When I picked up The Planetfall series I was hesitant, because Emma Newman makes me cry. Or to be more fair, her writing tends to make me cry, because I get so invested in her characters that I get ALL THE FELLS. The crying to go bad with her Split World series, that I had to postpone reading the last few books in the series, they were simply way too hard for me. I meet Emma at Åcon this spring and she very sweetly apologized for making me cry and signed my copies of the Planetfall books. Luckily her Planetfall series, were less hard on my eyes and poor feelings. That is not to say that they didn’t give me deep emotions – just with less weeping and more crying.
The three first Planetfall books can be read in any order, according to Emma Newman. I read them in this order: Before Mars, Planetfall and After Atlas, I will however review them in publication order and talk about the series as such.
My review of The Planetfall series
I am a big fan of Emma Newman’s work, but be warned it always shows humanity from its worse side. However she also always shows how powerful friendship and companion can be – and all the shades in between.
The setting of The Planetfall series:
Democracy has failed and Mega corps has taken over the world after the fall of democracy in the 2030’s – that idea is horrifyingly easy to see. It is very much a cyberpunk setting. Unlike a Black Mirror episode, Newman paints both the good and the bad things about this new technology – though not about the mega corps – they are pretty much all shit.
Fifty years before the books a woman called the Pathfinder has found the coordinates to an alien world where she will meet God. She and about 1000 others build a spaceship and traveled to this world. The first three books show different sides of what happens just before the time capsule she left behind is opened.
Planetfall is set on the alien colony, that the colonist build after they got to the world. The story takes place a long time after they made planetfall.
Planetfall is in many ways a strange book. It is a quite philosophical book and has strong themes of spirituality and religion. It is a book where I for much of the book, didn’t quite get what was going on. Not to say that is was hard to follow, but the part of the story that had taken place before the story started was related very slowly to the reader – at some points frustratingly so. At points it did feel like it was stringing me along. It was however captivating. I wanted to know what was going on with the colony.
I really liked the protagonist, Ren, who has a disorder and it takes quite some time before we know what it is. Her disorder is seen from her own point of view and she has real trouble admitting anything is wrong. You never get the feeling that she is “crazy” but she does experience the world differently than the people around her. Her values are different. Some of the scenes of her was not only distressing but also very powerful.
The Ending – spoilers
I am glad I didn’t start with Planetfall, and I am not sure I would recommend starting with it as I think the other two books are better and I think I would have given up if I had read it first.
After Atlas is set in England, just before the capsule is to be opened. We follow Govcorp detective Carlos Moreno, who is the son of one of the colonists from Planetfall. He is trying to solve a murder of a prominent cult leader on a very tight time scheduled.
After Atlas is a really intense book. It is really fast paced and has an excellent mystery at its core.
It is very much a police procedural in a cyberpunk world. The corps are only interested in profit and has so many secrets to hide, that solving the crime turns into a mine field. I loved seeing Newman’s view of how tech and police work might develop. Her point about just because all the data is out there, doesn’t mean that crime is super easy to solve – because of the shear mountain of data is really interesting and that often it doesn’t tell us about the motives of the people involved.
Our protagonist is a really interesting character with a lot of secrets – he is hyper-competent but also really broken. I got a bit tired of how long it takes her to give us his secret back story – it does feel a bit like being kept in the dark for the sake of it. But it is really interesting in a car crash kind of way.
Newman shows a really bleak version of humanity – I like to believe that we are better than our worst self most of the time, but that we can be pushed to what Newman shows if there are no meditating forces on the world. If people get the sense that this is the only way the world can be – things tend to get worse.
The book was super intents and the mystery just kept getting more intriguing. I am happy that most of the mystery did get wrapped up.
Before Mars is about Anna Kubrin, a female geologist and artist arriving at the Mars base to paint for the Mega-corp that hired her. Something is terribly wrong and she tries to figure out what is going on. At the same time she has to try to work with the base’s four other inhabitants, who are all here on regular work as well as staring in a reality tv about the base.
Like all of Newman’s protagonists Anna is super competence within her area of expertise, but she also has her own demons to taggle while she is trying to deal with the plot. Anna is suffering from postnatal depression, and has clearly not gotten any help to deal with it. The depression shapes her self-confidence but doesn’t remove once ounce of her competence. It does however shape how she interact with her colleges.
The contrast between her clear competence and her lack of self-confidence makes for a really interesting read. The book also shines a spotlight on parts of motherhood that we rarely gets to see – how hard it is some times. Motherhood tends to be portrait as hard but filled with happiness and fulfilment that makes all the sacrifices worth it. Newman shows how that isn’t always the case. The mom in my book club said that those part rang really true, even for someone who didn’t suffer from postnatal depression.
Anna’s relationship with her husband back on Earth was also really interesting to watch unfold during the course of the book. What looked like a loving couple in a happy relationship turns out to be anything but. Their interactions were also really interesting.
The mystery of what is going on is just really intriguing and thrilling and unlike in the first two books, I never got the feeling that I got stringed along, because I learned what was going on along with Anna. I will not say more about it as I am sure I will get into spoiler territory if I do.
The whole book is thrilling, intriguing, emotional and powerful.
If I were to read them again (for the first time), I would start with After Atlas, then read Before Mars and end with Planetfall. Both because each book reveals a bit about the rest but also because I think After Atlas has the best hook.
I am really looking forward to Atlas Alone coming out next year.
Abuse, mental illness: Hording and postnatal depression, child neglect, suicide, suicidal thoughts, human trafficking, slavery, gas lighting
Published: 2015, 2016, 2018 by Ace
Read: September & October 2018
Pages: 336, 369 & 352
The author: Female, white, United Kingdom
The protagonist: Female, male, female. All hyper competent professionals. Different ethnicity
This review was originally posted: October 13, 2018