From the award-nominated author Emma Newman, comes a novel of how one secret withheld to protect humanity’s future might be its undoing…
Renata Ghali believed in Lee Suh-Mi’s vision of a world far beyond Earth, calling to humanity. A planet promising to reveal the truth about our place in the cosmos, untainted by overpopulation, pollution, and war. Ren believed in that vision enough to give up everything to follow Suh-Mi into the unknown.
More than twenty-two years have passed since Ren and the rest of the faithful braved the starry abyss and established a colony at the base of an enigmatic alien structure where Suh-Mi has since resided, alone. All that time, Ren has worked hard as the colony’s 3-D printer engineer, creating the tools necessary for human survival in an alien environment, and harbouring a devastating secret.
Ren continues to perpetuate the lie forming the foundation of the colony for the good of her fellow colonists, despite the personal cost. Then a stranger appears, far too young to have been part of the first planetfall, a man who bears a remarkable resemblance to Suh-Mi.
The truth Ren has concealed since planetfall can no longer be hidden. And its revelation might tear the colony apart…
Disclaimer: I am a well-established fan of Emma Newman’s previous books. The Split Worlds series is among my favourite works of urban fantasy, and so my anticipation level for her new book was off the scale. There was never a question that I was going to get my hands on this one.
And yet, I did my best to keep expectations to a minimum. More than wanting to avoid disappointing myself, I wanted to be surprised. This is, after all, a huge step away from her previous work; I wanted to come at this story with a clean slate of a mind, and let it make its mark however it would.
This book surprised the hell out of me. As for making its mark, it is easily one of the best books I’ve read in recent years, let alone this year.
First things first: the science fiction elements.
For all that this story takes place post-planetfall somewhere beyond Earth and in the future, the neat trick of putting the actual planetfall event in the story’s past lets us focus on the now established methods of survival that have become more of a means of continuing to live comfortably for the colony. 3D printing is relatively new to us, but its potential uses are already proving to be vastly applicable. In Planetfall, it’s the basis of this colony’s civilisation. It’s used to create everything they use, from their eco-friendly houses and everything in them to their clothes. These people make such casual use of that technology that this alone was pretty mind-boggling to consider – and it’s not at all impossible. Already we’re given plenty to chew on, and we’re still on the surface layers of this story.
And the further in we go, the darker it gets. This is the reason this book surprised – and engaged – me so much, because as prepared as I was for the SF elements in this book, I was not prepared for the human elements. More fool me, because I should have been. They might be on a different planet, but these people are still people. They may have left Earth behind but they brought all the good and all the bad of being human with them. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the two sides apart, and the deft touch with with Emma Newman weaves these two threads of the human fabric together is really remarkable. The hand of a writer who understands all too well what she’s writing about is absolutely in evidence here, and the result is something amazingly effective – and affecting.
I get the sense that Renata Ghali is her protagonist for some very good reasons in that respect. As one of the people keeping something devastating a secret from the rest of the colony, she is one of the people who has to live with what they’ve done, and with what they’re doing. To say more on that would be to drop spoilers, so I won’t – but I will say that the strain it has upon Ren, which manifests in her anxiety (and more besides), results in one of the most deeply sympathetic characters I’ve discovered in a very long time. That deft touch is applied here too, thankfully, because without it this whole story would fall apart. More kudos to Emma for not dropping that ball.
And the story itself. God, this was so tense! As emotionally nerve-wracking as it can be, I love it when this kind of “what are they hiding?!” storyline hooks and drags me along as well as Planetfall has done. Between what Ren remembers of the events after the first planetfall and the unraveling of her life now, the whole plot was just marvellously addictive. By the time those hooks were in, there was never a question of me stopping until it was done. I HAD TO KNOW. And the end result was so bloody worth it. I still get chills now when I think about it.
So, let’s sum up. If you like your science fiction with a side of unflinching humanity, do not miss this book. I’m unsure at this point if there’s going to be a sequel, but if there is, I am absolutely here for it.
In short, this book reaffirms why Emma Newman is a favourite author of mine. It may not be what I’d call an easy read, but it is thoroughly worthwhile nonetheless.