Across the Universe is the debut book by Beth Revis. A sequel, A Million Suns, followed in 2012, and the trilogy finished with Shades of Earth in early 2013.
Hundreds of years in the future, the spaceship Godspeed is en route to a new planet awaiting human colonization. At its launch, 100 military, medical, and scientific personnel are cryogenically frozen. Meanwhile, the rest of the crew creates its own society as generations pass during the trip. Seventeen year old Amy joined her military commander father and biologist mother as one of the cryogenically frozen, scheduled to awake once the Godspeed reached the new planet. Instead, she wakes fifty years early. Confronted with a wildly different society than the one she left, Amy must also figure out why she woke early and uncover Godspeed’s close-kept secrets. Her life, and those of her parents and the other frozen crew, depend on it.
An ambitious debut
Across the Universe isn’t just one genre. There’s a heavy dose of hard science fiction in place with not only a fully functioning spaceship, but advanced communications technology and genetic manipulation. Revis has done a good job researching these technologies and making them function realistically and believably within the environment she’s created. Mixed in with this is a highly dystopian society that has come about as the pressures of having several thousand people live in a highly contained space for generations take a massive toll on the non-frozen crew. Finally, this is a young adult novel with the requisite love story, though thankfully without the overdone love triangle. The execution of the novel fulfills the promise of the concept. The technologies in place inform the dystopia, and vice versa. These in turn shape the relationship between Amy and the seventeen year old Elder, as well as Amy and the entire rest of the ship. While Godspeed is a highly isolated world, it’s highly interconnected within itself making for a rich and detailed story. In fact, this really didn’t feel much like a debut for me. Revis had taken such care with her craft that many of the sharp edges often found in first books weren’t obvious here.
Some dystopias come about because of a power hungry dictator. Some come about because of religious fanaticism. The third major theme of dystopian creation is massive internal strife within a society. On an enclosed spaceship, where such strife can spell the end of the mission and the lives of everyone on board, you can imagine that such a situation cannot be afforded. On top of that, limited space and resources have also placed a cap on overall population. However, because that population is so small, having a large enough genetic variety to avoid birth defects becomes an issue. Revis has really put thought into her dystopia, adding in how the advanced technology of a space age society will shape the eventual dystopian result. While not exactly subtle, the effect is much more multifaceted than many other dystopias I’ve read.
Why should you read this book?
Because it’s unique. While it is a young adult book, there’s a lot of depth to the characters and some really top notch world building. There also aren’t a lot of newer hard science fiction books out there, especially when you look at the youth market. While in no way would I really compare Across the Universe to a Golden Age classic, it has enough merits to stand its ground with ease in the modern market. The addition of the dystopian society within the science fiction world really makes this book shine, and the execution leaves very little to be desired. So if you enjoy hard science fiction, dystopias, and/or teen fiction, this book belongs on your to-read list.