After Atlas by Emma Newman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is the second book in the Planetfall series. I've now read all three, and with the way I disliked (extremely) the ending of the first, Planetfall, I'm happy to say this and the third book in the sequence, Before Mars, don't have much to do with the first other than existing in the same timeline. (Although if the series keeps going the disparate plots will inevitably mesh. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it.) This book is more of a straightfoward mystery and police procedural (at least for the first three-quarters of the narrative) with a pointed commentary on a horrifying dystopian future where democratic governments have fallen, swallowed up by corporations whose only motivation is profit.
Our protagonist this time around is Carlos Moreno, an investigator for the former UK's Ministry of Justice. He is pulled into a suspected murder investigation, after the death of one Alejandro Casales, the leader of an American religious cult called the Circle. Carlos and Casales have considerable history, as Carlos spent eight years of his life in the Circle and his father is still a member. But he has no choice about taking the case, as he is in indentured servitude (read: contracted slavery) to the MoJ. His investigation pulls him deep into his own past, both of his relationship with Casales and the Circle, as well as the history of the Atlas expedition, the ship that left Earth forty years before. All this comes together in a smart, well-executed thriller with a shocking ending.
Each of the Planetfall books have been mysteries to one degree or another. This is more on the police procedural side, and Newman excels at it. She lays out her clues fairly and doesn't cheat the audience, and the procedural itself, in this cyberpunk future with (almost) everyone sporting implanted digital assistants and ubiquitous cameras recording the entire human population's every move, is fascinating. But there are also other ominous themes at work: the loss of privacy, the death of democracy, and the self-destructive bent of a society that would allow both to happen.
Carlos Moreno is a well-written character with depth, a dogged investigator who overcomes his personal demons in the end. Emma Newman has done a very good job of resurrecting my interest in the series, after the disastrous (in my opinion) ending of the first novel. Now I'm invested, and am looking forward to further books in the series.
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