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The Illuminae Files: The Guide to Fantastic Romp

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Wrap up – The Illuminae Files by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff – Casey  CarlisleIf you were to make a list of every classic science fiction trope you can think of, you'd be hard pressed to find one NOT included in this trilogy. Homicidal AI? Check. Space zombies? Check. Predatory aliens in tight, dripping corridors? Creepy check. Corporate warfare, wormhole collapse, pew-pew space battles, child hacker geniuses, corny nicknames, hand-wavy science, and so much snark? You see where I'm going with this.

But you know what? It absolutely freakin' works.

The Illuminae Files is one of the most ridiculously fun series I've read in a long time, maybe ever. Formatted as a "dossier of hacked documents," it tells the story of a bunch of teenagers standing up to a predatory corporation intent on erasing one colossal mistake. It takes place in the distant future where humanity has spanned the stars using wormhole technology and interstellar vessels run by massive (and apparently unstable) AI computers. Like most YA fiction, the adolescent protagonists are all smarter, stronger, and funnier than most real-world teenagers would be. This might bother some, but with Kaufman and Kristoff's "everything but the kitchen sink" approach to storytelling, I hardly even noticed how implausible it is for a 17-year-old to beat down a trained assassin while a 15-year-old outsmarts top-notch computer programmers. How can anyone focus on that when there's just so much going on

While you can read this series just to have a darn good time, there are also ample lessons to be learned from The Illuminae Files about how to entertain your reader. The pacing of these books is fast, relentless, and consistently either funny or dramatic. Every "document" has something amusing or interesting about it, from the clever banter to the ass-kicking fights to the AI slowly sliding into madness. And while the story is complex enough to make your head spin, the morals are shockingly straightforward. The protagonists are all Good and the villains are all Bad and the writers manage to create a crystal clear dichotomy without ever leaning too heavily on cardboard cutout villain tropes. They keep things engaging, with every character fleshed out enough to maintain the suspension of disbelief, even while the ridiculous shenanigans continue to escalate.

Perhaps most importantly, these writers never lose sight of the emotion. These books were obviously written to please and not much else. Like Marvel movies, they're designed for fun. But that doesn't mean they never deal with the dark side of life or grapple with the significance of what their characters are going through. These teens have to sacrifice, hurt themselves, even murder to survive. They've all lost loved ones and are dealing with the kind of pressure most people would collapse under. The stakes are as high as they get, and the writers don't belittle it. Kaufman and Kristoff strike a pitch-perfect balance between rollicking enjoyment and emotional heft, giving the story a depth that launches it from pulp fiction into the realms of true art. And sure, they won't be winning a Pulitzer anytime soon. But for the gift of a delightful diversion, the fans will keep coming back.

Including me.

(Oh, and pro tip: give the audiobooks a listen. Trust me, they did not skimp on the production for those bad boys.)

Have you read this series? Were you as entertained as I was? Let us know in the comments!

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