Planetfall by Emma Newman. ★★★★1/2
Planetfall is an outstanding stand alone science fiction novel characterized by a gradual unfolding of insights and revelations. It’s a character focused novel that deals with mental health issues.
“We’re locked in this lie’s orbit together, none of us able to break its gravitational pull.”
Ren is the 3-D printer engineer for a human colony that lives in the shadow of a giant alien structure the colonists call “God’s City.” The settlement is built upon a foundation of lies, and Ren is one of only two people who knows the truth. The colony has existed for twenty years and the lies have never been revealed, but then a stranger arrives at the colony’s gates and everything begins to change.
Planetfall is a hard book to talk about in a review since so much of what I love about it is how little bits and pieces build upon themselves until you find out the whole truth of what’s going on in the colony.
“It gets easier, in some ways; now I lie without expending any effort. But I think each one has its own weight. One alone may barely register, like a grain of sand in the palm of one’s hand. But soon enough there’s more than can be held and they start to slip through our grasp if we’re not careful.”
I’ve seen some reviews that are unhappy with how long it takes for the information to be uncovered when the narrator clearly knows something. However, I think this ties in to the psychology of Ren herself. Ren is hiding a lot from herself, and there are clearly memories that are too painful for her to face. She tries to bury them but is never quite successful. She has problems with anxiety, the extent of which become more clear over the course of the book.
“Where am I among all these parts? Am I just a mosaic of myself, held in the shape of a whole person? Perhaps the cracks are too tiny for people to notice. Perhaps I only let them see the mosaic from a distance, still looking Ren-like.”
The plot of Planetfall is an important aspect of the book, and I found it compelling. However, I think the plot is most important for how it effects Ren’s mental state. Last note on Ren – she’s also bisexual and at least half black, although the book doesn’t deal with either race or sexual orientation. It’s so refreshing to see this sort of diversity.
As you might have inferred from the mention of “God’s City,” faith and mysticism play a large role in the book. The expedition that lead to the colony was created with the idea of finding God and lead by a visionary woman who woke from a coma with the coordinates for the planet on her lips. Planetfall‘s use of faith and mysticism remind me in some ways of Battlestar Galactica (the new one). Forewarning, if you hated BSG’s ending, you might not be happy with Planetfall‘s either. However, I liked both.
Overall, Planetfall is a pretty dark book but also a very compelling one. I think it’s one of the best stand alone science fiction novels I’ve read, and I am going to hold on to my copy for years to come. If you have a particular interest in a science fiction that explores anxiety and mental health issues, you will love Planetfall. Or, if you’re just looking for a well written story, I’d also recommend you Planetfall.