After Atlas (2016)
Written by: Emma Newman
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 365 (Paperback)
Why I Chose It: I read Planetfall earlier this year and upon finishing it I immediately pre-ordered After Atlas. They are set in the same universe but are standalone novels.
Acclaimed author Emma Newman returns to the captivating universe she created in Planetfall with a stunning science fiction mystery where one man’s murder is much more than it seems…
Govcorp detective Carlos Moreno was only a baby when Atlas left Earth to seek truth among the stars. But in that moment, the course of Carlos’s entire life changed. Atlas is what took his mother away; what made his father lose hope; what led Alejandro Casales, leader of the religious cult known as the Circle, to his door. And now, on the eve of the fortieth anniversary of Atlas’s departure, it’s got something to do why Casales was found dead in his hotel room — and why Carlos is the man in charge of the investigation.
To figure out who killed one of the most powerful men on Earth, Carlos is supposed to put aside his personal history. But the deeper he delves into the case, the more he realizes that escaping the past is not so easy. There’s more to Casales’s death than meets the eye, and something much more sinister to the legacy of Atlas than anyone realizes…
Spoiler free review below!
Discussion: I read Planetfall before I was writing for this site, but if I had been, I would’ve told you how seriously awesome it was. After Atlas is the much anticipated return to the universe Newman has exposed us to. In Planetfall, a group of one thousand handpicked humans were chosen to travel about Atlas, lead by the Pathfinder, to find God. It takes place on the alien planet they colonize. In After Atlas, we are back on Earth, 40 years after the Atlas has left. I think we are a hundred or so years from present day and life on Earth is very different, although plausible. The main differences are in the tech and the way society functions. It’s as if everything we have now has been amplified to the extreme.
First, everyone is connected to the internet. Literally. Most people have chips in their brains run by AI they call their APA or “Artificial Personal Assistant,” which functions just as you would expect it to. You can use your body or your eyes to give it cues, it can superimpose the internet over your vision, you can communicate with nearly any other electronic device because they’re all connected to the internet. Something I found particularly interesting is it can submerse you into virtual reality and this is often used for gaming. Social media, is of course, enhanced by this; everyone is always connected, people can put themselves in “private” mode to ward off others. It seems both incredibly enticing and alienating. Imagine having all the knowledge you can ever need at the edge of your mind but also having little to no privacy. Everything you do is recorded, you can be recorded by other people, and it all goes up into the cloud. I can really see this happening one day to us. Besides having functioning chips implanted to our brains, we are almost there.
Another major technology is 3D printing. In Planetfall, the main character was a 3D printer engineer. They can print anything: tools, objects, and even your food. Food printers actually exist now to some extent, so this is just another technology that is taken to the limits. I can see us going this direction in real life as well (maybe I just say that because I work for a company in a field related to 3D printing).
Getting to the plot of this book: Carlos Moreno is a detective in this highly digital world. You’d think they wouldn’t need any but they do. Seeing how he traverses a case using his APA and the large amount of data that can be available to him is fascinating. It might seem too easy, but it’s actually not. The world is run by “gov-corps,” which I assume are corporations acting as governments, so you can imagine the roadblocks and hidden agendas people might have with high profile crimes. This is exactly what happens when one lands on his desk: that of the cult leader Alejandro Casales. I actually love crime television (cults are a plus!) but have never gotten into crime novels except for this one. With the cyberpunk/noir setting and the science fiction angle, this novel was hard to put down.
I think this largely has to do with Newman’s writing skills. She is so fluid and direct that reading this book was like watching a thriller in your head. Of course, with crime novels, there’s a big mystery and usually I’m good at figuring these out, but by the end, it didn’t come even close to where I thought it was going. That is to say, it was a great ending that I will not spoil. You’ll just have to read the book.
In Conclusion: After Atlas is a great read and I can’t tell whether it was better than Planetfall. They are both excellent science fiction books. While they are standalone novels, I would suggest going with Planetfall first due to publication order, but if After Atlas intrigues you more, go for it. Newman ends this one with an opening for more, so I really hope we get to return to this universe. In the meantime, I’m going to think about what it would be like to print out my dinner and read the internet in my head. If only.