After Atlas (Planetfall book 2) by Emma Newman (book review).

‘Planetfall’ was a fabulously engaging novel of deep characterisation and otherworldy intrigue that left me highly impressed. ‘After Atlas’ and ‘Before Mars’ are both dubbed as ‘Planetfall’ novels, as they are set in the same universe, but the stories are seemingly unconnected other than a shared background and references to the departure of Atlas, the ship that carried the colonists featured in ‘Planetfall’.

In fact, I read ‘Before Mars’ second, although it’s the third book, but ‘After Atlas’ takes place at around the same time and refers to the Mars mission featured in that other book, so I would say any of the three could be read in any order. Of course, it gradually becomes evident that the three are a lot more closely linked than it first appears.

Having got the matter of chronology out of the way, what of ‘After Atlas’ itself? It differs from the other two books in that the main character, Carlos Moreno, is a detective working a high-profile murder case and the book shapes up to be an intriguing murder mystery with government conspiracies thrown in for good measure.

What takes this novel out of the ordinary though is the fascinating character who, much as in the other two books, has a chequered and difficult history that makes his reactions and feelings not necessarily what you might expect. As I’ve come to expect, writer Emma Newman handles the visceral emotions expertly, building a picture of a focused, flawed individual who wants to do his best to solve the crime but at the same time has to battle his own demons from the past that this case dredges up.

The same ubiquitous technology forms the backdrop to society in this novel. The printers that produce everything, including food, the built in chips that connect everyone to the virtual world along with the personal assistants that accompany them. These technologies are woven subtly throughout the story and, in each book, their effect on the characters is explored from a different angle. With Carlos being a police officer, the security and privacy aspects of the all-encompassing connections and surveillance are explored more thoroughly. Carlos also has an aversion to printed food, allowing us to gain a glimpse of how this technological advance has affected society.

Carlos’ status as an employee of the Noropean government is not as straight-forward as it would seem and this, too, affects his interactions with suspects, witnesses and fellow law-enforcement officials. The dead man, Alejandro Casales, is the charismatic leader of a cult that took Carlos in as a child, a past that he thought he had put behind him but that profoundly affects his investigation.

References to characters from the other books as well as the fact that Carlos’ mother went on the original Planetfall mission, start to tie the histories of the three books together. The emotional tension only increases in intensity as the complexities of the case become apparent and Carlos struggles against interference from on high.

This is another wonderfully gripping book from Emma Newman, one that advances her Planetfall setting to a new and compelling level and demonstrates her genius at character development.

Gareth D Jones

June 2018

(pub: Gollancz. 384 page paperback. Price: £ 9.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-47322-387-5)

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