Wednesday, July 19, 2017

After Atlas - Emma Newman

After Atlas
A Planetfall Novel
Emma Newman


Carlos Moreno has been famous since infancy.  His mother was one of the people (inspired or insane, depending on your view) who left on the ship called Atlas.  The ship was built in secret, by a well-funded cult, in an effort to find/follow God, at the behest of their charismatic leader.  Only so many people could travel on the ship, so most had to leave family members behind on Earth.  One of those was Carlos’ mother.  There was a famous documentary called “After Atlas” that detailed all of this.  Ever since, Carlos has been periodically approached by reporters of one kind or another for statements and follow-ups.  These encounters have been steadily escalating recently.  Atlas left behind a capsule that can only be opened in 40 years’ time.  That time is rapidly approaching, re-igniting interest in Atlas and those left behind.

Carlos has no use for journos.  His life, as it turned out, was not particularly happy.  But that’s no one else’s business.  He eventually found his way to a job as a gov-corp detective.  In this future Earth, governments and huge corporations have largely merged, to keep the money and the power consolidated.  He’s very good at what he does.  He never leaves a puzzle unsolved.  This case is different.  The murder victim is Alejandro Casales, the leader of the Circle cults.  Carlos spent some years in that cult with his father, and, at one time, looked up to Alejandro as a substitute father.  That all ended some years ago.  Now Carlos must put his personal feelings, good and bad, aside, and figure out exactly what happened here, and why.

On one level, this is a futuristic murder mystery.  The forensic and crime scene techniques are very advanced, but the detective work is familiar.  As a counterpoint to the new tech, the scene of the crime is a very upscale hotel.  It provides amenities like real food.  Food in this society is usually cheaply produced using organic substrates and printers.  Purchasing real food is a luxury only the rich can afford.  Carlos takes the job, in part, because he’ll be able to take meals at the hotel.  This is science fiction, but it’s very much character-driven.

It’s clear early on that Alejandro’s death is not exactly what it seems.  The obvious conclusion is suicide, but Carlos knows that self-harm contradicts all of Alejandro’s beliefs and teachings.  He’s being pressured to make the call, and, like all good detectives, that puts him on edge.  If he’s being pushed in one direction, he should probably look in another.  The single crime widens into a world-wide issue.  The characters presented are all three-dimensional and organic to the setting.  This author excels at scene-setting.  The world here is mostly like ours, but the differences are both surprising and understandable.  As the investigation widens, we’re introduced to some of the big players in gov-corps.  These people are absolutely believable, especially if you’ve been following current events at all. 

This is the second novel in this series.  If you haven’t yet read PLANETFALL, it’s not necessary for enjoying this novel.  If you have, it will give you a deeper understanding of some aspects of the story here.  I would recommend reading it for the sheer pleasure of it.  These two books are flip sides of a coin.  PLANETFALL tells the story (part of it) of those who left.  This one tells about those left on Earth.  I’m hoping there’s more to this series.  I know I’ll be following this author, wherever she decides to take me next.

Rating: 9
November 2018

ISBN# 978-0-425-28240-3 (trade paperback)

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Sleeping Giants - Sylvain Neuvel

Sleeping Giants
The Themis Files, Book 1
Sylvain Neuvel
Del Rey

Science Fiction

As a child, Rose Franklin fell into a hole… and landed in an enormous metal hand.  The powers-that-be unearthed and pored over the hand, determining only that it was buried several thousands of years ago; and that it is made of a metal or alloy unknown to modern science.  The hand was contained in a sort of chamber, with each wall made of the same unknown metal, and covered with unknown, glowing symbols.  To avoid mass panic, those same powers-that-be kept all of this as quiet as possible.

Many years later, Rose, now a physicist, is delighted to be a part of the project that is studying the hand and the symbols.  And she’s amazed to see that, all this time later, the symbols on the walls are still glowing, even though they have no visible energy source.  It stands to reason that a hand must need an arm.  An arm must need a body.  And, with some searching, the research group led by Rose is able to find several more pieces.  It’s fairly clear that, eventually, they will be able to assemble an entire humanoid figure that stands many stories tall and is made of some apparently indestructible stuff.

The obvious questions arise.  What is this thing?  Why was it constructed?  Why was it deconstructed?  Why were the pieces buried?  And, most interesting/frightening of all:  Who did all of this, several thousand years ago, when humans were essentially inventing the wheel?  The small, assembled study has only the best, most basic scientific goals in mind.  They want to put the thing together and figure out what it does.  And, someday, who made it.

You don’t have to be much of a cynic to realize that there are lots of other people who would have much less pure motives to possessing something like this.  Rose eventually realizes that it’s potentially a weapon, but that epiphany comes a bit too late.  The story unfolds in a series of reports and interviews with various participants in and around the study of the figure.  It seems like a clunky way to tell a story, but it works beautifully here.  Each character has ample opportunity to put forth his/her viewpoints, hopes, and fears.  Regardless of their overall aims, each person comes across as very, very human.

It shouldn’t be a spoiler to say that things don’t quite go as planned in the study.  But, by that time, there’s really no going back on this project.  As a reader, I found myself second-guessing what had gone before, in ‘if only’ terms.  Even if you don’t consider yourself a ‘scifi reader,’ give this book a try.  It is, above all else, a story about people and how they deal with advances and setbacks that most of us can’t imagine.  I’m already looking forward to getting my hands on the second book.  I have to know what happens next!

Rating: 9
May 2016

ISBN# 978-1-101-88671-7 (paperback)