Skip to main content

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.

Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you
Review by Brian Clegg


Popular posts from this blog

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.


The Lost Planets - John Wenz **

Reading the first few lines of the introduction to this book caused a raised eyebrow. In 1600, it tells us, Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake 'for his radical views - that not only was the Sun just one of many stars, but those stars likely had planets around them as well.' Unfortunately, this bends the truth. Bruno was burned at the stake for holding opinions contrary to the Catholic faith - for conventional heretical beliefs amongst which his ideas on cosmology were trivial. This was an unfortunate start.

What John Wenz gives us is a people-driven story of the apparent early discovery of a number of planets orbiting other stars, made by Peter van de Kamp and his colleagues at Swarthmore College in America, most notably connected to a relatively obscure star called Barnard's star. Wenz is at his best dealing with personal conflict. The book really comes alive in a middle section where van de Kamp's discoveries are starting to be challenged. This chapter works wel…

Bone Silence (SF) - Alastair Reynolds *****

Of all the best modern SF writers, Alastair Reynolds is arguably the supreme successor to the writers of the golden age. He gives us wide-ranging vision, clever concepts and rollicking adventure - never more so than with his concluding book of the Ness sisters trilogy.

Neatly, after the first title, Revenger was written from the viewpoint of one sister, Arafura and the second, Shadow Captain, had the other sister Adrana as narrator, this book is in the third person. It neatly ties up many of the loose ends from the previous books, but also leaves vast scope for revelations to cover in the future if Reynolds decides to revisit this world (he comments in his acknowledgements 'I am, for the time being, done with the Ness sisters. Whether they are done with me remains to be seen.')

As with the previous books, the feel here is in some ways reminiscent of the excellent TV series Firefly, but with pirates rather than cowboys transported into a space setting. Set millions of years in…