Skip to main content

After Atlas (SF) - Emma Newman *****

If, like me, you read Emma Newman's first Planetfall novel and expected After Atlas to be a direct sequel, it is initially a little off-putting to discover that it involves a whole new set of characters - but after a little bedding in, this proves to be an advantage as the plotting in After Atlas is much tighter than the first novel and it works brilliantly both as science fiction and as a murder mystery.

The setting is Earth, decades after the departure of the Atlas spaceship that carried the colonists who featured in Planetfall, with a central character who is related to one of the Planetfall characters. For me, the Earth setting worked significantly better than the Planetfall one and the whole thing slotted together better, actually making the first novel seem better than it did on its own, as now we got a lot more of the context of the people involved.

The only small negatives here were weaker versions of the problems of the first novel. The central character seemed irritatingly self-centred and self-destructive, turning against his only friend without any thought for what she was going through. And once again, Newman seems to have felt it was a good idea to hold back a piece of information from us which the central character knew (in this case, which of the Planetfall characters was his mother), a technique that is irritating rather than suspense-building.

These are small issues though it a truly engrossing novel with a series of linked mysteries to unravel and a shocking ending. The corporate future, set alongside both the best and the worst of the implications of IT developments, is grimly realised and the whole thing pulls the reader along at a cracking pace. This is without doubt one of the best SF books I've read this year. I had expected to wait a little after reading this before starting the next in the series, Before Mars, but after After Atlas I had to plunge straight in.

Paperback:  

Kindle:  
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you


Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Magicians - Marcus Chown *****

The title may seem an odd one for a popular science book, but it refers to what Chown describes as ‘the central magic of science: its ability to predict the existence of things previously undreamt of which, when people went out and looked for them, turned out to actually exist in the real universe’. That may be true of all branches of science, but physics – which is what the book is about – is a special case, because its theories are rooted in mathematical equations rather than words. This makes the matter completely black-and-white: if the equations predict something you had no inkling of, then either the maths is wrong, or that thing really does exist. This book describes some remarkable instances where the maths was right.

Actually, I’m not sure the title is strictly accurate. It’s true that it centres on people – both the theoreticians who came up with the predictions and the experimentalists who proved them right – but in most cases the ‘magic’ is something the human players simpl…

Infinity Plus: Quintet (SF) - Keith Brooke (Ed.) ****

When I was younger there was nothing I liked better than a good, deep, dark (frankly, often downright miserable) science fiction story, and this collection delivers excellent modern examples that would have fit easily into a thoughtful if downbeat 70s collection such as the 'New Writing in SF' or the Interzone magazine of the day (one was actually first published in Interzone, in 1987 - the rest date between 1989 and 2010).

If I'm honest, I prefer more upbeat fiction now, but that doesn't stop me appreciating the quality of these five stories, put together by the SF website and publisher Infinity Plus. I've rarely seen a better contradiction of Margaret Atwood's putdown of science fiction as being limited to 'talking squids in outer space.' What we have here is pure character-driven storytelling with not a mention of space, spaceships, ray guns or aliens. It's the inner world, not the outer trappings of sci fi tropes that interest these writers.

On…

Until the End of Time: Brian Greene ***

Things start well with this latest title from Brian Greene: after a bit of introductory woffle we get into an interesting introduction to entropy. As always with Greene's writing, this is readable, chatty and full of little side facts and stories. Unfortunately, for me, the book then suffers something of an increase in entropy itself as on the whole it then veers more into philosophy and the soft sciences than Greene's usual physics and cosmology.

So, we get chapters on consciousness, language, belief and religion, instinct and creativity, duration and impermanence, the ends of time and, most cringe-making as a title, 'the nobility of being'. Unlike the dazzling scientific presentation I expect, this mostly comes across as fairly shallow amateur philosophising.

Of course it's perfectly possible to write good science books on, say, consciousness or language - but though Greene touches on the science, there far too much that's more hand-waving. And good though he i…