4/5 stars on Goodreads
|Atlas Alone by Emma Newman|
Atlas Alone is the fourth book in Emma Newman’s brilliant Planetfall sci-fi series. So far, each book has been a stand-alone, set in different places with different protagonists. But Atlas Alone leans heavily on the second book, After Atlas, with its world-building and characters.
After Atlas introduced a near-future earth where democracy doesn’t exist anymore and everything is owned by corporations, land, air, and people included. Some people are indentured to corporations, sold for their skills or to human experiments. Everyone is chipped with a personal AI that is both a blessing and a curse. The book ended with the protagonist, Carlos Moreno, an indentured detective conditioned to never leave a puzzle unsolved, securing a place for him and his friend Dee on Atlas 2, a space-ship leaving the earth to a distant planet introduced in the first book, Planetfall. As they leave, they witness something that has a direct impact to this fourth book.
|Planetfall by Emma Newman|
In Atlas Alone, the point of view protagonist is Dee. She came across as a sulky teenager in After Atlas, but she turned out to be in her early forties. That doesn’t mean much, as people can genetically modify themselves and live for at least a couple of hundred years. Which is good, considering that the journey Atlas 2 is on will take twenty years. Dee is a data analyst who has spent her adult life as a debt slave conditioned in what is called hot-houses to toe the corporate line of whichever business owns her. Her life hasn’t been easy, and she has serious trust and emotional issues.
The book starts six months after the end of After Atlas. Dee and Carl have trouble adjusting to the life on Atlas 2, mostly because of what they witnessed as they left the earth. A chance job offer allows Dee to begin a serious investigation to what happened, who is in charge of Atlas 2 and what is its mission. This she does by becoming a member of an elite gaming community, with the help of a mysterious benefactor that has the ability to override her AI chip. The games turn out to be oddly personal for Dee, as they all have to do with her past and the tragedies that have shaped her. But she is strong and unemotional, and has had decades of practice in locking her past away. The games don’t change who she is, even when her mysterious benefactor tries to probe into her issues with her past—or especially because of it.
What Dee learns in the games is that the ship is run by fundamentalist Christians who are prepared to kill millions of people and enslave the rest. She becomes convinced that the only way to bring them to justice is to kill them. First she does this within the immersive games, but somehow the deaths happen in real life too. And then it’s time for her to ditch the games and kill the rest of the bad guys in real life.
Planetfall books are brilliantly composed to look like sci-fi mysteries, but each book is actually a journey to the mind and psychopathology of the protagonist. Each time, it’s done so subtly that the reader is convinced to the end that the story will turn out to be fairly conventional. In Atlas Alone, even as the last chapter began, I thought I knew how everything would turn out. I was wrong.
It’s impossible to talk about the stunt the author pulls at the very end without spoiling everything. It might seem like a wrong way to finish the book, but it actually makes the reader re-evaluate the entire story and realise what it’s been about all along. I found it a perfect and just ending for Dee.
It takes great skill to dupe the reader to such extent and still make them appreciate the ending. Here it’s done brilliantly. Nonetheless, I only gave the book four stars. Some of it is for my disappointment that a book set on a space-ship mostly ignores the ship in favour of immersive games that take Dee back to earth. Also, the gaming sections were slightly boring and even knowing their worth in hindsight didn’t change that. But I don’t think the author is done with the series, and I’m absolutely looking forward to reading anything she sets in her Planetfall world.