Across the Universe
Amy doesn’t want to leave behind her boyfriend, her life, and the planet Earth itself. But to be with her parents, she joins them in cryogenic sleep aboard the generation ship Godspeed, which will colonize Centauri-Earth in three hundred years. When she wakes, though, it’s fifty years too early — and the Godspeed has changed. The people are strangely calm and obedient, while the captain of the ship — Eldest — has absolute power. Her only friend (maybe) is Elder, the rebellious boy training to become the next Eldest. And she needs his help — because Amy was woken in a failed murder attempt. And whoever wanted her dead is killing other sleepers.
This book gets off to a great start, as Amy watches her parents put into cryogenic sleep. Her horror at the procedure and her determination not to leave them are palpable. Also vivid is her terror when she is not quite unconscious during her sleep. Afterwards, though, the story becomes . . . okay. There’s a mystery, and a romance, and a horrible dystopian society. I did enjoy reading it, and there are some good twists to the mystery. But there are some serious issues.
For one, I never really bought Elder as a product of a society where normal human emotions are viewed as insane. Yes, he’s a rebel, and he’s spent a bunch of time in the mental hospital and his best friends are there. But he didn’t really seem like he had internalized his society’s views to any degree, which really didn’t ring true for me. It is really, really hard to break out of the paradigm in which you were raised — and even if you do, usually you’re at least somewhat defined by your opposition to it.
The romance was also not terribly impressive — I liked both Amy and Elder, but I never got a sense for what was between them besides physical attraction and you-are-my-only-ally. Which . . . actually is a pretty likely foundation for a romance between teenagers, but I would have liked to see them bonding over something more.
I also had some issues with the dystopian elements. I did like the explanation of how the Godspeed ended up the way it did. But (slight spoiler) we’re told one of the main dangers in a generation ship is incest. The Godspeed‘s solution? Keep everybody on contraceptives all the time, except for the once-in-a-generation “Season” when everybody is drugged into heat, and then use genetic modification to fix the resulting incestuous children. Wouldn’t it be simpler to keep track of who is related to whom? And use contraception plus IVF if you wanted crazy amounts of control over the genetics of your next generation?
There are some good themes about the necessity of truth-telling. (And Amy is apparently a Christian, which is nice, though she has no guilt over sleeping with her boyfriend before she leaves Earth.) I especially liked the way that theme played out in Amy and Elder’s relationship. But though the book tries to raise the question of “Is it worth it to tell lies for the sake of social stability?”, the dilemma never becomes real because the heroes never have to pay a serious price for telling the truth.
All that said, I did enjoy this book — and I quite liked the prose throughout — I just can’t say it impressed me.
Content: there’s a little bit of swearing, plus some sexual content (the Season mentioned above, plus a fairly graphic rape attempt. Which leads to a plot hole: the characters know about somebody who is an attempted rapist. What do they do? Absolutely nothing!)