As the daughter of a scientist and a military strategist, 17 year old Amy is selected to be one of the people cryogenically frozen for the 300 year journey across the stars as Earth colonizes its first new planet.
250 years later, Amy wakes up. Alone. It's 50 years ahead of schedule, and thanks to the clumsy work of whoever pulled her out of the freezer, she can't go back under.
Amy must now try to make sense of how humanity has evolved aboard the Godspeed - a society where uniformity and peace are prized above all else. Her only allies are those who are different - Elder, who is to inherit the role of leader after the current Eldest's death, and Harley, an artist who lives in a hospital and fed a constant stream of medications to try to control his individualist ways.
But it quickly becomes apparent that waking Amy wasn't an accident. More people are being pulled from their cryo chambers, and being left for dead. Only Amy, Elder and Harley seem to understand the gravity of the situation, and it's up to the three individuals in a sea of uniformity to solve the crimes.
I was pretty much convinced going into this that this was going to be a love story. Lots of reviews are selling this on the merits of the interracial romance and then there's that Spider-Man kiss cover. However, I found this refreshingly light on the romance. Oh there's some romantic angst and questioning, but Amy and Elder are in such different places psychologically that only one of them really has the time/energy to contemplate romantic feelings. And yet the mostly one-sided romance doesn't come across as creepy/stalkery. Kudos there.
As far as the science fiction aspect goes, this definitely isn't hard SF, but it's not totally on the softer side of the spectrum, like a lot of dystopian YA SF has been in the last few years. I'm hardly a science expert, but there was enough science-talk to convince me this was a future society heavily invested in technology, but doesn't devolve into so much technobabble as to scare off SF newbies.
The rest of the story comes out in fits and starts, with lots of dramatic cliff hangers at the end of chapters, drawn out because Amy and Elder alternate narration duties. It's all pretty straight forward, and the forecasting of the bad guy's badness begins pretty early on (really, there wasn't a more subtle example than saying the bad guy views Hitler as one of the good guys?), but it's a nice enough story, more of a mystery than a romance, with some nice SF set dressing.
In closing, I do want to point out to anyone who missed it in December that Across the Universe was the victim of some subtle whitewashing, as pointed out at The Interrobangs. The original ARC cover emphasized Elder's non-Caucasian features subtly, while in the final cover there's nothing that really differentiates him from Amy (other than being a dude). This is a more subtle racefail than other examples (Liar, Magic Under Glass), which I imagine is why I haven't seen it mentioned much outside of The Interrobangs. Like with Magic Under Glass, I imagine part of the lack of controversy stems from the fact that Elder isn't any specific race - the humans of Godspeed have become monoethnic in the centuries between leaving Earth and Amy's awakening, meaning they all share the same olive skin, brown eyes and brown hair. Since we can't say Elder is supposed to look African, Indian or Japanese, and the fact the faces are almost in silhouette, it's easy to explain away/ignore the cover discrepancies. It probably never would have been noted - if Razorbill hadn't initially released the ARC with a more obviously non-Caucasian cover model.
But to end on a slightly more positive note, I'm desperate for some more SF in my life. Next Friday I'll have Julia Karr's XVI as a SF Friday review, but after that my TBR list is sadly light on the SF front. Someone please tell me there's more great SF on the way this year! I'm more excited about the books coming out in 2011 than I ever have been before, but so far it looks like a light year for SF? Say it ain't so! Give me some good news in the comments!