Book Review: Across the Universe by Beth Revis
Only a few factors can make me give up on a series after just one book. Usually it’s because the plot/characters are so untenably predictable that I can’t handle any more mundane heroing. Sometimes the characters are so utterly unlikable that I can’t bring myself to connect to them (I’m looking at you, Twilight). But it takes a lot for me to get to the point of casting off an entire series based on one bad book. I’m still reading the I Am Number Four disaster, for goodness’ sake. But Across the Universe by Beth Revis has managed something that previously has only been accomplished by Variant: it is so unbelievably mediocre that I can’t read another word of it.
Across the Universe tells the story of Godspeed, an interstellar ship sent out to colonize a new world. First we have Amy, an earth-born teen who had been cryogenicly frozen to sleep through the entire passage to the new world, but who is awoken 50 years too early while the ship is still in passage. Next we have Elder, the ruler-in-waiting for the people who are awake and running the ship as it sails through space.
The world Amy wakes to is nothing like the world she left behind. On Godspeed, crowd control is the main focus of the rulers, with emphasis on control.
Every aspect of the population is controlled, from who works where to when they can breed. Most of the population is so hopped up on drugs that they are nothing more than cattle, unable to feeling or thinking for themselves–and not doing anything even remotely interesting. There is no religion, no genetic variation, nothing that makes anyone any different from the next person.
A smart reader already knows where this is going. The moral of the story is plastered all over the set-up: humanity is not meant to be homogeneous. Take away the diversity, and things start rolling downhill. And as this topic is perseverated on in the story without ever actually being explicitly stated, I began to get the unsettling feeling that Revis didn’t trust her readers to figure it out–that she expected them to actually be strung along until the very end, when the revelation would blast them away like an epiphany.
There was not enough plot to hold up this unsubtle subtext. Maybe if there had been more meat to the story, then it wouldn’t have been so dull. Because Revis writes with some remarkable turns of phrase, and handles what turns out to be a very fun usage of the dual point of view in the novel quite well. There were several times when the other character only needed to say one word, just one, and Revis starts a new chapter to give them a chance to say it.
If only other aspects of the story had been so brief. I spent most the time wishing the book had been a standalone, instead of a series. At least 100 pages of puttering about the ship solving a mildly interesting mystery could have been cut–or woven into the secondary plot–to make the story much better paced. By the time the final pages finally rolled around, I was so disinterested that I only continued for the sake of seeing the set-up of the second book, which, in the end, turned out about as anticlimactic as the story as a whole.
I can’t imagine picking up the second book of this series, A Million Suns. Maybe it’s better. Maybe, since the world is already established, there won’t be pages upon pages wasted re-describing facts that would be much better handled with a big ol’ dose of show-don’t-tell. But with the unfortunate dullness of Across the Universe still fresh in my mind, I can’t make myself grab the second book. I’ll wait until Revis’ next series. She’s a talented writer to be sure, but this is not a story in which she shines.
What about you, Canaries? Ever give up on a series after just one book?