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

The fourth in Emma Newman's loosely connected Planetfall books takes place entirely on the spaceship Atlas II on its journey from Earth towards Planetfall. This might seem limiting, but Newman cleverly sets much of the action in virtual reality - the main character, Dee is an enthusiastic gamer, but she soon discovers she is taking part in a game that is far more realistic than she realised.

This is the first of the Planetfall books where we have continuity of characters (from After Atlas), though the focus shifts from Carl to Dee. There are the usual threads of Newman's books - the central character is flawed and potentially self-destructive, the interplay of powerful factions and conspiracies, the rise of artificial intelligence - and here it all comes together particularly impressively.

For at least the first three-quarters of the book I was convinced this was going to be a five-star review. Atlas Alone is tightly written, the immersive virtual reality is brilliantly handled and the challenges that Dee faces are gripping. It's a must-read-on title with enough clever twists to keep the reader wondering, and uncovers the conspiracy behind the destruction of civilisation on Earth just after the ship departed.

The reason I've dropped a star is the book's ending. More often than not, I think a novel is too long. In this case, maybe 40 pages from the end I was starting to think 'there isn't time to sort this out properly' - and there wasn't. The book has what I'd call a short story ending, rather than a good conclusion of a novel. This doesn't prevent it from being an excellent book - I just wish that the ending didn't feel rushed.

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Review by Brian Clegg

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