I've been having a hard time writing this review. I just sit here and sit here, and I fuck around on the internet, and then I make a sandwich and eat it, and then I annoy my cats by shoving my face into their warm tummies. Then I come back here and sit some more. Look, I'm a wordy person. Words just flow out, and the trouble I usually have is keeping the flow at a minimum, and attempting to organize the chaos that results. But I'm coming up dry on this one . . . I feel nothing for this book, not even disappointment.
Across the Universe takes place aboard the spaceship Godspeed, a colonizing ship on a deep space mission to find a "new Earth." The journey will take 300 years, so the colonists have been cryogenically frozen, to be revived when they reach their destination. But something goes wrong for 16 year old Amy: she's woken up about fifty years too soon, and she faces a claustrophobic life aboard a ship with people who are very different from what she's used to. The book alternates chapters between Amy's point of view, and the future leader of the ship, a boy called Elder. But when other colonists are unplugged as well -- only these ones don't survive -- it becomes clear that there are other things happening aboard the good ship Godspeed than even its passengers are aware of.
The thing about that whole description I just wrote up there is that maaaaybe if you're a really good guesser you can predict the outcome of the plot, but only maybe. The thing about reading the actual book? You can see plot twists coming a mile away, and that robs the book of a lot of its enjoyment. A vast majority of the pleasure one gets from reading a book centered on a mystery is being surprised by the outcome, but when every move is telegraphed pages and even chapters ahead of time, that pleasure evaporates. It's like watching a puppet show from the side instead of the front: you see everything that's going on behind the scenes, and it's not that what's going on is bad, it's just, where's the fun, you know?
The world-building in this book is actually pretty good, and if it had been presented in a different way it would have been great. Aside from the predictability of the plot (and not just the YA romance thing, because let's be honest here, a large part of THAT pleasure does come from predictability), I also had issues with the rhythm of the thing. Most great books have structure (let's ignore those geniuses who take pleasure in successfully exploding traditional storytelling structures into literary anarchy, those guys are so annoying sometimes), and not just in a beginning, middle, climax, resolution kind of way. I'm talking about on the sentence level. Each sentence, and each word within a sentence, has a cadence. Words form sentences and sentences form chapters, and chapters flow together one at a time. Crucial bits of information are withheld until just the right moment, emotions are wound up and plucked, played upon like the taut string of a violin. Great books are musical. Revis's book was missing that rhythm for me. Everything felt slightly off tempo. The story was there, the character development was there, even the words and ideas were there . . . they just don't feel like they're in the right order. I love sci-fi. It rings my fucking bell. I love a good mystery. I love -- yeah I do -- I love a good romance. But not once were my overactive emotions plucked. Not once was I pounded on like a drum. Not once were the ivories of my innermost feelings tickled. Not once did I burst into tears or goosebumps (or both) during a pitch perfect crescendo of melody. I swear to God I will beat this metaphor to death.
It's not that Across the Universe is a bad book, but it certainly isn't great. And honestly? That's probably the worst sin a book can commit. Great books live forever because we remember them and talk about them and share their stories with people we love. Bad books often have just as much sharetime -- we remember bad books, and we talk about them, even if we don't love them (and love to hate doesn't count). This book? It's not bad or good enough to be remembered, and that totally sucks for it. Sorry, book. (Will however, still be reading the sequels, because a) I have that thing where I can't quit things, and b) Who knows? It might get better. This is, after all, a first book.)
Also, it turns out that writing about not being able to write about writing is still writing. And now, as a reward for myself, more kitty tummy!