When flying on an airplane, you catch a whiff of that recycled air, or feel the unnatural slickness of a chemically-treated seat cushion, and know for certain that this place has seen its share of passengers. It's a depressing realization. The sense of age and depletion in every fixture—down to the latches and knobs—are constant reminders of your own insignificance. You're just another traveler. Beth Revis instills this sense of smallness and passed-down history in her teen science-fiction trilogy, Across the Universe.
To endure a 300-year journey on the starship Godspeed, protagonist Amy joins her parents in cryogenic slumber. She expects to open her eyes to a new world. When Amy wakes up from her stasis prematurely, she must deal with the fact that she will be an old woman by the time the journey is over, if she survives it at all.
Running parallel to this is the character Elder, future leader of the Godspeed's crew, who live and die to maintain the ship in real time.
Though she is a passenger, Amy's cultural differences mark her as alien and worthy of constant suspicion. This makes for a great deal of tension and conflict with her fellow crew. Throughout the story, however, the most clear-cut and insurmountable enemies are the vastness of space and the wear and tear of the ancient ship itself. Amy and Elder's struggle seems an impossible feat, since the odds are ever stacked in the Universe's favor.
The author uses a great many sensory cues to offer a sense of the Godspeed's age and depletion: the recycled air, the lack of natural sunlight, the synthetic food, and unvarying pattern of artificial hills and pastures. It puts the reader in a position to wonder at the crew prior to the events of Across the Universe, and solidifies the sense of time’s passage. Swapping chapters between Amy's and Elder's perspectives also allows for an objective view of what it means to live on the Godspeed, both as a local and an outsider.
There is an awkward teenage romance to contend with—which can sometimes seem a little forced or contextually inappropriate—but the author is kind enough to keep it in the background. There are more important plot elements to consider. Space, for example!
I'm making my way through the second book of the Across the Universe trilogy (expect the third book in 2013), and I don't see myself pausing to take breath anytime soon. I want to see Amy and Elder fight for it. I want to see them land that ship—or not, as the case may be. I also want Beth Revis to lead the way, because she's proving herself abundantly capable of making hard decisions on behalf of a story that demands them.
Would you read Across the Universe based on this review?