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

Beyond Weird - Philip Ball *****

It would be easy to think 'Surely we don't need another book on quantum physics.' There are loads of them. Anyone should be happy with The Quantum Age on applications and the basics, Cracking Quantum Physics for an illustrated introduction or In Search of Schrödinger's Cat for classic history of science coverage. Don't be fooled, though - because in Beyond Weird, Philip Ball has done something rare in my experience until Quantum Sense and Nonsense came along. It makes an attempt not to describe quantum physics, but to explain why it is the way it is.

Historically this has rarely happened. It's true that physicists have come up with various interpretations of quantum physics, but these are designed as technical mechanisms to bridge the gap between theory and the world as we see it, rather than explanations that would make sense to the ordinary reader.

Ball does not ignore the interpretations, though he clearly isn't happy with any of them. He seems to come clo…

Jim Baggott - Four Way Interview

Jim Baggott is a freelance science writer. He trained as a scientist, completing a doctorate in physical chemistry at Oxford in the early 80s, before embarking on post-doctoral research studies at Oxford and at Stanford University in California. He gave up a tenured lectureship at the University of Reading after five years in order to gain experience in the commercial world. He worked for Shell International Petroleum for 11 years before leaving to establish his own business consultancy and training practice. He writes about science, science history and philosophy in what spare time he can find. His books include Atomic: The First War of Physics and the Secret History of the Atom Bomb (2009), Higgs: The Invention and Discovery of the ‘God Particle’ (2012), Mass: The Quest to Understand Matter from Greek Atoms to Quantum Fields (2017), and, most recently, Quantum Space: Loop Quantum Gravity and the Search for the Structure of Space, Time, and the Universe (2018). For more info see: www…

Quantum Space: Jim Baggott *****

There's no doubt that Jim Baggott is one of the best popular science writers currently active. He specialises in taking really difficult topics and giving a more in-depth look at them than most of his peers. The majority of the time he achieves with a fluid writing style that remains easily readable, though inevitably there are some aspects that are difficult for the readers to get their heads around - and this is certainly true of his latest title Quantum Space, which takes on loop quantum gravity.

As Baggott points out, you could easily think that string theory was the only game in town when it comes to the ultimate challenge in physics, finding a way to unify the currently incompatible general theory of relativity and quantum theory. Between them, these two behemoths of twentieth century physics underlie the vast bulk of physics very well - but they simply can't be put together. String theory (and its big brother M-theory, which as Baggott points out, is not actually a the…