Thursday, April 13, 2023

BOOK REVIEW: Atlas Alone (Planetfall, #4) by Emma Newman

Atlas Alone is the fourth book in the Planetfall series written by Emma Newman. This unusual speculative fiction series is set in a near future where humanity has launched colony ships to the stars and technological advances have transformed human society in many ways, not all for the good. The series of books in the Planetfall universe are Planetfall (2015), After Atlas (2016), Before Mars (2018), and Atlas Alone (2019). Interestingly, the author says that the books can be read in any order, because the stories in each are only loosely linked to each other, although events do occur in line with the publication order. 

I chose to read After Atlas first because it is a police procedural set in an advanced technological future. One of my favorite thigs is reading genre mashups, and murder-mystery combined with science fiction technothriller is right up my alley. (See my A review of After Atlas.) 

The story in Atlas Alone takes place after the events of After Atlas but while many of the characters are in both books, their prominence changes. In After Atlas the protagonist and source of most of the first-person perspectives was Carlos Moreno, who is a detective working for the "gov-corp" (government-corporation) of  Norope (i.e. Northern Europe). Moreno is tasked with finding out who was responsible for the death of Alejandro Casales, the founder of The Circle, a religious cult formed after the departure of the Pathfinder mission to "find God" in orbit around a distant star (these events are depicted in Planetfall). Carlos' best friend is Dee, a fellow immersive gamer who understands and appreciates his personality quirks.

However in Atlas Alone, Dee is the main character. She, Carlos and Travis (another legacy character from After Atlas) are on Atlas 2, are on a spaceship headed towards the same star that the Pathfinder mission sailed to in the first Atlas when people start dying on the ship, apparently while connected to augmented reality gear. Dee has recently been given access to an advanced AR system on the ship so she can participate in an ongoing virtual reality competition with some of the most important people on the ship. As Dee does so she begins to find out more of the secrets behind the ship with the help of a mysterious person who doesn't appear on the manifest and seems to also have unfettered access to the ship's systems. The story comes to a surprising (and somewhat violent) end which resolves most of the questions raised in Atlas Alone but does lead to more questions about the future of the Atlas 2 mission, hopefully to be addressed in future books in the Planetfall series.

Overall, I didn't enjoy Atlas Alone as much as I had After Atlas. The first reason is that despite superficial similarities (there are dead bodies in both, a whodunnit plot thread, and an advanced technological setting) they aren't really the same genre of book. Atlas Alone isn't really a police procedural/murder mystery like After Atlas, it's more of a psychological thriller. We spend a lot (maybe too much?) time in Dee's consciousness as she grapples with some of the more serious ramifications of the some of the events at the end of After Atlas. Secondly, the commentary on corporate/capitalistic overreach that was a significant feature of After Atlas is simply not as pungent or salient in the later book.

I think I will eventually read the other two books, Planetfall and Before Mars in the series. The books tend to be relatively short (under 400 pages), peopled with a diverse cast of characters and often include interesting/thought-provoking questions. For people who are anxious to spend more time in the Planetfall universe, Newman is releasing a brief collection (161 pages) of 10 short stories called Before, After, Alone which are set there.

Title: Atlas Alone (Planetfall, #4).
Emma Newman.
Format: Kindle.
Length: 336 pages.
Publisher: Gollancz.
Date Published: April 16, 2019.
Date Read: January 22, 2023.

GOODREADS RATING: ★★ (4.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A/A- (3.83/4.0).


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