(2015/2018) Emma Newman, Gollancz, £8.99, pbk, 320pp, ISBN 978-1-473-22385-1
This is the first book of the three currently available that was first published by Roc in 2015 and now (2018) by Gollancz. All are set in the 'Planetfall' universe, but their connections are loose and they all work as standalone novels. It is a future where pretty much everything can be 3-D printed, including food and medicine, and humans think itís perfectly normal to have a chip implanted directly into the brain to run their social media feeds. Planetfall itself is about a small group of people who left Earth in search of god, following their leader and prophet, a woman called Lee Suh-Mi. Twenty years have passed since the colony was established. They are living in relative isolation, and their lives revolve around the work needed to keep the colony running.
The colony itself is known as Godís City and is home not only to the humans, but to a strange alien biotech building which the colonists believe Suh-Mi lives inside. The story is told from the viewpoint of a character called Ren, an engineer tasked with keeping the printers running and making sure that all waste materials are recycled. The colony depends on this Ė living in a confined environment with limited resources means that everything must be in active use at all times. Nothing can be wasted. At first, Ren appears intelligent and competent, but it soon becomes apparent that all is not as it seems. She is burdened with secrets that she is determined to withhold from the reader just as she withholds them from the other colonists. The difference between truth and lie and how this is can depend on your perspective is a theme that is explored in some depth throughout the book.
Things start to fall apart with the unexpected arrival of a man who claims to be Suh-Miís son. It cannot be possible Ė there is not supposed to be anyone on the colony other than those living within Godís City. Apart from anything else, how could they survive? But he is accepted and welcomed into the colony, and then he starts to ask questions that Ren does not want to answer. As Renís secrets are revealed and she begins to come apart, we see the full impact of her self-delusion and Newmanís skill as a writer makes this visceral and real Ė it is not the situation but Renís reaction to it that pulls you through the story. Newman suggests that the evolution of our technology will not necessarily be matched by the evolution of ourselves and this is a theme that continues through the book. Planetfall is about the lies that we tell ourselves and why, and what happens when we are forced to see them from the viewpoint of someone else. The ending of the book has been a matter of some debate on the internet, as some reviewers love it and some have hated it, but for me, it the really thought provoking stuff was in Renís journey not where she ended up, so I am on the fence. I didnít love the ending, but I didnít hate it either.
Planetfall will work for readers who enjoyed the film Elysium and writers like Becky Chambers or Aliette de Bodard. Its sequel is After Atlas.
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