22 October, 2021

LitStack Rec: The Films in My Life & Planetfall


Planetfall, Emma NewmanPlanetfall

It feels a little weird to do this, but I just can’t help myself. This week, I’m going to recommend a book that I have just reviewed: Emma Newman’s science fiction novel Planetfall.

Please note that while I’ll try not to divulge any spoilers in this recommendation, I am going to go into more detail about one aspect of the book that really made an impression on me, and that might be giving out too much information for those of you who prefer a pristine reading experience. If you simply want to learn about the book, please read the review. If your interest is piqued and you want to know a bit more, then by all means, read on.

One of the most wonderful things a book can do for me is linger in my imagination long after it’s been read and put back on the shelf. Planetfall has done this for me. Not so much in the setting or the plot, although both of those are admirable. Instead, it is the fluid development of the main character that kept me thinking about her place in the story, weeks after reading the book.

Renata Ghali – Ren – is one of the original members of an extraterrestrial expedition that has established a colony on the uninhabited world christened Planetfall. She is a scientist and an artist, specializing in 3D printing technology, on which the colony depends. Throughout the novel we see how decisions made by a select few on first contact clandestinely impacted (and continue to impact) the colony, and how they prey on those survivors who were a party to those decisions. (Sorry for being obtuse and clumsy here, but I’m trying very hard not to spoil anything.)

Through internal monologue, present day happenings and interactions with others, and memories of times and relationships passed, we get a comprehensive picture of Ren fairly quickly. There are a few additional reveals along the way, some of great significance, but we pretty much know her from the onset, and what we know is incredibly well done. But what continues to involve me in this story is the realization of how much we learn about Ren initially that goes unheralded.

No parts of the story come off as overt foreshadowing, but instead feel like seamless outflows of the narrative. The reveals that do occur are not so much “ah ha!” moments, but “ahhh, yes” moments. This intrinsic understatement of Ren’s character belies the incredible depth built into her – Ren comes across as a real and understandable. A reader can enjoy her on a peripheral level, or delve into her complexities (such as, is she truly mentally ill, or are we being led to believe the problem is deeper than it is, and if she is disturbed, how far back did the roots of that imbalance establish itself; was one of the “big reveals” really the cause for her actions, or was she merely coping the way she had her entire life?).

Even now I am able to look back at a remembered interchange with her mother, or the memory of when she first met the woman who was to become her lover, or the way she responds to the leader of the colony, and go, “Oh! Of course, she responded like this!” or “Ah, yes, she has always exhibited this need, even back then….” and see the emergence of a cohesive yet deeply isolated person. Not via the folding back of layers, but through an awareness of this person through time, based on the consequences of her life.

Amazing. And it’s still happening – my seeing more and more in her character. Ren is not a puzzle to be put together, but rather, a character coming even more sharply into focus as background images flare and blur. We have a first image of her, and then we pull out further and pull out further yet – not in time necessarily, but in understanding – and the view keeps changing and expanding and it’s incredible.

That’s why I’m recommending Planetfall. Not just because of the great story, or the incredible setting, but because the character of Ren is like a beautiful 3D rendering of something both scientific and beautiful, and essential. (Which is another insight that I just realized while writing this recommendation.) And because Emma Newman is a *bleeping* genius.

Sharon Browning

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