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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.

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Review by Brian Clegg

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