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Not Just for Kids: 'A Million Suns' by Beth Revis

The second book in the author's 'Across the Universe' trilogy keeps up the pace aboard the Godspeed and avoids a sophomore slump.

January 08, 2012|By Susan Carpenter, Los Angeles Times
(Paul Gonzales / Los Angeles…)

A Million Suns

A Novel

Beth Revis

Razorbill: 387 pp. $18.99, ages 12 and older

More than 80 years ago, Aldous Huxley imagined a genetically engineered society whose inhabitants were willfully drugged into submission. In the "Across the Universe" trilogy, author Beth Revis takes that pioneering concept and sets it afloat in space with a cast of cloned and cryogenically frozen characters who, in the second installment of this bestselling sci-fi series, become increasingly mutinous.

As "A Million Suns" opens, it's unclear if the ship, known as Godspeed, will live up to its well-intentioned name. Is it moving toward its destination or merely floating motionless in some unknown galaxy? No one understands Godspeed's exact location in relation to the planet it's been traveling toward for 250 years, but one thing is certain: The ship is falling apart.

The Feeders, or farmers, aren't able to produce enough food. And Godspeed's leadership is in question now that its new ruler, 16-year-old Elder, has taken its inhabitants off the drug that had supplicated them into allegiance for more than two centuries.

Elder is a clone who was bred to lead, but he's new to the job. The former leader was killed off in the series opener, and his successor, Orion, was put on ice. But before Orion was bathed in cryogenic fluid and put in a deep freeze along with the other "frozens," he recorded a series of video messages and hid them for Amy — who was born on Earth and, as Orion believes, can figure out the best solution to the ship's problems, both mechanical and otherwise .

Like the series starter, "A Million Suns" is narrated in a manner that is in vogue in populist young-adult lit, with alternating boy and girl narrators who tell the story from their own points of view. In this case, the narrators are Elder and his love interest, and former frozen Amy, who lived in Colorado before being packed in a glass coffin aboard Godspeed. There are other earthlings on board, including her parents, but they've been frozen for decades — packed on the ship that's home to 2,763 passengers and bound for a supposedly more hospitable planet, at which point they're supposed to be thawed.

If only the ship can get there. Now that its inhabitants are no longer drugged, they are acting less like automatons and more like autonomous humans with individual thoughts and motivations, which include overthrowing Elder.

As much as the "Across the Universe" trilogy riffs off Huxley's "Brave New World," Revis seems inspired, at least linguistically, by the sci-fi TV phenom "Battlestar Galactica." Revis has created her own faux profanity, "frex," which her characters use with abandon whenever they confront a challenging situation or individual. At least she's tempered that base tendency with references to heady literary classics. Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland," Dante Alighieri's "Divine Comedy" and Plato's "The Republic" are among the works she's culled for allegories that mirror and also drive the action on board Godspeed.

As Amy and Elder plunge down the rabbit hole in pursuit of clues about the ship's location and how to steer it, they're given access codes for parts of Godspeed they've never seen, including an arsenal stocked with biochemical weapons and a stash of space suits that enables Elder to not only see the ship from outside for the first time but determine its future course.

Meanwhile, the natives on this 10-square-mile biosphere set afloat are growing restless, and time is running out. Revis keeps the book moving with short chapters that invariably end with cliffhangers to leverage the time-is-nigh plot. She's also fond of killing off and drugging pivotal characters and threatening to defrost others as the ship hurtles toward its uncertain but inevitable future.

Romance takes a back seat to action in "A Million Suns" as Amy questions whether her feelings for Elder are true love, as that love was born without choice. She and Elder are the only teenagers on the ship. Revis would do well to further explore this concept in the conclusion, much like she's done with secondary characters who are forced to choose between the world they were born into and the one they've been predetermined to inhabit.

Oftentimes, the second book in a series struggles to live up to the expectations set in its kickoff, but not here. Revis has penned a fast-paced, action-packed follow-up with her dystopian, sci-fi thriller, "A Million Suns," that explores not only the nature of authority and loyalty but fear of the unknown and fulfilling one's personal destiny.

susan.carpenter@latimes.com

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