Atlas Alone by Emma Newman
Publication date: 18 April 2019
Genre: Science fiction
Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
This is a spoiler-free review for Atlas Alone, but will contain huge spoilers for After Atlas.
By now you all know how much I absolutely love Emma Newman’s Planetfall books, so there’s no surprise that I was eagerly awaiting, and ultimately ended up loving, this book. The first sequel in the Planetfall series, Atlas Alone picks up six months after the events of After Atlas and deals with the consequences of those events in deep, thought-provoking, and totally horrifying way that only Emma Newman can achieve.
Hugo Award winner Emma Newman returns to the captivating Planetfall universe with a novel about vengeance, and a woman deciding if she can become a murderer to save the future of humanity.
Six months after she left Earth, Dee is struggling to manage her rage toward the people who ordered the nuclear strike that destroyed the world. She’s trying to find those responsible, and to understand why the ship is keeping everyone divided into small groups, but she’s not getting very far alone.
A dedicated gamer, she throws herself into mersives to escape and is approached by a designer who asks her to play test his new game. It isn’t like any game she’s played before. Then a character she kills in the climax of the game turns out to bear a striking resemblance to a man who dies suddenly in the real world at exactly the same time. A man she discovers was one of those responsible for the death of millions on Earth.
Disturbed, but thinking it must be a coincidence, Dee pulls back from gaming and continues the hunt for information. But when she finds out the true plans for the future colony, she realizes that to save what is left of humanity, she may have to do something that risks losing her own.
Atlas Alone is all about the question of sacrificing a few to save millions. I love the morality of this issue in fiction, and I think Newman has really nailed the difficulty of the decision and the resulting repercussions. What makes this particular story work so well is the groundwork she has laid out for us in previous books. Everything she has written in Planetfall, After Atlas, and Before Mars has led to our deep understanding of Dee’s decision making and the reason she makes the choices she does — from the hothousing and contract slavery, the crushing power of the GovCorps, the restricted freedoms of the average citizen, and the integration of AI and neural chips all come together to give us a full picture of Dee’s world and what the destruction of Earth truly means for her and for humanity.
One of my favorite elements of Atlas Alone is the way that mersives and gaming is integrated into the story. Dee is, as we know, a gamer and mersives were always going to play a major role in her story. However, I was so impressed by the way Newman used them as a tool to not only tell us the story of Dee’s past, but also to explore recent history and the rise of the GovCorps, something I’ve been interested in learning more about since Planetfall. The reader doesn’t get stuck in a single environment — in this case, the Altas 2 — and the mersives give a chance for more world building and exploration.
Newman is the author to go to for interesting, complex, and unique female characters and Dee is no exception. Her characterization is a perfect balance of strength and vulnerability and I just feel like I got her. Her decisions and actions are not always one I agree with, but I totally understand where she is coming from and never had a moment of questioning or doubting where she was coming from. I especially loved exploring her backstory via mersives and gaming, all the while gaining more and more insight into who she is at her core. Dee, like all of Newman’s female characters, is a fully fleshed-out, complex, and unusual character and I loved reading her story.
Atlas Alone is probably my favourite book in the series so far, which says a lot because I absolutely love all of these books. The twists and turns of this story kept me on my toes (and staring out in the the distance long after I had finished). For me, Newman is at the top of her game and is easily one of the best and most talented science fiction authors writing today.
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