Skip to main content

Planetfall (SF) - Emma Newman ****

In Planetfall, and its sequels After Atlas and Before Mars, Emma Newman has produced some of the most original and intriguing science fiction I've read in a good while. There are many familiar SF tropes here, yet they are handled in an extremely intelligent and unexpected fashion. 

Planetfall sees a group of colonists on a distant star, who enjoy a high tech lifestyle alongside a strange relationship with a non-human construct known as God's City. Exactly how and why they are there is only very gradually made clear, helped by the arrival of a stranger in paradise, a survivor of a group of the colonists who were cut off from the rest on arrival and were presumed to be dead. The stranger does not have the same technology and seems better integrated with the natural environment.

Central character Renata, who quickly becomes one of the main contacts for the stranger, is a damaged individual - we only gradually learn why she is like this and the extent of the personality problems that she has.

There were flaws in this first novel in the series (largely fixed in the even better sequels), though nothing that got in the way of it being a genuinely interesting and engaging piece of writing. The biggest problem (which occurs to a lesser extent in After Atlas and Before Mars) is that the central character has a secret that is not revealed to us until late in the book, but its existence is repeatedly flagged up, which is annoying for the reader. This concealment (combined with her personality flaws) makes it very difficult to relate to Renata - because we aren't let into this crucial part of her history until far too late.

However, this does not get in the way of Planetfall being enjoyable, engaging and thought provoking reading - and this book provides essential background for the truly excellent novels that follow it.

Paperback:  

Kindle:  


Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Lost in Math - Sabine Hossenfelder *****

One of my favourite illustrations from a science title was in Fred Hoyle's book on his quasi-steady state theory. It shows a large flock of geese all following each other, which he likened to the state of theoretical physics. In the very readable Lost in Math, physicist Sabine Hossenfelder exposes the way that in certain areas of physics, this is all too realistic a picture. (Hossenfelder gives Hoyle's cosmological theory short shrift, incidentally, though, to be fair, it wasn't given anywhere near as many opportunities to be patched up to match observations as the current version of big bang with inflation.)

Lost in Math is a very powerful analysis of what has gone wrong in the way that some aspects of physics are undertaken. Until the twentieth century, scientists made observations and experiments and theoreticians looked for theories which explained them, which could then be tested against further experiments and observations. Now, particularly in particle physics, it…

Gravity! - Pierre Binétruy ****

I had to really restrain myself from adopting the approach taken by The Register in referring to Yahoo! by putting an exclamation mark after every word in the text when faced with reviewing Gravity! One thing to be said about the punctuation, though, is it makes it easier to search for amongst a whole lot of books on gravity and gravitational waves (the subtitle is 'the quest for gravitational waves') since their discovery in 2015.

Despite the subtitle, Pierre Binétruy gives us far more - in fact, gravitational waves don't come into it until page 160, which makes it really more of a book about gravity with a bit on gravitational waves tacked on than a true exploration of the quest. 

However, those early pages aren't wasted - Binétruy gives us plenty of detail on all kinds of background, for example plunging in to tell us about element synthesis, something you wouldn't expect in a book on gravitational waves. I also really liked a little section on experiments you can…

Brain Based Enterprises - Peter Cook ****

A quick flag on this one: it's a management/business book, and the four star rating is with that in mind. Brain Based Enterprises does contain a surprising amount of science, considering this, which is why it's here, but don't expect it to be like a four star pure science book.

This is an eclectic attack on the status quo of our ideas about business. Peter Cook suggest that much of current business simply isn't oriented to the realities of a modern, technological world, and that we need to handle things very differently in a knowledge-based economy.

The book is divided into three sections. For me, the most interesting was the first 'brainy people' part, as my own business doesn't have teams and such - but for those who do there are also 'brainy teams' and 'brainy enterprises' sections. Cook stirs together a heady mix of science - from psychology to economics - music (a passion of his and a significant part of the way he works) and business the…