Emma Newman’s Planetfall appears, at first blush, to be a straight-up, sci-fi colonization tale. A group of human space pioneers follows their leader, Suh, to an unnamed planet far, far from Earth. Once the colonists arrive on said unknown planet, Suh vanishes into a huge, odd plantlike structure found growing, or possibly built, there and dubbed “God’s city” by the settlers. Suh never reemerges from God’s city and becomes an oracle of sorts, believed to be still alive somewhere inside and called the Pathfinder by her disciples. She even becomes the subject of an odd pilgrimage a chosen colonist makes into God’s city as a yearly rite.
Twenty years later, when the events of Planetfall take place, the colonists are thriving, having quite successfully built a life for themselves on this anonymous rock spinning through space. You’ve got Mack, your strong, male colony leader with a secret. Helping to keep that secret, and hiding secrets of her own, is your female protagonist, Ren, the colony’s master printer (practically everything the colony needs to exist, including food, is created by 3-D printers, a concept I have yet to entirely get my head around). And you’ve got a wild card in Sung-Soo, a newcomer, offspring of two, long-thought dead, original colonists, and apparent grandson of Suh.
All’s good and usual in sci-fi land so far, right? So while you, the unsuspecting reader, are trucking along, engrossed in this, your latest spacey discovery, you begin to realize that Ren, the first-person narrator of Planetfall, is just a weeeeee bit different from your average planetary colonist. She’s fiercely private, she suffers from social anxiety and is a card-carrying introvert. Shoot, I could even relate a little . . . to a point . . . until it became clear that there was something very, very off with Ren. Hint: There’s a reality show showcasing people like Ren.
And this is where Planetfall becomes a different kind of colonization tale. I think it’s safe to say Emma Newman gets points for originality by incorporating a character with Ren’s particular disorder into her sci-fi work. I can’t say I particularly liked Ren, even though I could empathize with her at first. But her refusal to come to grips with her disease leaves me frustrated as she becomes increasingly more destructive to herself and the entire colony.
Newman has a new book coming out this fall, set in the same world as Planetfall. I’m curious to see where she heads for the next installment.
Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided to me by PENGUIN GROUP Berkley, NAL / Roc via Netgalley. I would like to thank the publisher for providing me this opportunity. All opinions expressed herein are my own.