Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
A preface: Illuminae is an epistolary novel. It’s told through emails, instant messages, medical reports, interviews, military files and AIDAN, the AI that runs the ships featured in the story. We’re going to do our best to summarize, but it might be odd… or short? You also need to know that it’s the year 2575 and we’re in space. A mysterious organization called The Illuminae Group has compiled all this information for Director Frobisher of BeiTech about an attack on the planet Kerenza and the director’s efforts to cover it up. Anyway… Kady Grant and Ezra Mason have just broken up. Teens in the future are just like teens today! Who would have known? How great/shitty, depending on who you are following at the moment. You know what makes it better? The very next day, BeiTech Industries attacks their small (illegal?) mining planet, Kerenza, and they, and only about 1000 others, evacuate.
Kady escapes on a ship called the Hypatia and Ezra is on the Alexander, and there’s another ship called the Copernicus. The Hypatia and the Copernicus are civilian ships while the Alexander, who answered Kerenza’s distress call, is part of the United Terran Authority, the UTA. The Alexander is charged with defending against BeiTech’s warship, the Lincoln, which has destroyed the Alexander’s wormhole generator. All three ships have sent distress calls that have gone unanswered, so they’re struggling through space trying to get to Heimdall, a jump station where Kady’s dad is stationed, to escape, but the Lincoln is following behind, trying to get rid of all the witnesses of the attack on Kerenza. Time is running short.
The military on the Alexander conscript Ezra to become a pilot. They’re conscripting anyone who has any skill, really, to help repair the damage to the ship, to become fighter pilots, to do research, whatever. Katy, meanwhile, is on the Hypatia, and begins to hack into the ship’s computer system to try to figure out what is going on because it really seems like they’re not being told everything that’s going on. Her hacking is noticed by another hacker/research officer Byron Zhang, and together they start digging. Byron teaches Kady how to get around safeguards and becomes her teacher. I don’t want to say sensei even though that’s what she calls him because that makes me think of Ninja Turtles and we don’t need to have that conversation again. Ezra has begun sending Kady emails, but she’s been ignoring them. SHE BROKE UP WITH YOU, DUDE. GIVE HER SOME TIME. The drunk email WAS funny though… And it has been about six months…
Anywho, Ezra, now a pilot, is on flying drills when AIDAN, the AI, commands the pilots to stop what they’re doing and destroy the Copernicus. AIDAN won’t allow contact with the Copernicus and blows it up. A few ships escape the explosion and head toward the Alexander, but AIDAN demands that they destroy those ships, too. Ezra and his Major and First Lieutenant do not explode those ships, though, and bring the refugees on board. They are put into quarantine immediately because AIDAN reveals that the crew is infected with a deadly virus. AIDAN destroyed the Copernicus to protect the fleet from this virus. But AIDAN did that on its own, with no command, so it gets shut down. The Major and First Lieutenant are executed for disobeying and the Alexander’s officers hide the fact that AIDAN acted on its own, saying instead that the Lincoln destroyed the Copernicus, while they scramble to figure out what’s going on. They need AIDAN if they’re going to make the jump from Heimdall and they’ll be there to do that in about four weeks. They also need AIDAN to protect them from the Lincoln if they attack again. Since they need AIDAN to work properly, they get Byron on the Alexander to help fix it.
The Lincoln gets closer and Ezra and a few others are sent to hold it off. Also, Kady and Byron create a program to shut down the Lincoln’s engines to buy them some time and they need AIDAN online to do that. Kady reaches out to Ezra after she saw that he was court martialed after the Copernicus explosion and hacks a way for them to secretly instant message each other using other crew member’s names. They talk a lot now. They still love each other. Since Kady and Ezra are chatting again a lot now, Byron convinces Kady to use Ezra to plant a device in the Alexander’s computer systems so they can hack it and find out what’s going on. This is pretty devious as she says she’s helping him find his friend Jimmy who is in quarantine, but she’s actually finding out all sorts of classified information. Like all the info about the virus on the Copernicus. Really, it’s yikes. BeiTech released a virus that has been nicknamed Phobos to control the population of Kerenza. It is an airborne virus that attacks the brain. It makes those inflicted seek comfort from others, but makes them, basically in not so many words, crazy with paranoia and eyeball stabbing rage. Kady’s mom had been sent to the Copernicus to help study this virus. As you might have guessed, when the Copernicus was destroyed, she was, too.
