Tag: Sylvain Neuvel

Waking Gods (Themis Files #2)

Cover image for Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvelby Sylvain Neuvel

ISBN 978-1-101-88672-4

“I’m grateful for Themis, to be in her company every day. I feel drawn to her. She isn’t of this world either. She doesn’t belong here any more than I do. We’re both out of place and out of time, and the more I learn about her, the closer I feel to understanding what really happened to me.”

Almost a decade has passed since the events of Sleeping Giants, when Rose Franklin and her team hunted down and assembled the pieces of the giant alien robot known as Themis. Rose has dedicated her time to studying Themis, and Kara and Vincent have continued to try to master operating her. Then another robot materializes in the middle of London, and the government’s response inevitably leads to a deadly confrontation. The appearance of Hyperion also drives home how little the Earth Defense Corps really knows about Themis’ combat capabilities. And that knowledge will be more necessary than ever when more robots begin to materialize around the globe, in the world’s most populous cities. The aliens know that humanity has found Themis, and they are not happy about it.

The structure of Waking Gods continues in the interview format Sylvain Neuvel used with great success in Sleeping Giants, with the unnamed character who I always think of as the Interrogator resuming his contact with the Earth Defense Corp after a long silence. Neuvel continues to work this technique, for example by having General Govender practice his speech to the UN General Assembly for the Interrogator before he delivers it. This in fact makes for a more interesting scene than simply witnessing the speech directly, as we gain insight into the Interrogator through the changes he suggests. However, as the situation on Earth descends into chaos, the narrative structure devolves in parallel, taking on more of a transcript style than an interview format. Everything is falling apart, and the style mimics that. We do, however, find out more about the mysterious Interrogator, and his even more mysterious friend Mr. Burns.

It has been nine years since Rose Franklin returned from the dead, mysteriously missing three years of her life and memories. For all that time she has struggled with what this rebirth means, whether she is really Rose Franklin, or merely a copy with some of her memories and knowledge. That doubt has been eating away at her stability for nearly a decade, but when the robots begin to appear, and Themis is called into action, it is the world that has become unstable, and Rose who must hold steady in the face of the unknown. Her development is one of the most interesting aspects of this series.

One of the more disturbing plotlines picks up a dangling thread from Sleeping Giants. Before being ousted from the Earth Defense Corps, geneticist Alyssa Papantoniou harvested ova from Captain Kara Resnick without her knowledge or consent. Kara has never been informed about this violation, because those who knew about it decided that the situation had been taken care of with Alyssa’s removal. When it turns out that Alyssa may have had time to act on her plans before her ouster, they continue to delay telling Kara what was done to her as they try to confirm whether or not Alyssa succeeded. If I can get a little bit spoilery here for the remainder of this paragraph… I absolutely loathe plotlines where women who are childless by choice are forced into motherhood. And I especially hate the implication that their choice was just due to some sort of damage, and really they would be great mothers. In short, I really did not enjoy how Kara’s character was developed in this volume.

In Waking Gods, the genre elements of Sleeping Giants are intensified, and the plot becomes more fast-paced. There is now no question that Themis has alien origins, or that aliens visited earth long ago, and that some of them stayed behind. Waking Gods explores the fallout of these conclusions, but also the more dramatic effects of the aliens becoming aware of how humanity has developed since their last contact. At the same time, the aliens are not significant characters, since this is really an exploration of what it means to be human. Although the duology stands well together, the epilogue hints at the possibility of further adventures.

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You might also like The God Wave by Patrick Hemstreet

Sleeping Giants

Cover image for Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel by Sylvain Neuvel

ISBN 978-1-101-886694

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this title at ECCC 2016. All quotes are based on an uncorrected text.

“As a scientist, all I can say is that humans of today do not have the resources, the knowledge, or the technology to build something like this. It’s entirely possible that some ancient civilization’s understanding of metallurgy was better than ours, but there wouldn’t have been any more iridium around, whether it was five thousand, ten thousand, or twenty thousand years ago. So to answer your question, no, I don’t believe humans built these things. You can draw whatever conclusion you want from that.”

As a child in Deadwood, South Dakota, eleven year old Rose Franklin made an amazing discovery when she fell into a hole. Rescuers found her lying in the palm of a giant metal hand, surrounded by glowing blue light. Seventeen years later, the NSA recruits Rose, now an accomplished physicist, to head up a new project to investigate the origin and purpose of the artifact. In the time since her discovery, almost no progress has been made. The carbon dating of the artifact seems unbelievable, and the hand somehow seems to weigh less than it should given its size and composition. But Rose is willing to risk her career to say what no one else will; the craftsmanship and material in the hand are very likely not of this earth. And where there is a hand, should there not also be an arm, a body, a head?

The events of Sleeping Giants are presented in an interview format, without any other narration or contextual information other than occasional journal entries and conversation transcripts from some less formal settings. This is a particularly tricky choice because all character development and any necessary information about the science must be integrated into these interviews without making them seem too stilted. For the most part, Sylvain Neuvel carries this off very well. The interviewer is not a scientist, so he can reasonably ask for explanations of Rose’s discoveries. And since he likes to keep as much information as possible to himself, he often asks questions to which he presumably already knows the answers, in order to find out what his subject knows. One drawback is that some emotional situations, such as a disagreement that becomes a crucial turning point in the story, seem a little distant for the reader when encountered in retrospect. But overall, this style worked very well.

