PLANETFALL by Emma Newman (author of the Split World series and host and co-writer of the Tea and Jeopardy podcast) is a sci-fi tragedy, filled with love, faith, secrets, and the frailty of humanity. Newman combines wonderfully detailed world building with full-realized, conflict-ridden characters that makes for a stellar read.
PLANETFALL is the story of Renata Ghali, part of a crew who travelled across the cosmos in search of a planet that was promised to reveal mysteries about God and humanity’s place in the universe. The mission did not end quite like expected, but, seated at the foot of God’s city, the colony has not only managed to survive but prosper–in a large part do to Ren’s ability to keep the 3D printers running over the decades since landing. One day, alarms go off when the sensors detect a man approaching the colony from the wilderness. Even more interesting, this man, Sung-Soo, must have been born after planetfall, and he looks a lot like Suh-Mi, the Pathfinder who led the colonists into God’s city, and Ren’s former lover. Shortly after planetfall, Suh-Mi entered God’s city, but never left. Ever since, Ren and Mack, called the Ringleader for his ability to cajole, persuade, and lead, have been keeping some powerful secrets. Secrets that are about to be exposed.
I quite enjoyed Newman’s world building. From the 3D printed everything to the implanted devices that allowed for communication, health notifications, replaying memories, and more, to the zero footprint colony that has been built on an alien world, Newman has created a sleek, but realistic and lived-in world. Although there are a lot of items here that will feel familiar to sci-fi fans, I felt it was still original and quite enjoyable.
But even more than that, I really enjoyed Newman’s characters. Because this story deals with faith, love, secrets, betrayal, and mental illness, Newman is able to portray characters in all of their broken, conflicted, fragile, heartbreaking magnificence. Moreover, because Newman uses first-person POV makes the pain of all of these faults and cracks more immediate and dramatic. And although this would seem to be a technique that would make secret-keeping difficult, Newman succeeds in making these revelations surprising and impactful, delaying them until it’s almost unbearable. Of course, when secrets can’t be held back, they tend to explode…
I’m hard pressed to recall a sci-fi book that I’ve read recently that could match PLANETFALL’s handling of faith, pain, and love. Job well done, and definitely recommended to everyone.