Book Review: 'Planetfall' by Emma Newman
Here's why 'Planetfall' is a solid sci-fi novel for readers looking for thought-provoking high science fiction.
I recently finished Planetfall by Emma Newman and wanted to share a few thoughts on this intriguing high sci-fi novel. The story follows Ren, a scientist and engineer, who was a part of Earth’s first settlement on another planet, sailing off into space aboard the Atlas. Interestingly, the story takes place after the humans have already settled in on the new planet, which is outside a structure where some of the characters believe a god resides in.
It was an enjoyable read and had some noteworthy strong points. We’ll start with the good them move on to the bits I’m a little more critical about.
The Hot Tea
The setting and culture in Planetfall are fantastic. The new colony survives off of highly advanced 3D printing technology, which I found to be a fantastically realistic way to explain a human colony surviving on another planet. Considering that 3D printing technology in 2018 is already quite advance and able to use a variety of different materials, it’s easy to imagine how this technology would continue to advance and become invaluable in the future. In Newman’s novel, the 3D printers are capable of making food, clothes, and any sort of item necessary.
As the story goes on, it’s never forgotten that while people are living mostly peacefully, they’re still on another planet. There are many food sources in the environment that regular Earthlings cannot eat as well as a fear of foreign pathogens that persists even more than 20 years after making the infamous planetfall into the new world.
It’s also intriguing to see how society has changed in the new colony. With a population of roughly one thousand during the events of the book, we learn early on that many people have embraced recreational drug use and somewhat frequently moving on to different sexual partners. Ren once mentions that she knows some people will even enter new relationships on an annual basis, and from the sound of it, with very little resentment from both parties.
In terms of characterization, Newman paints Ren as an incredibly understandable protagonist. While the setting is fanciful, Ren’s feelings and problems are easy to sympathize with. Planetfall can be described as a character study, for we explore Ren’s thoughts and anxieties in great depth. Even Ren’s more serious issues that may be less common among people reading the book are made entirely understandable with how carefully Newman builds up Ren’s character.
Moving onward, the setting is one of the strongest points in Planetfall. Newman describes things in the perfect balance of detail versus action; we get a clear sense of what the colony looks like and a solid understanding of how it works. The information on how the colony gets by is introduced very organically and doesn’t feel like info dumping at all since Ren is an engineer and frequently works with the 3D printers and other infrastructure systems.
Looking at the plot, there are some excellent surprises at the end, but I found myself enjoying the twists that were more subtly foreshadowed than the obvious ones.
The Lukewarm Tea
The plot is built upon secrets and mysteries. This can be interesting, but it becomes frustrating at times because Ren knows all the dark secrets of how the colony began. They’re regularly mentioned and alluded to, but they aren’t revealed until the end of the story. While that choice in pacing is to be expected, the issue is that the book is written in the first person and the secret is only being kept from the reader.
Subsequently, we’re curious, but we don’t have a protagonist who is also curious. Instead, we see Ren in deepening states of anxiety as she struggles to keep a terrible truth hidden. While there’s still tension that can be shared between reader and protagonist, it’s a different kind of tension, and the big secret is mentioned so regularly that you may find yourself becoming frustrated with Ren thinking about it so often but not revealing to the reader what it is.
Second, the ending is something that disappoints many reviewers of this book, myself included. I won’t give the ending away, but I found myself let down by the course of its events and a bit saddened that there were still questions left unanswered. Nevertheless, I will still give the other books in the Planetfall series a try, but each book thus far follows a different protagonist.
This book caught my eye since it was actually my first time seeing a book written and narrated by the same person on Audible.
Newman has a lovely voice and always imbues the perfect amount of emotion into each scene as she reads the book.
It’s very stirring to hear an author reading her own book, for there’s a certain sincerity and authenticity that makes this audiobook stand out. There are many fantastic narrators out there, but it’s fascinating to hear every word vocalized precisely how the author intended.
Planetfall has some noteworthy issues with its deeply lackluster resolution, but other elements of the book are so memorable that it is still very much worth reading. There's a lot of good in this book to offset the ending. However you read, whether it’s hard copies, ebooks, or audiobooks, it’s worth grabbing a copy.