The interviews are conducted by a powerful and mysterious figure. Though he is ostensibly interviewing his subjects voluntarily, I found myself thinking of him as the Interrogator. He seems to be human, but he is not part of either the military or the government, though he has connections in both places. The source of his authority is unknown, but the very structure of the text rests heavily on that authority. He must be able to request interviews and compel answers with impunity in order for the interview format to work effectively. He obviously knows a great deal, and yet chooses to reveal it selectively, and only when it suits his purposes. He is as much a mystery as the artifact itself, his motivation and sources of information unknown. And he may be keeping as much from the reader as from his interview subjects; the files that comprise that novel are presented in order, but there are large gaps in the record. Crucially, however, the interviewer is not all seeing or all powerful, though he likes to seem that way to the research team. But through repeated encounters with a seemingly friendly but also manipulative old man, we see that he does not know everything, and that his actions can be influenced by those with enough power and perspective to see what he is up to. This compelling figure is central to the success of Sleeping Giants.

Throughout all of this runs a definite parallel to the Manhattan Project. Rose in particular thinks a lot about the consequences of the work they are doing, and its potential for misuse. Participants in the project are asked to keep journals as a way to both document events and cope with stressors, so in addition to the interviews, we have these more personal glimpses into their thoughts mixed into the text. Yet even as it becomes apparent that their discovery is potentially very dangerous, Rose and her team are so drawn in by the mystery of the artifact that it is questionable if they could stop searching for answers even if they wanted to. And she must also consider that the knowledge of life beyond this earth may bring humanity together in a way that was never possible before, by changing our perspective on the universe.

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ECCC Fiction Preview

It’s Tuesday, and normally I would have a new fiction review for you, but I spent my weekend at Emerald City Comic Con, and consequently didn’t get much reading done. But! ECCC included an awesome set of panels called the Writer’s Block, and as a result I got to meet a bunch of great science fiction and fantasy authors, and add a whole bunch of recent or upcoming titles to my TBR pile. Here are some of the books I’m excited about, starting with those that are already out, and progressing to those that are being released in the coming weeks or months:

United States of Japan by Peter Tieryas (03/01/16) – Angry Robot Books

Cover image for The United States of Japan by Peter TieryasI’ve read at least a couple of alternative history novels that posit Germany winning World War II, and I know that there are way more out there. Tieryas’ alternate history focuses on the results of a victory by the Japanese Empire, and is partly inspired by Philip K. Dick’s classic The Man in the High Castle.  Add in some giant mecha and this is basically alternative history meets some of my favourite anime series. Tieryas spoke on the ECCC panel The Science Behind Science Fiction, and he sparked my interest with his discussion of the research that went into ensuring that he honoured the tragedy of “all those who suffered during the events of WWII.”

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel  (04/26/16) – Del Ray

Cover image for Sleeping Giants by Sylvain NeuvelI’m trying to read more Canadian fiction this year, and I’m especially interested in Canadian genre fiction,  so I was excited to encounter this novel by French-Canadian linguist Sylvain Neuvel . After accidentally discovering a buried giant mechanical hand while exploring as a child, Rose Parker becomes a cutting-edge physicist focused on unraveling the mystery of her discovery. The novel incorporates a variety of documents, including transcripts that give it a heavy focus on dialogue. I was lucky enough to pick up an ARC, so I hope to review this one soon, as we are only a couple weeks from the release date. Update: Read my full review.

Breath of Earth by Beth Cato (08/23/2016) – Harper Voyager

Cover image for Breath of Earth by Beth CatoI really enjoyed Beth Cato’s The Clockwork Dagger series, which did a great job of combining magic into steampunk fiction. Her next novel, due out in August, seems to take a similar path, blending magic and alternative history. The US and Japan have banded together into the United Pacific, with their eyes set on a vulnerable China. The protagonist is a powerful geomancer who must hide her powers because she is a woman. But it is 1906, and one of history’s most powerful earthquakes is about to be unleashed, and unscrupulous geomancers are determined to harvest that power for their own ends.

Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier (09/13/16) – Scholastic

Cover image for Ghosts by Raina TelgemeierPopular graphic novelist Raina Telgemeier is known for her autobiographical comics Smile and Sisters, as well as her adaptations of the Babysitters Club books into comic form. Her most recent book, Drama, also drew significantly on elements of her own life. Her forthcoming graphic novel, Ghosts, ventures more purely into fiction, with the story of two sisters who move from Southern California to a coastal town in Northern California because the younger sister, Maya, has cystic fibrosis. I was able to snag a preview of the first 23 pages; Ghosts continues to incorporate the sibling relationships Telgemeier writes so well, but will also include elements of magic realism! Update: Read my full review.

The Rift Uprising by Amy S. Foster (10/04/16) – Harper Voyager

The Rift Uprising PreviewA classified experiment has torn open thirteen multiverse portals, called rifts, at locations around the world. The Allied Rift Coalition is formed to police the portals, and this task force includes the creation of enhanced child soldiers, who are implanted with special chips at age seven, and become active Citadels at fourteen. Ryn is one such Citadel, and has been posted at the rift in Battleground, Washington State for three years. Ryn is supposed to be the perfect soldier, but when a young man crosses through the rift and begins asking questions, she finds herself having doubts of her own. Part of what piqued my interest here is the fact that Foster had her teenage children read The Rift Uprising, and also work-shopped it with their AP English class. She didn’t seem to have much patience for YA fiction that doesn’t acknowledge the realities of actual teens, so I am curious to see what kind of novel that has produced. I was able to pick up a preview of the first chapter, but it is hard to tell much from that.

Those are just five of the novels I heard about this weekend, and I saw four of the authors speak at ECCC as well. But enough talk, it’s time to start reading!