This year I decided to really get back into reading, preferably at the rate of one or two completed reads a week. With that in mind, I picked up several books based entirely on their covers. Not solely for cover art, but also based on the small blurbs on the front and back of the book.
When I came across Planetfall it seemed like a very promising read. Blurbs called it “enthralling, glorious, heartbreaking, beautiful, thrilling” and a whole host of other intensely positive and compelling adjectives. Add in that it’s a science fiction novel and I was definitely in for this!
I have rather mixed thoughts on this book, right out of the gate.
This book is written in first person, present tense. I generally don’t enjoy books written that way, though in the case of this book I thought it worked well.
Our main protagonist is Renata Ghali, and she is a 3D-printer engineer with PTSD and some rather serious anxiety problems. She’s also afflicted with something else that has affected her quite severely, but I want this review to remain spoiler-free.
Her voice was clear and we get a sense of who she is rather quickly. Her anxiety is very realistically portrayed, as is her PTSD. Flashbacks of her past occur constantly throughout the book as she remembers them. It can throw you off course a bit, but I liked learning of her background. I found the interjection of the flashbacks distracting even though I realize that it gives the reader a good sense of Ren’s mental state.
Moving on from that: the setting. I’m not spoiling anything by telling you that this book takes place on an alien planet. There isn’t really any world building at all, apart from the homes the colonists live in. There are slight differences from Earth but this is an Earth-like planet with the exception of “God’s City”, which I won’t get into here.
The colonists are all engineers or scientists – people with skills that are necessary to build a community on a new planet. Oddly, none of these people seemed at all curious about God’s City, or Suh, or any of the factors in the alien environment. I understand that they’ve been on this planet for decades, but generally scientists continue to pursue knowledge in different forms.
I also found it odd and unlikely that the colony would rely so much on 3D-printing for everything, including food, but considering its set in a murky future I was willing to accept that – if unhappy about it. Even accepting it, it would be strange that only one person would be responsible for the maintenance and management of the machines.
Putting aside the odd science factors that upset me, there were things about this book that I liked. I loved Sung-Soo’s character. His delight at the things he’s never before experienced, and his concern for Renata’s mental state. I loved Kay as well. Her medical expertise and curiosity, and her kindness and relationship with Ren. Characterization in this novel was certainly not lacking. You really get a great sense of who people are.
I actually loved the ending of this book as well – though that seems to be where people who liked the rest of the book faltered. It was more science fiction, and I felt extremely satisfied when I read it. The extreme build-up of the last few chapters really wrapped up well in the end.
If you read this novel expecting straight-up science fiction you may be disappointed. If you read this novel looking for the story of a rather broken woman who just happens to be living on a different planet, you will be more than satisfied.
I will most likely read more from Emma Newman, though perhaps not science fiction.