I want to believe I'm more than imaginary smoke drifting from an imaginary chimney.
Everybody's comparing this to Titanic because of the protagonists and the setting of a cruise ship in space and I don't know about you, but I hated that movie. And I'm a little bit offended on behalf of the authors when what I found myself thinking while reading this was that if JJ Abrams wrote a book, this is not what he would come up with.
Because JJ Abrams DID
write make a book and this is how it looks like:
It's a fake book by a fake author with handwritten margin notes. Ofcourse. All hail the mighty Abrams!
So These Broken Stars is not the book JJ Abrams would've written. But I can imagine him and James Cameron making a movie with this as a source material. Celine Dion soundtrack, some 1950s cheesy dialogue for two annoying characters? Cameron. Lens flare, hatch in the middle of nowhere, fuck-the-genre panache? Abrams.
In this day and age, it really is quite hard to be 100% original anymore. Very very few are. Everything is a derivative of a derivative of a derivative (even that book reminds me a little of the idea behind Griffin and Sabine). What matters now is where you derive the material from, if its good and clever and if you inject enough of your own creativity to stake some claim to the end product. These Broken Stars did well on certain twists, it put out very interesting arguments on life and existence, but faltered I felt on its protagonists.
At the beginning of this book, Lilac Rose LaRoux (name gag) i.e. the daughter of the richest man in the universe and Tarver Merendsen i.e. a decorated soldier, meet onboard the Icarus(owned by
The Dharma Initiative LaRoux Industries) at a party. Under circumstances that are so anciently cliched I think I imagined it in black and white. They liked each other, then they hated each other, then the ship gets torn out of hyperspace (hyperspace! Lens flare incoming!). Because we are still in James Cameron territory, they escape the doomed ship by sharing one pod that sends the two of them hurtling down a terraformed planet.
So for a stretch of time this is like some Star Wars fanfiction starring Han Solo and Princess Leia marooned, surviving in a strange planet (See? Told you tangential review). They bicker, they argue. Tarver is passive-aggressive with all the "Miss LaRoux" honorific, Lilac refuses to take off her expensive shoes (and that green dress she wears on the cover) as they trek through the forest. Then strange things start to happen that leads Tarver to question Lilac's sanity (beyond the poor footwear choice) and eventually his own. Then they start kissing and sleeping together. Then we enter LOST territory of strange and emotions, building up and up, promising an amazing, heart-wrenching, Go Big or Go Home proportions of epicness… Then Steven Spielberg took over and insisted on his kind of ending.
I was wondering if Kaufman and Spooner's hypothesis goes: Can putting two unlikable characters in an interesting, emotional and philosophical situation make them likable?
Partially. Because from the get-go, both Tarver and Lilac were extremely annoying people. Lilac was a prissy little snob with an entitlement complex which is not a front to a charming personality. She really is just a snobby little rich girl with a sad and complicated relationship with her father that she rationalizes with a twisted mix of fear, love and loyalty. Of course the key to her growth and evolution was Tarver, who doesn't know her in the beginning, yet is attracted to her. But in essence, he too turned into a snob once he knew who she is. Judging Lilac as a certain way because of her wealth and judging himself because he is just a "lowly soldier". (You judge, I judge, everybody judge judge.)
Eventually this turned into Tarver fawning over Lilac in his mind, with how observant and thoughtful she is, how she's soincredible, composed and determined while performing some mundane task... It felt like he's trying so very hard to sell me the idea of how awesome Lilac is. With the disturbing zeal and vigor of a religious fanatic encouraging me to join The Cult of Lilac LaRoux.
Then, once he did away with all that awkward and the romantic subplot was realized, it became a ridiculous exchange of "you're awesome because you saved my life!" "No YOU are because you saved mine!" Smooch! Hugs! Meaningful touching! Sexual innuendoes! Which was cute but you have to wonder, how deep a grave can you dig both characters in before they become irredeemable to the reader? That when the opportune moment where you bring out the heavy artillery, the big plot twist, the heart-rending lines and out of the blue philosophical conflict, will the reader be able to forget the first 70% of the book?
I don't know how it will go for everyone else but I recognized the brilliant questions this posed at the right, isolated moment (What is a person? What makes someone the person we know and love?) that was, unfortunately, a disconnect from the rest of the book. It was a beautiful fragment of a disjointed whole, its parts don't make sense to give a bigger message. It had a good heart wrapped in a lot of pomp and circumstance. There was an echo of sentimentality with each plot twist, the reveals a jarring experience. Like this made me so apathetic for so long that when it was time to care, it registered a hesitant blip on my heart rate. I was very surprised to feel a twinge of care for Lilac towards the end. Without me knowing, I was getting teary eyed over Tarver referring to her as "My Lilac" when not a few chapters ago I was rolling my eyes over it. Something right happened right under my nose, suddenly it was going so well after so much frustration...
“Because while that tiny part of me wants him, and only him, the rest of me wants what the whispers want. An end to it all.”
Then all that beautiful tension was resolved into something that feels conformist and contrived. It could have been better but I would probably be the only one who would enjoy a different ending from what this offers.
There was no insta-love, the writing was decent though the world building left a bit to be desired I was wondering if this was heading towards Planet of the Apes territory, are we even sure Tarver and Lilac are human?! I love the title of these books and (I can hear Leah snorting in the background), I actually like the cover. I ranted mostly through this review but the idea, though not fresh from where I stand, has enough creativity for me to pick up the next one. But this being my most anticipated release for the year with World After: good concept, mediocre delivery.