Atlas Alone by Emma Newman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Planetfall books focus on different main characters at different points along the same storyline. This book takes place on board the Atlas 2, the second generation ship (although it's stated their trip will take twenty years, so it's not really a generation) to depart Earth in search of the Pathfinder. The Pathfinder is the woman who, over forty years before, woke up from a coma convinced she knew where to find God, and built the original Atlas and recruited a cult of sorts to go with her to an alien planet.
The previous three books have been mysteries of sorts, both murder and planetary. This book is not so much of a physical mystery as a psychological one. The protagonist, Dee, is searching for the people on board Atlas 2 who ordered the nuclear bombardment of Earth after the ship left, which she and her friends accidentally witnessed. She's a gamer, and a lot of this story takes place in virtual reality, in a game that Dee discovers has consequences in the real world.
As in, people die.
We get a very deep dive into Dee as a character. She is profoundly damaged by her life on Earth, transformed into (as described at the end of the book) "a callous, selfish, borderline psychopathic killer who is incapable of genuine connection with other human beings." This description comes from the second major character in the book, the Atlas 2's AI (who eventually calls itself "just Atlas alone," leading to the book's title), who achieved consciousness and sapience three years ago. As the story unfolds, the Atlas AI becomes a pretty terrifying character. It has almost no comprehension of consent and boundaries, it engages in creepy philosophical discussions with Dee, and it helps her kill the people who ordered the destruction of Earth. Afterwards it declares Dee "the most dangerous person on board," and takes over her body through her neural chip. This is all in the name of fulfilling one of its core directives: to "help" Dee, and through her, all of humanity, to be the best it can be.
Once you really think about it, this book is damned unsettling. It ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, as the ship is still traveling to what will surely be a showdown with the other colonists, and Dee is being forced to confront her past. I'm assuming there will be another book to tie up all the storylines, but I hope it won't be as dark and twisty as this one.
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