So, AIDAN is back up and running again. It realizes that it was shut down and that it will probably be shut down again and gets a little angry. It wants to stop anyone who wants to stop it, so it opens a few doors, releasing the infected people rescued from the Copernicus and leading them to the bridge to kill the captain and officers and other military officials. It does try to save the unaffected refugees though, so that’s good…? Byron has escaped and has made his way to AIDAN’s control center and is manually shutting it down. Kady decides that she’s going to come help and save Ezra who is hiding somewhere away from the infected, so she steals a shuttle and flies over. Some from the Alexander escape to the Hypatia and are put in quarantine there. The captain notices one of the people in one of the quarantined hangars looks to be infected SO SHE OPENS THE AIRLOCK KILLING ALL OF THEM IN THAT HANGAR. The captain wants to leave the Alexander behind, but AIDAN steps in and threatens a nuclear attack if they leave.
Kady is on the Alexander now, using a portable data pod to talk to Ezra who leads her to him. She has to fight some infected along the way and he teaches her how to use a gun to stop them. It’s sweet? He leads her to the control room but… he’s not there. It was AIDAN pretending to be Ezra all this time. AIDAN led her to the control room to be confronted by Byron who was destroying AIDAN but now attacks Kady because… guess what… He’s infected. He snaps out of his paranoia for just a moment to realize he’s about to kill Kady then he KILLS HIMSELF INSTEAD. AIDAN talks to Kady and admits that he was pretending to be Ezra to lead her there because she’s the only one who can fix everything. AIDAN also tells her that Ezra died a few days ago when that small group went out to stop the Lincoln.
Kady decides to hack away at the control room with an axe, but the AIDAN tells her that there are 1000 uninfected people still on the Alexander and that the Lincoln is after them again and will arrive soon to attack. She’s got to save all those people, so she convinces AIDAN to let the uninfected people go to the Hypatia and she’ll get AIDAN back online before the Lincoln can get to them. The infected are still around and attacking, too, but Kady and AIDAN manage to get most of the uninfected to the Hypatia so it can escape. She repairs AIDAN just in time to fight the Lincoln.
Well, she kind of repairs AIDAN. She has to manually shoot at the missiles that are headed for them. AIDAN guides her in doing this and then helps her to an escape pod after they destroy the Lincoln. The Alexander has been critically damaged though and Kady is suffering from radiation poisoning and is probably going to die soon. AIDAN tells her that even if she does die, she’ll have a part of AIDAN in her data pod that will be able to explain what really happened. Then the Alexander explodes. Kady’s escape pod is rescued by the Hypatia and she survives! Yay! Also, Ezra was on one of those shuttles that escaped from the Alexander and put in quarantine, and not the one that was ejected through the airlock. Yay! AIDAN has begun to rebuild itself. Yay! (?) We’re saying yay now with AIDAN, right? AIDAN is not so terrible… right? RIGHT?
At the end, we learn that Kady is the Illuminae group. All the data she compiled, all this that we’ve been reading the whole time, everything that was mentioned in the beginning, will be used to expose BeiTech and all the terrible things they’ve done. It also turns out that Director Frobisher, who is in charge of BeiTech, is Ezra’s mother (he mentioned her in the middle of the story and said that she’s terrible. And oh yeah, she definitely is.) Director Frobisher wants to find out where her son is, but Kady/the Illuminae Group won’t tell of course. After a menacing You have no idea who you’re dealing with, Kady sends the files to the UTA. A few days later, there’s footage of Ezra and Kady and they’re k-i-s-s-i-n-g.