#RRSciFiMonth: Planetfall by Emma Newman
Sci-Fi November is a month-long blog event hosted by Rinn Reads and Over The Effing Rainbow this year, created to celebrate everything amazing about science fiction! From TV shows to movies, books to comics, and everything else in between, it is intended to help science fiction lovers share their love and passion for this genre and its many, many fandoms.
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Stand Along
Publisher: Roc (11/3/15)
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Long story short: I loved Planetfall…except the ending. If you’ve ever enjoyed a great book that you nonetheless had serious issues with, then you’d probably know what I’m feeling. I’m still fantastically happy I read it though, because it has an amazing premise; while it does take a while for events to unfold, following along as they do was half the fun.
The story opens on a world far from Earth. Protagonist Renata Ghali is called urgently to the colony boundary when a mysterious figure is spotted heading towards the settlement. As the stranger approaches, even though Ren doesn’t recognize him, she sees that he bears a striking resemblance to her friend Suh-Mi, also known as the Pathfinder—the woman who had led their group here to this planet all those years ago to escape a polluted and over-populated Earth. But then, more than two decades have passed since they arrived here on a mission of faith and Suh-Mi had entered the gargantuan alien structure they found when they made planetfall. They called it God’s City, and everyone knows the Pathfinder is within it now, convening with a higher power in order to impart her wisdom to the colonists.
So, just who is this mysterious newcomer? He came alone, and it is astounding to think he’s survived by himself after all this time out there in the hostile alien wilderness. He’s also too young to be part of their original group to arrive on the ship to this planet. The young man claims to be the grandson of Suh-Mi, but only Ren and the colony master Cillian “Mack” Mackenzie know why that information would be dangerous. If it’s true, it could mean an end to the colony’s whole way of life, a life that they have spent years attempting to cultivate into their own little utopia.
First off, I love colonization sci-fi. I love that theme of arriving at a whole new world, establishing a territory and building a new home with your blood, sweat, and tears. I find these kinds of stories fascinating, celebrating the pioneer spirit at all levels, and sometimes the personal narratives of the characters can be very inspirational. Planetfall, on the other hand, has a darker tone, and it’s a very different and unique offering in this subgenre. I was compelled by the mysterious vibe, the way the plot slowly revealed itself in layers, often in the form of flashbacks and memories. Bit by bit, you can piece together a better picture of what’s really going on.
One issue, however, was my feelings for the protagonist. That’s the funny thing about me and characters; sometimes I can relate to them even when they’re wholly unlikeable. Their personalities can be abrasive, repulsive, or completely at odds with mine, but if they’re written well, most of the time I manage to make a connection anyway. Unfortunately, this was just not the case with Renata. When it came to Ren, I always felt like there was a gap there I couldn’t bridge. It’s not that she’s unlikeable, because she has some very sympathetic qualities. Yet I still had a hard time feeling anything for her but pity, and I hated that. Part of the reason is the way she was written, and the fact that the story places a rather large focus on her mental disorder. I think it’s important to explore these issues, but in Ren’s case, her compulsive behavior is used as a convenient plot device. I could feel the author’s hand very strongly in the story thread surrounding Ren’s struggles, and it only emphasized how unempowered the character was. It’s possible that I’m being oversensitive about this, but in any case, I wasn’t entirely comfortable with it.
My main issue though, was the ending. As I approached the final 10% of the novel, I started to feel a little nervous. Knowing beforehand that this was a standalone and that there had to be so much more left in the story to be addressed, I did wonder how the author was going to wrap everything up with so few pages left. The result was unexpected, to say the least. It felt like someone flipped a switch on this story and scrambled all its circuits. It was hard to believe I was still reading the same book. It’s difficult to describe, but everything following the climax felt like a string of non sequiturs, the tone and style and narrative veering off in a drastically unpredictable direction. Sometimes “curveballs” in a story are good, but I’m still torn about this one.
Still, Planetfall is a book I would recommend. In its finer moments the book is a thought-provoking narrative about the fear of the unknown, and how in times of uncertainty, those around you can be a comfort…or a strain. I love Emma Newman’s writing style, which gracefully highlights some of the darkness and heartbreak in the story. Slight feelings of frustration and disappointment are still lingering from that random ending and the lack of answers, but overall this was a good read.