Review by John for PLANETFALL by Emma Newman.
John’s quick take: A novel and excellent story detailing a woman’s poignant struggle against mental illness, set within a science fiction tale of a fragile human colony struggling to survive and to uncover the truth of humanity’s place within the cosmos.
John’s description: After Lee Suh-Mi had a vision of a world far beyond Earth that was calling out to humanity, her friend Renata Ghali and a large group of faithful followers gave up everything to leave the troubled Earth behind on a voyage of exploration, knowing that they could never return. Suh-Mi guided them to a distant planet where an advance party makes planetfall and finds a strange alien structure.
Suh-Mi apparently disappears into the structure and consequently many of the following group are lost while trying to land on the planet. Renata and the other survivors set up a colony beside the enigmatic alien structure, believing that Suh-Mi is speaking to God and will return to them when she is ready. But now twenty two years have passed and it feels to Renata like a web of secrets and lies are crushing her. She is party to information which would surely destroy the colony, but feels like she can no longer bear the weight of that burden.
When a young stranger who bears a striking resemblance to Suh-Mi appears next to the colony, most of the colonists go into a frenzy of excitement believing this must be a sign of Suh-Mi’s imminent return. But for Renata the stranger’s appearance pushes her beyond her breaking point.
John’s thoughts: I love good science fiction and this book fits the bill. But what I particularly like about it is that the intriguing science fiction story is just the backdrop and the real story is the struggle of Renata to maintain her grip on her sanity. Newman’s description of what Renata is going through and the demons that she is trying to keep under control is really powerful and it makes for a compelling read.
Apart from the science fiction aspects and the powerful character study, the novel also has a cast of believable supporting players that have some depth to them. All too often in science fiction novels I find that characters are rather two dimensional and that stories rely too much on the science and the novelty – I’m pleased to say that is not the case with this book.
There is one aspect of story that I feared I was going to find bothersome and that was the potential religious overtone. Thankfully that didn’t turn out to be an issue. The foundation of the plot was the search for knowledge and for answers from greater beings, but that didn’t result in a story that was overtly religious in nature – which is something that would have really have turned me off. So potential readers need have no fears on that front.
Did the novel have any negatives for me? Well, the ending came rather quickly and lots of things were wrapped up in a very small number of pages. That was mostly ok but I’m still not sure if I actually enjoyed and appreciated the ending. Don’t let my possible concerns on that front put you off though. This is a very good novel and I’d rate if four stars.
Roc | Trade Paperback | $15.00 | 336 pages | November 3, 2015