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Planetfall (SF) - Emma Newman ****

In Planetfall, and its sequels After Atlas and Before Mars, Emma Newman has produced some of the most original and intriguing science fiction I've read in a good while. There are many familiar SF tropes here, yet they are handled in an extremely intelligent and unexpected fashion. 

Planetfall sees a group of colonists on a distant star, who enjoy a high tech lifestyle alongside a strange relationship with a non-human construct known as God's City. Exactly how and why they are there is only very gradually made clear, helped by the arrival of a stranger in paradise, a survivor of a group of the colonists who were cut off from the rest on arrival and were presumed to be dead. The stranger does not have the same technology and seems better integrated with the natural environment.

Central character Renata, who quickly becomes one of the main contacts for the stranger, is a damaged individual - we only gradually learn why she is like this and the extent of the personality problems that she has.

There were flaws in this first novel in the series (largely fixed in the even better sequels), though nothing that got in the way of it being a genuinely interesting and engaging piece of writing. The biggest problem (which occurs to a lesser extent in After Atlas and Before Mars) is that the central character has a secret that is not revealed to us until late in the book, but its existence is repeatedly flagged up, which is annoying for the reader. This concealment (combined with her personality flaws) makes it very difficult to relate to Renata - because we aren't let into this crucial part of her history until far too late.

However, this does not get in the way of Planetfall being enjoyable, engaging and thought provoking reading - and this book provides essential background for the truly excellent novels that follow it.

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Review by Brian Clegg

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