I finished reading Emma Newman’s novel Planetfall a couple of evenings ago and I’m been trying to figure the best way to write about it since. In general terms, the easy stuff is … it’s science fiction; it takes place on another planet with the cast of the story being a group of colonists that have left an Earth where something isn’t completely right with the world.
Now, to move on from the easy stuff, one has to be careful to work around the revealing of spoilers. So let’s go –
The main characters –
Ren. Renata Ghali is an Engineer. A very, very private Engineer who tends to shy away from socialization with the others. She’s responsible for maintaining and repairing all of the colony’s 3D printers. She’s also the person most responsible for building everyone’s houses from printed parts. She also has some terrible secrets which come to bear to basically help trigger the climax of the story.
Suh – Lee Suh-Mi was the spritual leader of the colonists and the person who convinced them to leave Earth on what was essentially a religious, or spiritual, pilgrimage.
Mack – Mack is, for lack of a better term, the political leader of the group. Or at least he’s cultivated a role something between that and theater magician or perhaps con artist. He appears to be a mentor and friend to Ren, but as the layers of the Planetfall onion are peeled back, it’s clear that Mack has deeper, darker secrets even than Ren that if revealed will likely cause a complete fracturing of the colony. He has Ren essentially trapped in a role that she comes to despise and tries to fight (or at least thinks about it.)
Sung-Soo – Sung-Soo, who stumbles in from the wilderness one day, is revealed to be Suh’s grandson fairly early on. He latches on to Ren, but ….
So the basic plot lays out like this:
- Suh leads a group of about 1000 people to leave Earth on a starship for this distant planet that she learned about after ingesting the seed of an alien plant (yeah, that always leads to odd things happening, right?)
- In orbit around the planet, groups of people go down to the surface to prepare for planetfall – or the mass landing of everyone – and investigate “God’s City” as Suh calls it
- Most of the group achieves successful planetfall, except for one group whose pods go off course and end up landing (crashing?) in a remote area far away from the others
- The main group establishes their colony at the foot of God’s City – which is actually some kind of giant ?organism? that resembles an overgrown plant with seed pods and the like – and has internal passages that can be explored.
- Because the main group is so busy surviving and establishing their colony, there is no time (they’re told) to search for the missing group’s pods
- Suh leads expeditions inside God’s City and eventually disappears on one of them, the colonists believing that she has “gone to God” and will be returning one day with great wisdom, etc. etc. etc.
- Eventually, the main group of colonists settle in to what amounts to a live of 3D printed luxury. They operate with the highest of high tech, all of them connected and on line with one another at all times with implanted chips that operate not unlike some of the nascent tech out there today – Occulus Rift, Google Glass, etc. – but without all that bothersome external hardware. Clothes and building materials are printed. Food and meals are printed. Tools and trinkets are printed, all from raw materials recycled from discarded items tossed in to the “masher” or mined from the planet.
- One day, more than 20 years after planetfall, Sung-Soo arrives, disheveled and coming from …. ?where? We don’t know for certain, but the most likely place is from the lost colonists landing (crashing?) area. Sung-Soo is clearly not of the high tech type of the main colony and is far too young to have been part of the original group. At this moment, everyone comes to the crashing realization that the group must have survived and had children. Sung-Soo is Suh’s grandson
- From this point on, things get strange, sticky, odd and … uh … let’s just say “bad” Awful secrets are exposed, people’s lives are destroyed and still more awful secrets are exposed.
Here’s the point where I have to stop and simply say that the book is a great read. The climax is not one I saw coming at all. The ending even more so. But the bottom line is that Emma Newman keeps the read engaging, exciting and thrilling with just enough layered intrigue and hidden information in the writing to keep the reader guessing at each plot twist.
Then there’s the slime ……….