Defy The Stars by Claudia Gray

I have to admit to a great deal of ambivalence about Defy The Stars. Yes, as far as YA romantic sci fi goes, I can see why many would enjoy this adventure of our strong-willed heroine and her hunky android. But at the same time, I wish the heavy handed musings about what it means to be human had been jettisoned altogether. Too much pounding of a square peg into a round hole amounted to a fairly cliche sci fi plot done better and with more subtlety by e.g., Asimov and Dick. I didn’t believe the characters and their shallow world any more than I believed the plot was anything approaching realistic.

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Story: As the Genesis colony fights a freedom war with Earth, teen Noemi sets out on a large scale suicide run in the hopes that the deaths of so many of her people will temporary reprieve them of Earth’s android driven attacks. But before she can begin the attack, a series of events lands her on the Deadalus – a long abandoned Earth space ship still housing the prototype of Earth’s greatest android – Abel. She hates him on sight – his kind has killed thousands of her people. Abel must obey Noemi but plots to find a way to get back to his beloved creator/father who was forced to abandon him on the ship 30 years ago. Both are about to learn some hard truths as Noemi, through Abel, finds a better way than the upcoming suicide run to protect her people.

If you are looking for the standard YA cliches – they are here. People are always sniffing love interests, fate will put a master hacker in their midst so they can accomplish tasks, the hero/heroine will start out hating each other but fall in love, things like prison breaks are surprisingly easy, the bad guys are eeeeevil and selfish (never nuanced), and in a huge galaxy, people always find each other by accident and at the exact perfect moment. There are many sci fi genre cliches as well that became very frustrating.

But it was the big ‘message’ that was most problematic. Rather than using scientific outlines of intelligent life like the Turing Test and artificial intelligence, author Grey relies on philosophical human condition tenets and the concept of abstract thinking to define whether a machine is ‘alive’ – whether it has a soul. In other words, whether Abel can dream, be compassionate, and understand/appreciate religion is the determiner of whether or not he is a machine or a person. As such, there are some very heavy handed religion references throughout (including main character Noemi’s strong Catholic beliefs) and the fact that the ‘better’ planet Genesis relies on an almost luddite-like reluctance to use technology and instead focuses on religions and faith to better themselves (secular Earth nearly destroyed itself and is trying to do the same to others, natch). It’s a nice thought but not really believable or even a sustainable argument. So although this isn’t a Christian romance, it felt like it at times.

In order to couch the story within the human condition (and to further pound in that Noemi will hate machines) there are some really odd statements made:

<i>”What kind of cowards go to war but refuse to fight it themselves? Noemi thinks. How evil do you have to be to kill another world’s people and risk none of your own?”</i> Which is odd considering her people are supposedly all about protecting human life. If anything, i’d say a society that protects their people’s lives by using machines to fight a war is kind of smart.

<i>”Mechs aren’t afraid to die, because they aren’t even alive. They have no souls. The’re pure machines of death. Pure evil.” </i> Actually, one has to be sentient and have thoughts to be evil. Cars kill people all the time, too, and I don’t think my Toyota Camry is pure evil.

And this one is great: humans have destroyed the Earth because of greenhouse gasses and toxins from factories. But when visiting another planet, Abel shows how the industry on that planet is releasing greenhouse gasses on purpose to raise the temperature of the planet so it is more suitable to human inhabitation. <i>”Noemi had never considered that before, that one world’s poison might be another’s salvation.”</i> And I’m sure anything already alive and native to the planet and about to die out will thank the humans for destroying their flora and flauna so the humans have better weather conditions.

I started to have a hard time taking the book seriously. Abel, even though supposedly being an advance prototype model, never felt like a machine. Perhaps less time inside his ‘head’ would have been better and he would have felt more hate-worthy to Noemi if we only saw her perspective of him. But as it is, it feels like the usual YA romance complete with nearly perfect and handsome love interest frequently saving our supposedly strong heroine. Even when she comes to save him – she ends up getting saved of course. Cue lots of ponderings by Abel on “how can I defy my programming? How can I dream if I am an android?” And Noemi’s eiphanies: “if you have dreams, you’re human!” “You’re compassionate, you must have a soul!” etc. etc.

There is plenty of pointless adventure as Abel and Noemi must obtain certain items to achieve their goal of preventing the suicide run. And of course Abel is going to have to eventually run into his ‘father’ figure creator. That action will keep readers invested though a closer examination would reveal a hollow set of activities all working toward a deus ex machina sequence at the end. But as a YA romantic adventure, I’m sure many will be enthralled by our sexy android and heartfelt heroine. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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