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Book Review: Planetfall, by Emma Newman


Planetfall

Ace/Roc, 2015, 336 pages



Renata Ghali believed in Lee Suh-Mi's vision of a world far beyond Earth, a planet promising to reveal the truth about our place in the cosmos, untainted by overpopulation, pollution, and war. Ren believed in that vision enough to give up everything to follow Suh-Mi into the unknown.

More than 20 years have passed since Ren and the rest of the faithful braved the starry abyss and established a colony at the base of an enigmatic alien structure where Suh-Mi has since resided alone. Ren has worked hard as the colony's 3-D printer engineer, creating the tools necessary for human survival in an alien environment - and harboring a devastating secret.

For the good of her fellow colonists, Ren continues to perpetuate the lie forming the foundation of the colony, despite the personal cost. Then a stranger appears, far too young to have been part of the first planetfall, a man who bears a remarkable resemblance to Suh-Mi.

The truth Ren has concealed since planetfall can no longer be hidden, and its revelation could tear the colony apart.




Slow and boring and histrionic, basically a melodrama about an old woman dealing with grief and lies by turning into a hoarder, except it's set on another planet.

I will give Planetfall credit for being, well, different. I mean, it's not your usual sci-fi novel about landing on another planet. But instead of gee-whizzing about the technology and the alien structure the colonists discover, the technology is handwaved (it's never quite clear to me how a bunch of civilians started an interstellar colony mission from scratch) and the alien structure is just a MacGuffin that never really does much.

The protagonist is Renata Ghali, a 70-something scientist who is the colony's 3D printing engineer, manufacturing things for the struggling colony. She lives alone in her little personal quarters and refuses most social contact. We learn that when the colonists arrived, 20 years ago, something went terribly wrong. They lost some of the landing pods and the colonists aboard, all presumed dead. And Renata's lover, another woman named Lee Suh-Mi, went into seclusion inside the alien edifice, from which she now issues annual messages that are received with an almost religious adoration by the surviving colonists.

Early on, from Renata's internal monologue, we know that she and another of the survivors has been keeping a terrible secret, one that's pretty easy to guess. Why is Suh-Mi sitting like a monk for twenty years in an alien artifact, and how exactly does she survive there? What happened to those landing pods? It doesn't make much sense unless you assume it's all a lie.

The catalyzing event is a young man who claims to be Suh-Mi's grandson arriving at the colony. He claims to have been born after planetfall, the descendant of some of those lost colonists who were presumed dead. This obviously throws the colony into turmoil, while he goes about trying to "befriend" Renata, and eventually exposes her hoarding mental illness among other secrets.

Renata's grief and trauma is the main focus of the book, a depressed lady engineer coping (poorly) with guilt and the loss of her lover and struggling with mental illness. And at the end, even after all the reveals and things go to hell, it was still boring.






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