeiTech or characters like Frobisher are. You can probably figure the basic idea out while you go along, but reading Illuminae before Gemina means that you meet Frobisher on page one and immediately mutter “heinous b****” under your breath…okay, maybe that was just me.
Yes our favourite devil-wearing-neo-Prada is back on the antagonist side of the aisle and this time she brought an entire tactical team with her. Gemina picks up just a little bit after the conclusion of both of Illuminae’s timelines. I think this subtle dual timeline is part of this series’ brilliance. Traditionally in a novel that is, essentially, constructed as a giant (annotated) flashback, things get revealed so that you can, in a way, brace yourself for what’s coming.
Not so much with this book.
Sure, we know something happened at the Heimdall space station. Maybe we even get a name or two dropped so that we can remember some players. But that’s about it: we don’t know precisely what happened, nor do we know who lived, who died, or anything else.
Hook, line, sinker.
Just consider something like that absolute bait for me, the dumbass fish who swims right at it.
We’ve got some new players who are certainly different from Kady, Ezra, AIDAN, and the rest of the Hypatia crew from Illuminae. Hanna and Nik are both well-written and complex characters, but I do think that their lack of a pre-existing romantic history makes their partnership more tenuous than Ezra and Kady’s. My own opinion, and it’s coloured by the fact that Kady and Ezra’s pre-existing romance was one of my favourite aspects of their relationship. Watching two people trying to see if they can come back together is something I find interesting: there’s a history and a whole world of happiness and hurt that’s got to be waded through. Hanna and Nik lack this, although their own personal histories apart from their partnership are both dynamic and well-developed.
Speaking of backstories, without going into any kind of spoilers, I love the glimpses we got of intergalactic organised crime via Nik Malikov, especially since he’s from New Petersburg. Because, guys, we’re talking the vor v zakone in basically everything but that actual name and I am SO DAMN HAPPY. Look, I love me the Italian mafia and all, but my absolute favourite organised crime film is Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises starring Viggo Mortensen, and everything about the House of Knives just oozed the same vibe I got from that film. Which means, of course, I was all on board, most especially for the culture of tattoos as language.
Speaking of the House of Knives…
If AIDAN was the philosophical backbone of Illuminae — the character/plot element that provided the greatest conversation — then the world of the House of Knives and, more accurately, the drug that they provide is the backbone of Gemina. What I consider the best science fiction poses questions and instigates the conversation by creating scenarios, proposing hypotheticals. It doesn’t necessarily have to give any answers, and I’m even more pleased when they don’t.
I could talk about the title, Gemina, but that’s a spoiler game, and I think that the less you really know about this book, the better. Although I will say that, like Illuminae, this novel’s callback to its Latin roots can provide you with some intellectual funtimes (read: wondering WHAT WILL THIS MEAN?) while reading.
And if you’re looking for all that same terror, excitement, tension-riddled, and horrific violence that you got in Illuminae, then have no fear, because Gemina has that in spades. It even pulls out some sneaky little twists along the way — if you want to know who lives, who dies, and who’s helping tell the story, you’ll have to read along to the end and have your brain eaten out by toothed space leeches so that it’s now all over the floor because you can’t handle the level of epic.