Sleeping Giants Awaken: A Review

Sleeping Giants (2016)
Written by: Sylvain Neuvel
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 336 (Hardback)
Series: Themis Files #1
Publisher: Del Rey

Why I Chose It: When I first read the premise of this book, it sounded like something I would not like. I was halfway to “No, thank you,” when I read “giant metal hand.” Then I read several reviews from people who said that they couldn’t put it down and loved it even though they are not normally big fans of science fiction. Since I am trying to expand my reading horizons, I decided to give it a whirl.

The premise:

A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand.

Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved — its origins, architects, and purpose unknown. Its carbon dating defies belief; military reports are redacted; theories are floated, then rejected.

But some can never stop searching for answers.

Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the provenance of the relic. What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unraveling history’s most perplexing discovery — and figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result prove to be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?

A few mild spoilers ahead.


Discussion: I found the premise of this novel to be somewhat misleading because I went into it thinking that Dr. Rose Franklin would be the main character. Rose is a large part of the story, but the books belongs to the nameless man who at first seems to a member of the United States military but whose identity only becomes more mysterious as the story continues. The nameless man clearly has a long-standing interest in the metal hand. When soldiers Kara Resnick and Ryan Mitchell crash an Army helicopter in Turkey and find a giant metal forearm on the ground, it becomes clear that the hand is part of an enormous robot that was not created by human technology. The nameless man brings together Dr. Rose Franklin, the two soldiers, and linguist Vincent Couture to begin working on a project to uncover the robot’s secrets.

Neuvel takes a risk that pays off with the novel’s format. The story is primarily told through interviews, supplemented with news articles and journal entries. The interviews reveal how manipulative and deceitful the nameless man is but also how slavishly devoted he is to the project. The interviews keep the book moving at an interesting, fast pace. I also appreciate that Neuvel includes enough science to make the story believable but not so much detail that would make it hard for a liberal arts-minded person like me to enjoy it.

As the book progresses, it becomes clear that the robot is a sort of monkey’s paw (a concept that I originally learned about from The Simpsons) in that it can grant unlimited power but will extract a terrible price. Kara, Ryan, and Vincent all suffer losses as a result of being involved with the project, and Dr. Franklin is forced to contemplate if she will someday be compared to the scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project. In a timely section, South Korea uses the robot to provoke North Korea, sparking an international incident. Even the cryptic nameless man brings to feel the strain as he receives a visit from a chipper but threatening stranger who knows a suspicious amount about alien technology.

Sleeping Giants is more than just thrilling science fiction. Neuvel delves into deeper philosophic issues of the price that we pay for technological advancements and how life on earth would change if we knew for sure that aliens existed. At one point, the nameless man tells the President’s assistant for national security affairs,

“Why do you think your government funds so many war and terrorism movies? Hollywood does your dirty work for you. Had 9/11 happened twenty years earlier, the country would have been in chaos, but people have seen enough bad things on their television screen to prepare them for just about anything” (pg. 183-4).

I found this fascinating because I distinctly remember thinking on September 11th, “I feel like this is a movie.” If humans learned that aliens existed, would we be all be comparing the experience to various science fiction movies? I’m hoping for cuddly E.T. aliens, not the nightmarish creatures from the Alien movies.

One aspect of the book that I did not like was that the character of Kara felt flat and stereotypical. She’s drop-dead gorgeous, the toughest solider, and the best pilot, but she has intimacy issues and doesn’t trust love. Kara feels more like an action movie heroine than a real person. It is a fairly minor flaw as the other characters, especially the nameless man, are unique and vividly drawn.

In conclusion: As someone who mostly reads stand-alone, non-speculative fiction, I am used to having all the answers when I am finished reading the book. At the end of Sleeping Giants, I felt like I barely had the questions. I did enjoy the story, and I want to know what happens to these characters and to see where Neuvel goes with the book’s deeper philosophical undertones. The second book of the Themis Files series, Waking Gods, was released in April 2017, and I will definitely read it.

4 Comments

  • Weasel of Doom August 31, 2017 at 9:32 am

    oooh, and it turns out I bought it already 🙂

    Reply
  • Shara White August 31, 2017 at 9:42 pm

    There’s something about the way this book is described that makes me think of what you’d get if you took a Michael Crichton novel, a Transformers story, and Kara Thrace from Battlestar Galactica (seriously, I’m getting Kara Thrace vibes here) and put it in a blender. I guess I’ll find out eventually: I’ve had this book on my Kindle for a while.

    Reply
  • Lane Robins September 1, 2017 at 1:25 pm

    I think blurbs these days are being misleading in a peculiar way. Like Sleeping Giants, Six Wakes & A Closed and Common Orbit have blurbs focused on one woman character when they’re really ensemble pieces. I wonder if it’s noticeable because it’s a woman standing in for an ensemble instead of a man? Or if it’s just a change in the way publishers describe ensemble books?

    Reply
    • Kelly McCarty September 4, 2017 at 8:51 pm

      I heaven’t read the other two books but I’m not sure that I would describe Sleeping Giants as an ensemble piece. I think there is a main character, but it’s the nameless interviewer, not Rose. I’m not sure–maybe Rose will be more important as the trilogy goes on and that’s why they make her out to the main character?

      Reply

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