Book Review: Planetfall by Emma Newman
“Someone’s coming toward the colony. From outside.”
Lee Suh-Mi felt called to establish a colony on a world far beyond Earth and 1,000 people felt called to join her. Something happened when they arrived at the planet in Suh-Mi’s vision however, and a couple of decades later, Ren is still haunted by it. She and Mack are the only two who know the truth; whatever happened was considered so potentially devastating that the other members of the original landing team were murdered to prevent them from telling the other colonists. Or were intended to be murdered. When Suh-Mi’s twenty-something grandson approaches the colony, it’s clear that at least some members of the team managed to survive. What’s not immediately clear is what Sung-Soo knows.
Sung-Soo’s close resemblance to Suh threatens Ren’s ability to continue playing along with Mack’s carefully constructed tale. Told from Ren’s perspective, hints at what happened are slowly revealed, as she reflects back to the beginning of her relationship with Suh, what she left behind back on Earth, and the events of that first Planetfall.
There’s a lot to love about this story. To begin with, it’s beautifully written and stunningly subtle. Set in the future, it features advanced technology including 3D printers capable of printing everything a self-sustaining colony requires, and chip implants capable of connecting individuals to the web and to each other. It also features an environmentally-friendly, successful colony established on an Earth-like planet. it’s not a utopia — while there are advantages to being as connected as they are, the story points out that there are disadvantages as well. And people will always be people. Add a mysterious alien structure, a slow reveal from a character slowly cracking under the burden of guilt, and a twist I didn’t see coming, and you have a story worth reading again and again.
The question of religion versus science underlies the story but the reader isn’t pushed one way or the other.
I was exasperated by Ren but that’s not a bad thing. Tormented by whatever happened, she can’t face it directly, but the arrival of Sung-Soo won’t let her continue to bury it. Hence the slow reveal. I like having to work for my mystery so I was hooked even though I was never able to connect with her. I didn’t pick up on her illness right away and when Sung-Soo discovered it, I knew it was important but I didn’t realize how important it was — I was mostly stuck on not understanding the illness itself.
I love it when an author can genuinely catch me off-guard and Newman did just that when the book hit its climax. The clues were there — I just didn’t pick up on them. Stunningly subtle. Reading the book through a second time, I couldn’t believe that I’d missed what was so obvious.
I did have a few quibbles with the book but they were minor. There was a detail that seemed like it would be bigger than it was — ah well. In addition to Planetfall, there was another “event” that was mentioned but never really fleshed out. And for all of the description provided, there wasn’t any about the local wildlife — it’s mentioned on a few occasions, so you know it exists, but that’s it. I want to know what’s roaming the grasslands and why nothing ventures close to God’s City.
The first time I read the book, I thought the ending felt rushed. The second time, I appreciated it more. I would love to see a sequel.
Becky likes to read … A LOT. When she’s not reading, she likes to pretend that she can garden. Her thumb has no hint of green whatsoever but luckily her plants are forgiving. Her favorite books are The Shannara series by Terry Brooks