Reviews

MEMENTO (The Illuminae Files #0.5), by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

The Illuminae Files is one of my favorites SF series and apart from offering a compelling story and characterization it established a record with me, because it portrayed an array of YA characters who felt well-crafted and believable, without all the annoying traits afflicting teenagers in the genre.  So, when I heard of the publication of this novella that acts as a prequel to the main trilogy I was nothing short of thrilled.

The story is set just a short time before the attack on the Kerenza IV colony, the incident starting the whole bloody mess. The protagonist here is Olivia Klein, a young and starry-eyed tech recently enrolled on the Alexander, the ship where an advanced A.I. has been installed: AIDAN (the acronym for Artificial Intelligence Defense Analytics Network) is still being fine-tuned and Olivia has been assigned to the team responsible for the improvement of AIDAN’s integration with the system and  its responses.  While the techs study AIDAN’s behavior, so AIDAN does study the humans calibrating its performance, and does so with childlike but still disturbing, innocence: the very embarrassing questions it asks of Olivia about her budding romance with her superior Ethan Wolfe are a good example of such curiosity and, together with some queries about ethics and morality, also offer the first hints that something might be… well, not exactly wrong, but weird in AIDAN’s functioning parameters.

Alexander’s intervention at Kerenza, and the crippling attack it’s subjected to, turn out to have dire consequences on AIDAN’s logic processes, and the AI starts exhibiting the first signs of the deadly behavior that is one of the pivotal themes in the trilogy: the fact that it now refers to itself as “I” instead of using the third person is probably the first sign of the “madness” that has come to possess it…

Memento, for all its brevity, works like a punch in the stomach – of course, having read the trilogy, I knew how the story develops and was aware of the tragic consequences of the Kerenza attack, but in this case being forewarned did not forearm me against the emotional impact delivered by the novella.  I felt particularly sorry for Olivia, because I knew that all her youthful enthusiasm would meet a catastrophic end, but at some point a certain discovery about her past made her character arc all the more poignant and tragic.

But of course AIDAN is at the center of it all here, and again I experienced the mixed feelings that accompanied me all through the narrative arc of the Illuminae Files: the AI is a construct undergoing a process in which it questions its own identity, goals and reasons of existence and it does so based on the input set by human beings, who are by nature imperfect and fallible – which on hindsight makes those fatal consequences almost inevitable, and turns AIDAN into a character that is in equal measure fascinating and appalling.

Like the three full-length books previously published, Memento is told through transcripts,  memos and personal messages that manage to tap the characters’ emotional depths and to make you feel invested in their journey, even despite the small number of pages of this story – which is indeed the only complaint I have about this shorter work: I would not have minded a longer book indeed…

My Rating:

17 thoughts on “MEMENTO (The Illuminae Files #0.5), by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

  1. Oh my!! I was seriously thinking about not reading it. I have a complicated relationship with short stories and usually when I consider a series as ended I am not really motivated to go back to it for short stories (and sometimes even to full books, when it happened that the author magically change his/her/them mind and go on with a series that was finished… And this is a thing that annoy me to no end, and yes I know it may sounds strange but… It is what it is) but… But I cannot pass Aidan’s story. Especially after reading your words about it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Luckily this is not a case of moving forward in a finished series, but rather filling some little corner left by past events: Memento is set before Illuminae but it would be better to read it *after* Illuminae to avoid spoilers, even if it’s a prequel. And knowing that Aidan is your “magnet”, I can see how you will enjoy this one… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I got a copy of this a couple of years ago as a preorder deal for something (maybe the last Illuminae book?) but never read it. I need to dig it up now and correct that immediately!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a very peculiar narrative style, to the point that after reading the first book in electronic format, I choose to buy it in the printed version, and did the same for the following two, because it was much easier to enjoy the out-of-the-ordinary narrative sections 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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