Radioactive Eulogy of Jay Kristoff
Imagining how our world might evolve in the distant future is an exercise most of us practice from time to time. After all, isn’t it thrilling to imagine what kind of tomorrow the decisions of today are going to lead us to? What’s more, the further down the line you go, the more of a blank slate you have to imagine the kind of universe you would like to explore. Some dream of paradise, but others, such as Jay Kristoff, dream of a radioactive wasteland ruled by technological progress, one where people have managed to survive and adapt just as they have countless times before. The further we drive away from our current condition and explore ourselves in extreme and seemingly-impossible scenarios, the better understanding we might have of the mysterious human mind. Jay Kristoff throws us head-first into this desolate new world with its own morals, codes and honours in his novel LIFEL1K3, marking the beginning of a new trilogy.
The story opens on a post-apocalyptic United States of America, a junkyard beneath glowing radioactive skies. It’s a future where robots have become an integral part of daily life, submitting to the three classic laws of robotics. There are also androids made to resemble humans who have learned to break free from those three laws and have come to be considered extremely dangerous. In this brave new world lives a seventeen-year-old girl by the name of Eve, and her life just got a thousandfold more complex. Her robot gladiator is in ruins, she’s in profound debt to local gangsters, in desperate need of money to keep her grandpa alive, is haunted by seemingly missing memories, and has even just discovered some sort of telekinetic power in herself, something a group of zealous fanatics is intent on hunting her down for. To throw yet another wrench into these plans, she discovers a handsome android who raises the possibility of her entire life being a lie. With her best friend, Lemon Fresh, and a robot sidekick, Eve sets out on a grand journey in search of truth and meaning, across vistas of nuclear desolation humanity has wrought down on itself.
A Reflection on Freedom
There are definitely a lot of things going on in this novel, moving along quickly with cyborgs, robots, twists, turns and great adventures on the horizon. In my personal opinion however, the highlight of it was Jay Kristoff’s exploration of philosophical concepts, namely the contrast between freedom and oppression. He asks quite a few valid questions which can really lead us to some profound reflections on what it truly means to be free. Is it even possible? Are we always beholden to something or someone, even if it’s the mere sense of responsibility which comes with the freedom of choice? Does everyone deserve total freedom? How would you even gauge that? How is oppression seen from both sides of the fence? Is it necessary in an unruly society, at least to some degree?
Due to all of those philosophical considerations which keep popping up one after the other, we very rarely, if ever at all get a sense of being in a world where anything is black and white. It helps establish some true depth and adds layers of complexity to the society Jay Kristoff is trying to portray. Even the people who are supposed to be the bad guys can be understood to some extent, even if their actions aren’t always justifiable. Ultimately, it becomes more than a story about a young girl undertaking an epic journey of self-discovery… it turns into the tale of a messed up society where everyone is striving for a new tomorrow, and it doesn’t necessarily have to end well.
The Birth of a Saga
Moving past all the social commentary and explorations of the human condition, LIFEL1K3 offers one of the more engaging and compelling science-fiction stories on its scale. It doesn’t take very long at all for the action to get going and Kristoff makes a point of getting us acquainted with the characters as fast as humanly possible. Eve is a very easy protagonist to like, being clever, witty and with a heart of gold for the few people who matter to her. Needless to say, she’s far from a perfect human being and this journey only marks the beginning of her growth. This is one aspect of the story I particularly enjoyed; we could see slow and subtle changes happening to her character as she racked on more and more new experiences in an unforgiving world. It never feels as if she acts illogically or out of character; she’s always learning, and us along with her.
The rest of the characters were given an equal amount of care and consideration by the author, being quite unique and defined in their own ways. It felt as if they all had their own roles in the story, to the point where secondary individuals turned into memorable people. The dialogues and various interactions certainly make up a healthy chunk of the book’s strong aspect, especially when it comes to all the robots and androids we meet along the way. These characters and their communications serve as our primary gateway to understanding this alien world we’ve been plunged into, and the deeper we get into it, the more we notice amusing similarities with our own reality.
As far as the plot itself is concerned, I would say it managed to very much hold its own despite the grandiose ambitions it arrived with. It’s a journey which takes us far and wide through a variety of locales populated with all sorts of different people. The author does try to include as many exciting twists as possible, but I should say a few of them were sadly predictable. Nevertheless, it never really took away from the enjoyment of the story, especially seeing as how it becomes progressively darker towards the end, with the stakes increasing further and further. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will just say it makes all the sense in the world in this story and will likely subvert your expectations.
The Final Verdict
Looking back on LIFEL1K3, I can confidently assert it to be a very welcome addition to the post-apocalyptic science-fiction genre, combining new and original elements with solid and well thought-out concepts. It’s the kind of novel which has a bit of something for everyone, setting the most perfect stage possible for its eventual sequels. If you are a fan of sci-fi literature I strongly recommend you read this book sooner rather than later.
Jay Kristoff is an Australian bestselling author of fantasy and science-fiction novels. His novels have often been finalists or winners of various literary prizes, such as The Last Stormdancer which won him the 2013 Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Short Fiction. Some of his other better-known works include The Lotus War series, The Illuminae Files and The Nevernight Chronicle, all of them trilogies.