Published by Knopf BFYR on October 18, 2016
Genres: YA, YA Sci-fi
Source: ALA Annual 2016
The highly anticipated sequel to the instant New York Times bestseller that critics are calling “out-of-this-world awesome.”
Moving to a space station at the edge of the galaxy was always going to be the death of Hanna’s social life. Nobody said it might actually get her killed.
The sci-fi saga that began with the breakout bestseller Illuminae continues on board the Jump Station Heimdall, where two new characters will confront the next wave of the BeiTech assault.
Hanna is the station captain’s pampered daughter; Nik the reluctant member of a notorious crime family. But while the pair are struggling with the realities of life aboard the galaxy’s most boring space station, little do they know that Kady Grant and the Hypatia are headed right toward Heimdall, carrying news of the Kerenza invasion.
When an elite BeiTech strike team invades the station, Hanna and Nik are thrown together to defend their home. But alien predators are picking off the station residents one by one, and a malfunction in the station’s wormhole means the space-time continuum might be ripped in two before dinner. Soon Hanna and Nik aren’t just fighting for their own survival; the fate of everyone on the Hypatia—and possibly the known universe—is in their hands.
But relax. They’ve totally got this. They hope.
Once again told through a compelling dossier of emails, IMs, classified files, transcripts, and schematics, Gemina raises the stakes of the Illuminae Files, hurling readers into an enthralling new story that will leave them breathless.
Diversity Rating: 1 – Tokenism
Racial-Ethnic: 1 (side characters have surnames that indicate they’re POC, but none of them are important characters)
Disability: 2 (Nik’s genius hacker cousin Ella has bad legs and needs help breathing after getting sick when she was younger)
To explain something a bit lengthy and complicated in a nutshell, “literary incubator” Paper Lantern Lit’s process operates like this: writers send in their writing samples, the company later contacts them if they have a project they think the writer is a good fit for, and the writer comes up with a chapter or two based on a 1-2 page summary of that project. If PLL likes what they read, the writer is hired to write a few more chapters and everyone works together on a proposal to submit to publishers. If that proposal sells, the writer gets paid to write the entire book.
What does all that have to do with Gemina or The Illuminae Files as a series? I think it would be much better than it is if it had been conceived through a PPL-like process. The person who has an idea for a book may not necessarily be the best person to write it and I’d say that’s the case with this series. The core worldbuilding and events are phenomenal, but everything else is so, so bad.
Honest to God, if you ask me to focus on the setting/worldbuilding and events of the Illuminae Files, I’ll sound like a fan. BeiTech’s attack on Kerenza in order to destroy the clandestine mines and their invasion of the Heimdall to stop the Kerenza survivors from getting the word out? Exactly the kind of shady things a corporation would do. See: Nestle siphoning water out of California during a drought so bad that restaurants won’t serve patrons water unless asked for it.
The epistolary narrative is also a fantastic choice through which to tell this particular story. The most boring sections are those told via a (very annoying) video analyst describing what they see on the cameras, which is more of a traditional narrative. The emails, the instant messages, the verbal communication records, and other such methods suck readers into the story so strongly that the 672 pages in the book (659 of which are actual story) go by in a flash.
But honestly, if you gave other writers an outline of the worldbuilding and plot of this series, there’s a very good chance they would produce a better Illuminae and Gemina than readers currently have.
The characters are a massive iceberg that sinks the ship down to the depths of the literary ocean (AIDAN being the exception). Every time they open their mouths, I cringe. Their jokes aren’t funny, they’re boring, and every single one of them has the same narrative voice. It’s like their jokes are written by some unfunny guy who thinks Carve the Mark isn’t racist or ableist even though plenty of marginalized readers have said that it is in fact both of those things. YOU JUST GOTTA GIVE IT A CHANCE because I guess the voices of those the book is actively harming don’t matter as much as your own opinion.
Anyway, Hanna and Nik’s dynamic reminds me of one from a kids’ show I’ve been in love with for a while: Miraculous Ladybug. Two French kids named Marinette and Adrien are superheroes Ladybug and Chat Noir and used their luck-based powers to save Paris on a regular basis from a guy who possesses people via butterflies. Marinette is French-Chinese and about half the cast is POC and it’s SO SO CUTE.
Ahem. The Hanna/Nik dynamic greatly reminded me of the Ladybug/Chat Noir dynamic. The male lead is head over heels for the female lead, but she brushes off his affections time and time again. Nevertheless, they work well as a team and get the job done with those feelings getting in the way only occasionally. The difference is that the Ladybug/Chat Noir dynamic is actually fun. They have their own distinctive personalities and ways of talking to one another (Chat is pun-tastic, Ladybug is not). Hanna and Nik are not fun and make the same kinds of jokes at each other like someone is putting on a half-hearted puppet show with two sock puppets on their hands.
(Please go check out Miraculous Ladybug on Netflix because I need more people to enjoy that series with)
It’s also great to know that while we will have mastered interstellar travel in about five hundred years, women will still be used as ways for men–especially military men–to insult one another. I see feminism won’t get that far even in so much time.
Gemina also tries to pull the same “OH NO, THE CO-LEAD IS DEEEEEAD lololol jk no they’re not, did you enjoy thinking they were dead” trick that Illuminae did. (Oddly enough, Kaufman’s book These Broken Stars co-written with Meagan Spooner also used this trick.) Disney Deaths are cool and shocking exactly once per series, but the Illuminae Files uses the trope so much that it no longer has any impact or meaning.
I only read this book because it showed up in the mail for me after I won a trivia game during 2016’s B-fest Teen Book Festival. I really wouldn’t have continued the series otherwise and would have gone on wishing other writers had been able to write this series instead. With more diverse voices from the characters, better humor, and less infuriating people all-around, this would be a knockout series. Instead, it’s a dud. God help me if a copy of the third book finds its way to me. I am not purchasing that thing.