“Across the Universe” by Beth Revis is one of the best sci-fi books I’ve read lately. The premise is simple: a giant spaceship is sent to a potentially habitable planet in Alpha Centauri. The voyage should take 300 years, which is why all the essential personnel are cryogenically frozen, while the crew of 3,000 people (and their descendants) keep the ship running.

The main character is a 16-year-old girl Amy. She is one of the frozen passengers on Godspeed, since both her parents are essential to the colonization effort. (Her mother is a geneticist and her father is a high-ranking military official.) Amy is also the first frozen passenger to be thawed out due to an act of sabotage. She wakes up 50 years before she’s supposed to and she can’t get frozen again. She is stranded on the spaceship and forced to live with its people, discovering one creepy, disturbing secret after another. Who sabotaged her cryogenic chamber? Why is everybody acting strange? Who is killing other frozen passengers? And can she trust the boy destined to become the ship’s future leader?

This book is a rare mix of hard science fiction and young adult fiction. The first chapter is profoundly disturbing as the author describes (in excruciating detail and through Amy’s eyes) how Amy’s parents get frozen alive. It’s followed by a fair bit of exposition as we meet Elder, the spaceship’s future leader. Once we’re introduced to all the main characters, the novel really takes off and culminates in several plot twists. I could see some of them coming from a mile away, but the ending still shocked me.

I didn’t expect this book to explore political and philosophical questions (what’s the best way to govern thousands of people with no future?), so it came as a pleasant surprise. The only other sci-fi book that I can think of that made politics an essential part of the plot was Frank Herbert’s Dune.

I normally don’t comment on book design when I write my reviews, but I’m glad I got my hands on the hardcover edition. The cover design is gorgeous, the tagline (“What does it take to survive aboard a spaceship fueled by lies?”) is eloquent, and the inside of the dust jacket features the spaceship’s blueprints! I usually donate the books I’ve read to Goodwill in order to conserve the valuable shelf space, but I think I’ll hold on to my hardcover because of the design eye candy.

“Across the Universe” is the first book in the trilogy, and the sequels (“A Million Suns” and “Shades of Earth”) are already out. If this book is any indication, the followup novels should be just as good.

Score: 5 stars

Amazon product page