(2016 / 2018) Emma Newman, Gollancz, £9.99, pbk, 365pp, ISBN 978-1-473-22387-5
Published by ROC in 2016, this Gollancz edition has only just (2018) come out. After Atlas is the follow on to Planetfall, set in the same universe, but only very loosely connected and therefore working well as a standalone. So a reader coming to the series at this point will not have any difficulty in settling into the world that Newman has created.
After Atlas is set on Earth, in a near future where 3D printing has become the normal way to make everyday items including food, and humans have chips implanted in their brains to help them run their social media feeds. The downsides of this are obviously that the chips are able to do far more than that and are not just passive devices. Big Brother is quite literally watching you from inside your head. But how do you escape this, when everyone is doing it and the world is almost completely inaccessible without one? You join a cult that lives apart from the rest of the world.
In After Atlas, Newman not only switches location and cast, she also genre hops slightly. Itís still science fiction but this book is more of a crime thriller than the twisting psychological mystery of Planetfall. The link between the two books is that Carlos, the protagonist of this story, was left behind on Earth after his mother left with those who followed the prophet Suh-Mi. Carlís father, broken by her departure, was unable to take care of either of them and they ended up being taken in by an anti-technology cult called The Circle. Life within The Circle was hard and when Carlos left, he was unprepared for the world outside. He has ended up an indentured slave, working for the Ministry of Justice, every decision he makes overshadowed by the need to not extend his contract with them any further. With his employer able to monitor exactly how he spends his time thanks to that helpful chip, Carlos lives a lonely, restricted life from which he cannot afford to escape.
When Alejandro Casales, the founder of The Circle, is murdered, Carlos is called in to investigate. His personal connection to the case makes it very difficult, when every feeling, every spike in heart rate is picked up by his chip. As with every good crime story, people are not always what they seem, and it is Carlosí job to start unpicking the lies and discover what really happened. The body count stacks up, Carlos is forced to learn things about Alejandro that he would rather not know. Newman has done a good job of leading the reader through the mystery without ever making it too obvious where they are going, which combined with the smart pacing makes the book a fast, entertaining read. The exploration of Carlosí psychological state didnít pull me in quite as much as Renís in the first book, but the vision of a future Earth where corporations hold huge amounts of data on all users provided enough interest to fill in the gaps, particularly as I read this book following on from the revelations about the true extent of data mining on Facebook.
After Atlas is not as strong as Planetfall, but it was still a very good book with an ending that I think will please readers in a way that the final pages of Planetfall did not. Recommended for those who enjoy the hardboiled detective stories of Robert Parker, and also for those who like a SF mystery along the lines of Blade Runner.
Newman's Before Mars follows.
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