Across The Universe


Beth Revis


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

November 1, 2013

friend of mine mentioned that he was reading a dystopian novel, and wondered if I could recommend any other books in that same category. I ran a search on "Best Dystopian Novels" and found a website that purported to list the top twenty five dystopian novels of all time. Most of the books I had heard of, some I had already read (A Canticle for Leibowitz is a fantastic novel. So is The Book of the New Sun, though I don't considered it dystopian fiction). Coming in at 25th place on the list was book called Across the Universe, by Beth Revis. Wow, one of the top 25 books, yet I had never heard of it? So I checked it out of the library and read it, despite its awful cover. (I am refering to the hardcover edition cover which shows two young faces about to kiss in front of a backdrop of stars. The cover makes the book appear to be a lame teen-romance-in-space book. Fortunately, that is not the case.)

Across the Universe is the story of Amy, a teenage girl on Earth. She and her parents, along with a hundred other specialists, are cryogenically frozen on board the spaceship Goodspeed for a three hundred year long trip to colonize a new planet. A team of crew members will fly the ship, living and dying for generations along the way until the destination is reached and all the specialists are awaken for the landing and colonization. But something goes terribly awry; Amy is unfrozen when the Goodspeed is still decades away from reaching the colony planet. Even worse, it appears that she came awake because someone attempted to tamper with her hibernation capsule in an attempt to murder her.

Amy suffers an emotional shock at her predicament. She can't be refrozen. So she will doomed to live out her time on board the ship with the present generation of crewmembers. So much time has passed since the Godspeed left Earth that the culture of the crew members is foreign and unsettling to Amy. The crew has been separated into different castes - with the majority of people laboring on the farms. An elite team of scientists keeps the ship running and attempts to make new discoveries. Ruling the ship with an iron fist is the frightening Eldest. Eldest knows terrifying secrets and dark truths, but he refuses to divulge his information to Amy. Indeed, Eldest threatens her with the recycling tanks if she does not cooperate with the authoritarian way he runs the ship.

Much younger than Eldest is Elder, who will eventually be his successor. Elder is about Amy's age, so potential romance might grow between them, but fortunately Amy is primarily concerned with her predicament and the mysteries on the ship. I say fortunately, because this book could have dissolved into a disappointing novel about mismatched teenage love. Revis gives us a better story than that.

Revis does a good job at developing her characters. Amy is well drawn. Her anxiousness at her strange surroundings, and her attempts to find her place in the new society are well portrayed. There is a nice air of menace about Eldest and the mysterious Doc. Revis attempted to build a believable society on the Godspeed, and then create plausible obstacles for Amy to overcome.

Unfortunately, there are quite a few flaws in the logic of this story. Stop reading here if you unless you have already finished the book, major plot points are about to be revealed.

***Spoiler alert!!!***

The biggest mistake Revis' makes is not realizing that stars move through the universe. If you aim a spaceship at a star, and your journey will take 300 years, then you point your spaceship at the point where that star will be 300 years from now. If your speed is half of what it should have been, it won't take you twice as long to reach your destination, instead you will NEVER reach the target star. After 300 years, the star would already have moved on and can never be caught again (unless you suddenly change course and accelerate massively.)

It doesn't make sense for the Godspeed to slow down due to mysterious lack of efficiency in the nuclear engines. Once a spaceship reaches cruising speed, it will continue at that speed forever until the engines slow it down (or accelerate it). Even if the Godspeed's engines had been entirely switched off, the ship would not have slowed down. Indeed, beyond the halfway point in the voyage, if the engines were used at all it would be to slow the Godspeed down as it approached its destination.

If the Godspeed is having trouble with its engines, why doesn't it radio back to Earth and ask for the help of experts? Did I miss an explanation of why all contact with Earth had ceased?

Why not awaken some of the specialists who are sleeping in hibernation and ask them to fix the engines?

At one point, Amy rides an anti-gravity elevator tube to the upper decks. If the Godspeed scientists have control of anti-gravity, they already have the means to drive the Goodspeed, and with much better efficiency than clumsy nuclear engines.

Orion's existence is apparently unknown to the Doc and Eldest. How does Orion get his supply of pills to counteract the presence of Phydrus in his water supply?

Amy sees all the crew member engaging in public copulation, without any concern for modesty. Yet Amy insists that the Doc examine his patients privately, so that their exams can not be viewed by others. If the crew members are not embarrassed by having sex in public, Amy ought to realize that her foreign concepts of modesty do not apply on the Goodspeed.

Revis appears to believe that genetics is destiny. She shows Doc manipulating the DNA of the crew members after their coupling - the Doc selects DNA for an artist or a scientist based upon the perceived needs of the ship. But having certain genes only skews behavior by certain percentages. Not all genes are activated or expressed, which why not everyone who carries the certain genes will get specific diseases. It merely changes your chances.

Why would any dead body be discarded into space instead of recycled?

Phydrus is delivered in a bucket?? Really??

I may or may not read the second book of this trilogy. There is still potential that the Amy / Elder relationship develops into an annoying romance story. But Revis has done a credible job of plotting the first book, so perhaps I should trust that the second book is readable too.