5 December, 2022

LitStack Rec: The Good Soldier and Planetfall

Planetfall by Emma Newman

Planetfall is one of those wonderful science fiction books where you know something is wrong from the beginning, but it takes the bulk of the story to find out just what that wrongness is.  Not because the source of the problem has yet to be uncovered, but because it is part of a conspiracy that the narrator passively believes must remain hidden “for the good of the colony.”

Renata Ghali is the narrator; she is an engineer and the practical mechanic for the 3D printers on which the colony on the new world of Planetfall depends.  She also was the companion of Lee Suh-Mi, the spiritual leader and driving force behind the expedition to Planetfall.  It was Suh who had the visions that led the colonists to this untainted planet in the belief that they would find God there.  For many, it seems as if they just may have found what they were looking for.

But Ren knows the truth; she and colony leader Mack are the only ones left who know the whole truth.  For over twenty years they have carried out a charade meant to bolster the hopes of the thousand or so people who now call Planetfall home, a charade that has been successful, but that has grated against Ren’s conscience.

Then one day the unexpected happens.  A young man comes out of the wilderness, the sole survivor of a group of colonists whose escape pod crashed during the original landing; all aboard were believed to have died.  The appearance of this young man, Sung-Soo, causes shock waves through the colony, and threatens to unravel the lies that Mack has so carefully constructed, and that Ren has colluded with.  “Just stick to the story” Mack tells her.  But Ren wonders if perhaps it is time for the truth to come out, for good or ill.

Planetside is a thrilling, heartbreaking tale of how our past binds us, and how the actions we take have consequences that cannot be controlled.  Through Ren’s voice, we experience a powerful testament for the forces that can either make us strong, or drive us to madness.

Ren is a compelling narrator:  a dreamer with a tender heart.  She is a consummate 3D fabricator, blending both science and art, and her skills have benefitted the colony immensely.  But by staying understated, she is able to operate under the radar, living a hermetic life that allows her flaws to pass unnoticed.  Watching her spiral – both high and low – as her comfortable life unravels, is a tour de force of character building.

Author Emma Newman gives us in Ren a woman of simple desires who nevertheless is complex and problematic, both strong and weak, both focused and adrift, immensely relatable.  The setting of the novel may be exotic and the situation otherworldly, but the core of the story remains eminently human.  Planetfall is a book that will resonate long after the final page is turned.

—Sharon Browning


  • Lauren Alwan

    Lauren Alwan’s fiction has appeared in the O. Henry Prize Stories, the Southern Review, the Alaska Quarterly Review, StoryQuarterly, in the Bellevue Literary Review. She is the recipient of a First Pages Prize, the Goldenberg Prize for Fiction, and.a citation of Notable in Best American Essays. Her essays have appeared in ZYZZYVA, Catapult, World Literature Today, The Rumpus, The Millions, Writer's Digest, and others. She is a prose editor at the museum of americana, an online literary review. Follow her on Twitter at @lauren_alwan and learn more at www.laurenalwan.com