Only Human by Sylvain Neuvel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is the third book in the Themis Files. I really liked the first two; Sleeping Giants set up a fascinating concept, and Waking Gods carried through with slam-bang giant robot vs. giant robot action.
Only Human does neither of those things. The story kind of drizzles to a halt, with none of the action and worldbuilding of the previous two books. I think a large part of this is because the series' most interesting character, Kara Resnik, is dead, and her daughter Eva just isn't....up to snuff as a protagonist, let's say. She spends a lot of time after her forcible return to Earth whining and crying to get back to the aliens' planet and fighting (both with words and with robots) with her father. (And she doesn't even get to go back in the end. Rose Franklin brokers the truce between the fighting human factions, and sends the remaining robots back to the aliens' planet because the human race isn't mature enough to play with alien toys, and Eva doesn't insist on returning as well? That's kind of a letdown, and points out that the characterization in this book is simply lacking.)
Another not-so-good aspect to this volume is the heavy-handed social commentary. Now, every book ever written has a political viewpoint of some kind, especially in the SFF realm. Science fiction and fantasy writers use their imaginary worlds to comment on the human world they are living in. In this case, Earth after the alien-robot invasion is pretty much America after 9/11, on steroids. To put it bluntly, the entire human race has lost their effing minds, and has taken out their fear and trauma over being attacked on the people who least deserve it and have nothing to do with it: humans with certain percentages of alien DNA. I think there are some very valuable things to say along this line, and I commend the author for developing these parallels to the current state of American society. I just wish he had been a little more subtle about it.
Also, the ending is not terribly plausible. (view spoiler)[Rose Franklin summons the aliens to Earth one last time via a leftover device, the same one that copied her mind and body and brought her back to life. She uses the presence of thousands of robots to basically force the United States and Russia to stand down, by stating that the Ekt will be watching Earth from now on, and if we don't stop hating and killing each other, they will step in with unspecified but presumably horrifying consequences. Except that it's all a bluff, due to the aliens' strict non-interference policy (think Star Trek's Prime Directive, even more rigid and cruel, as the Ekt let one of Rose's friends die of cancer on their planet rather than cure him). In reality, the Ekt are never coming back, so this bit of theater is useless. Sooner or later some nation on Earth will break the truce, nothing will happen, and humans will be worse off than before. (hide spoiler)] It felt like the author wrote himself into a corner, and this is his not very good way of trying to wriggle out of it.
There's a lot to like about this series, especially in the first two books. I just wish the author had taken a deep breath and followed through on the ending. That would have made for a more unsettling, but more interesting book.
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