LitStack Review: Planetfall by Emma Newman

by Sharon Browning

PlanetfallEmma Newman
Emma Newman
Roc Books
Release Date:  November 3, 2015
ISBN 978-0-425-28239-7

Planetfall is one of those wonderful science fiction books where you know something is wrong from the very beginning, but it takes the bulk of the story to find out just what that wrongness is.  Not because the source of the problem has yet to be uncovered or fully realized, but because it is part of a conspiracy from the past that the narrator passively believes must remain hidden “for the good of the colony.”

Renata Ghali is the narrator; she is an engineer and the practical mechanic for the 3D printers on which the colony on the new world of Planetfall depends.  She also was the companion of Lee Suh-Mi, known as the Pathfinder, the spiritual leader and driving force behind the expedition to Planetfall.  It was Suh who had the visions that led the colonists to this untainted planet, in the belief that they would find God there.  For many of them, it seems like they just may have found what they were looking for.

But Ren knows the truth; she and colony leader Mack are the only ones left who know the whole truth.  For over twenty years they have carried out a charade meant to bolster the hopes of the thousand or so people who now call Planetfall home, a charade that has been successful, but that has grated against Ren’s conscience.

Then one day the unexpected happens.  A young man comes out of the wilderness, the sole survivor of a group of colonists whose escape pod crashed way off course during the original landing; all aboard were believed to have died.  This young man, Sung-Soo, is the offspring of those original lost colonists, and the grandson of Lee Suh-Mi.  His appearance causes shock waves through the colony, and threatens to unravel the lies that Mack has so carefully constructed – and that Ren has colluded with for so long.  “Just stick to the story” Mack tells her.  But Ren is not so convinced, and has to live with the feeling that perhaps it is time that the truth comes out, for good or ill.

Planetside is a gripping, thrilling, heartbreaking tale of how our past binds us, and how the actions we take have consequences that cannot be controlled throughout the passage of time.  Through Ren’s voice, we experience a powerful testament for the forces that can either make us strong, or drive us to madness.

Ren is a compelling narrator:  a dreamer with a tender heart, biddable, the daughter of a pragmatist father and an aloof artiste of a mother, who has consummate skills as a 3D fabricator, blending both science and art.  Her skills have benefitted the colony immensely, but have been so understated that she is able to operate far below the radar, living an almost hermetic life that allows her flaws to pass unnoticed.  Watching her spiral – both high and low – as the comfortable life she has settled into unravels, is a tour de force of character building.

Author Emma Newman gives us in Ren a woman of simple desires who nevertheless is complex and problematic, both strong and weak, both focused and adrift, something with which most of us can relate to and fully embrace.  The setting of the novel may be exotic and the situation otherworldly, but the core of the story remains eminently  human.  Planetfall is a book that will resonate a long time after the final page is turned.

~ Sharon Browning

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