Deconstructing Illuminae

Once again, I’m analyzing and deconstructing stories I love to better understand them. Hopefully, I (and maybe anyone who reads my blog) can learn to write better. This three week series focuses on Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. I chose this book mostly because of its narrative device, which you’ll see makes it a unique take on space travel and the hero’s journey.

Oh, and here’s your warning: Spoilers Ahead. Proceed with caution.

1. What is the Global Genre?

Illuminae is a long form, arch-plot, science fiction, drama that turns on life and death.

The external content genre is action adventure and there is a love story sub-plot heavily present throughout. The core emotion is, once again, excitement. The global value shifts on life and death with the spectrum moving from life to unconsciousness to death and, finally, to damnation. In this story, Kady and Ezra, the main protagonists, brush up against damnation when they run the risk of losing each other or becoming infected by Phobos Beta. Phobos will turn them into killing zombies in a sense. And, it also starts with a life-threatening event.

Additionally, there is a Worldview Revelation internal content genre that includes commentary on the value of a human life and how Artificial Intelligence fits into that model.

2. What are the Conventions and Obligatory Scenes?

Obligatory Scenes:
  • An inciting attack by the villain. BeiTech attacks Kerenza using biological warfare and the citizens must escape on ships to get away.
  • Hero sidesteps responsibility to take action. Kady specifically fails the tests that would get her conscripted into the army to help with the needs on the ship.
  • Hero lashes out: Kady doesn’t follow the rules and takes specific steps to undermine authority.
  • Discovering the antagonist’s object of desire. At one time, there are two villains: BeiTech, the evil corporation hunting down the Hypatia and Alexander to destroy witnesses to their crime, and AIDEN, the computer program damaged in the attack trying to keep everyone safe by destroying certain lives. Kady discovers both.
  • Hero’s initial strategy against the villain fails. The initial strategy to get away results in some infected (and improperly quarantined) people to get aboard on of the ships. AIDEN is forced to blow up that ship to keep everyone else safe. All the cover-up leads to Kady sneaking around and finding methods to break into the computer systems.
  • The All is Lost moment. Kady reaches this moment when AIDEN admits that he’s been pretending to be Ezra for a while to lure her onto the infected ship the Alexander so that she can fix his systems. He tells her that Ezra is dead, but that she can save those on the ship who aren’t afflicted by sacrificing herself.
  • The hero’s sacrifice is rewarded. Kady manages to save 659 Alexander survivors, get the to Hypatia, outrun all the afflicted, beat the Lincoln, and get off the Alexander before it blows up. She is then rescued by Hypatia and finds out that Ezra is not dead. Now, she’s able to continue her mission about spreading the truth of BeiTech to the rest of the universe.
  •  A Hero, Victim, and Villain. Kady is the unlikely hero, though she receives help from a reluctant Ezra, her mentor and teacher Byron, and eventually AIDEN. BeiTech is the ultimate villain, but AIDEN is programed to keep everyone safe even if it means destroying an entire ship full of refugees in the process. He’s partially a villain for luring Kady into danger and releasing the Bay 4 afflicted onto the Alexander. And the victim is at once everyone on all three ships: Alexander, Hypatia, Copernicus. Ezra is a victim Kady must save and Kady herself becomes a victim to AIDEN and all the afflicted out to attack her.
  • Hero wants to stop the villain and save the victim. Kady does whatever it takes to uncover the truth. She wants to tell the world about BeiTech and save Ezra.
  • The power divide between the hero and the villain is very large. BeiTech obviously has more resources and is infinitely stronger than Kady. AIDEN, too, has more computational abilities and can out-maneuver the chipheads aboard all the vessels. And, the afflicted are super-humanly strong and wired to kill anyone who looks at them.
  • A Speech in Praise of the Villain. AIDEN spends a lot of time talking about how merciful he is. He makes sure to point out that he wants to help people survive. On the other hand, Leanne, the head of BeiTech, IMs Kady at the end of the novel to tell her she’s not powerful enough to beat them.
  • Hero at the Mercy of the Villain. Kady is at the mercy of AIDEN when she finds out that he’s lied to her and that she has no choice but to help repair him to save the others.

3. What it the POV/Narrative Device?

This is where things get interesting. The story mostly follows Kady and Ezra, two 17 year olds who live on Kerenza and had broken up the day before the attack on their planet. Rather than using one or more of their perspectives, the book is set up as a case report researched by the Illuminae group being delivered to BeiTech to compile the evidence (presumably for them to destroy it). Inside the report are ship diagrams, described video surveillance footage, interviews, incident reports, texts, emails, personal diary entries, and more.

Basically, the book plays with dramatic irony in a way that keeps the reader wondering what will happen next. Kaufman and Kristoff have told a fantastically weaved story in a new and unique way.

4. What are the Objects of Desire?

Kady and Ezra want to survive both the trip to the Heimdall jump station and the Phobos virus. They eventually figure out that they need each other because they’re all each has left. Mostly, they need to tell the rest of the universe about what BeiTech did to Kerenza.

5. What is the Controlling Idea/Theme?

Life is preserved when the protagonist outwits her antagonists. Life is preserved when the hero sacrifices herself for others and the truth against an evil corporation.

6. What is the Beginning Hook, Middle Build, and Ending Payoff?

Kady and Ezra escape Kerenza, acclimate to life on the Hypatia and Alexander respectively, and help each other learn the truth about what’s going on (though, for different reasons).

AIDEN must be brought back online despite the dangers to fight against the Lincoln, who is quickly approaching and, to prevent being shut down again, AIDEN releases the afflicted onto the Alexander.

Kady helps AIDEN, fights the Lincoln, is attacked by the afflicted before escaping the Alexander, being rescued by Hypatia and compiling all the evidence she can against BeiTech.

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