Book Review: Across the Universe


Title: Across the Universe

Author: Beth Revis

Genre: YA Science Fiction

Read: Jan 10, 2011

Summary: Great read. Reminds me of books I read 30 years ago.

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A couple months ago one of the book/writing blogs I read featured an article about first chapters that included one from this book. It was unpublished at the time, but I liked the first chapter enough to pre-order the book on Amazon. Liked it enough to actually read it yesterday when it came in the mail (one day before it was supposed to and the Kindle version wasn’t out yet — so for the first time in a little while I read on paper).

I knew I’d liked the first chapter for a reason. Besides the fact that it (the first chapter) featured a naked seventeen year-old girl, this was a fun book. And no there isn’t much sex in here — at least not for the characters that matter.

And the reason this is a good book… drumroll please… the characters. Particularly Amy, the female lead.

Superficially this is fairly old-school Science Fiction, slanted a bit younger than adult, almost like Citizen of the Galaxy, Home from the Shore, or For Love of Mother-Not (boy is cover design today 1000x uglier than it was in 1980!). Worth a 2 minute diversion:

Left the old one, the right is new. Which would you pick? Personally, I hate photography on fiction covers. I like COVER ART. Call me old-school. Anyway.

Across the Universe (not to be confused with the movie of the same title), is about a girl who joins a generation ship as cryogenically frozen cargo (the ship will take 300 years to go to it’s colonial destination) with her parents, but is accidentally woken early (alone) to find herself amongst a very strange society. The crew has been left to run the ship for centuries, and well nothing stays the same, certainly not human society over the course of generations.

The science here isn’t the most innovative, but it is consistant and easy to grasp. I didn’t totally buy the society and all it’s premises. But it didn’t really matter. The book is told in double first person view point, from Amy’s POV and that of the young future captain of the ship (simplified explanation for review purposes). The POV’s are very good, and stick tightly to single interwound storyline. The classic device of having a newcomer (Amy) works well to make the experience more visceral and personal, and this ties us as a reader into the story. It’s also worth contrasting this with a more “mature” Science Fiction novel I read the day before, The Windup Girl (review HERE), which although Hugo and Nebula winning, and possessed of a MUCH more elaborate and interesting SciFi world, just isn’t that fun to read. As the two main characters are literally the only people on the ship their age, they are fairly obviously in it together. I like the “forced” relationship device.

Again, because the character narrative is too fragmented. I like character. I like narrative. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Science Fiction, I’ve read thousands of them. I like elaborate worlds. But they’re nothing without the glue to hold you there.

Now my small beefs. The book was too teasy on the sex. There was sex flying all around, we should’ve had some with the protagonists! I’m old school that way too. 60s, 70s, and 80s SciFi had lots of sex.

And the last 20% of the book started to get that we-have-reached-the-big-reveal-and-now-it’s-all-going-to-feel-a-little-forced stage that many “big reveal” books have. I had this same beef recently with the otherwise perfect Dead Beautiful (review HERE). Still, I read Across the Universe in one sitting, literally, and I enjoyed it the whole way through. I love when this happens — fairly rare as it is for a reader as jaded as I am — it reminds me that there’s still good writers out there.

4 comments on “Book Review: Across the Universe

  1. Louise says:

    I read this a few days ago and thought it was pretty mediocre. If I hadn’t read so much sci-fi and dystopian fiction, I might have liked it better, but it just felt like a collection of tired sci-fi tropes. I actually did not like the forced romance and especially not the switching perspective. The switching perspectives felt incredibly gimmicky, especially towards the end when it would switch and have one sentence from that character and then switch back.

    • agavin says:

      Sure the SciFi wasn’t too novel, but it did have a fairly focused story line and likable enough characters. I think the visceral opening chapter sold me on Amy. For me the split POV was most in the way during the first 20% or so before she woke up. During the end it just felt a bit forced, but I find that true of most YA books. They wrap up a little too neatly.
      I’d also just read several books where the emotions of the characters were gratuitously injected into the interior monologue in a gigantic orgy of “tell” (instead of show).

  2. Love the in depth review, Andy. Thanks for sharing the link with me. I agree with a lot of your points! It’s very character driven and I personally love the dual POV. The experience of the ship wouldn’t have been the same without it, IMO.

    • agavin says:

      Glad you enjoyed. You can find more book reviews (and articles on my own writing too) by clicking the sidebar icons or http://all-things-andy-gavin.com/fiction-index/.

      And thanks so much for your awesome blog! It has by far the best agent information pages I’ve found on the web. Not even the professional sites come close on depth (although they may have more entries — but it’s all about quality, not quantity).

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