Unique Critiques

Planetfall

Science Fiction Book Review

This was my first read of anything by Emma Newman and it won’t be my last.  She is an expert at capturing ambiance and the overall feeling of a scene.  The plot was almost an afterthought to the character development and putting the reader in the back seat of this new world that felt like it was pulled from a Madeline L’Engle acid trip.

Our main character is a futuristic biological engineer by the name of Ren.  She is part of a community/cult of early space travelers that are chasing the dream of her messianic ex-girlfriend.  They end up on a world that contains what is known as God’s city.  Our messiah led them here across the stars to seek the age old answers that Douglas Adams so neatly summed up with the number 42.  Newman doesn’t sweat the details of the trip or the science that got them there.  The book’s focus remains on the world they ended up on and the mystery of several plot holes that she grudgingly fills in through a series of flashbacks.

The mystery drives the plot and the character development.  As each tidbit is revealed over the course of the novel, you gain more and more insight as to why the characters are so deliciously broken.  Not surprisingly, the fractures come from deceptions so big that they can and do create fissures of characters that sets up our main character as the star of her own personal Hoarders episode.  This flaw seems somewhat irrelevant to the overall plot of the book until the next reveal when it all makes sense.  Newman captures the essence of this mental split in a series of gut wrenching experiences that makes you want to crawl into a corner with Ren and slowly rock yourself to sleep.

The science Newman does feed us is a fascinating prediction of what biotech could evolve into.  Ren has the ability to build living structures.  Each structure regulates itself by biological rules.  Instead of carpet, you get moss, instead of chairs, I imagined some elaborate looking mushrooms.  Newman doesn’t take you that deep into the details allowing you to imagine it on your own which is better anyway.  Whatever Ren comes up with in her biotech architecture, she ends up printing somewhere and integrating the new print into an existing ecological system.  Very cool stuff.

One of the most interesting elements of the world was God’s city.  The city is one enormous biological entity.  Travel from room to room within this gigantic entity is done, sickeningly, through valves and sphincters.  Needless to say, mucus seems to be the primary wall decoration as she swims through rivers of snot to try to discover what it all means.  I did struggle a little with the imagery of God’s city.  I often found myself re-reading passages several times to relate a little better until I finally decided that the vagaries were Newman’s recipe to let the reader try to work it out for ourselves.

The ending was excellent and I found myself thinking about the book long after I finished.  Read it, it sticks with you.

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