1 December, 2022

LitStack Recs: Stoner & Atlas Alone

Atlas Alone, by Emma Newman

Image result for atlas alone

Hugo Award winner Emma Newman’s latest in her Planetfall series is spectacular.

It has intrigue, a great cast of characters, a captivating premise and a breathtaking plotline. It has space travel, mystery, fast pacing, and one of my favorite constructs – gaming as landscape.

Deanna – Dee – is six months in on a 20-year journey to the new home for a group of travelers from Earth. But Dee is one of the few who knows the secret of what they left behind:  a world that was destroyed by nuclear armageddon, launched by a shadowy faction aboard the very ship on which she now inhabits. As her rage builds, as does her almost visceral need for not only vengeance but to keep the same malicious elitism from destroying the world for which they are bound, Dee struggles with a course of action. When a mysterious game designer with almost limitless skill allows her access to a “mersive” that triggers the trauma of her past, she realizes she now has a tool in which she can exact retribution and deliverance in the real world – but at what cost?

Dee is a wonderful character:  distant, distrustful, damaged. She wears a “mask in front of a mask” so that others do not glimpse who she truly is. Only one other person on board the ship, Carl, knows of and shares her stunted past, but she holds herself apart even from him. This is her armor, her protection, even as her anger burns within her. Her one escape is through gaming, so when she is invited by circumstance to take part in a competition on a leet server with someone through which she can gain access to valuable data, we are a party not only to her skills, but to her shrewd, deliberate methods. This layering of her character is both fascinating, and heartbreaking.

Each one of Ms. Newman’s Planetfall novels – Plantfall, After Atlas, Before Mars – weave a compelling story of humanity’s future while standing solidly on their own. Each also lets us experience this unfolding future through characters who struggle with their own demons: mental illness, constructed servitude, maternal vacancy, and now emotional distance, which allows for so much more depth than from players who mainly go through the motions of plot and action. Each book can be enjoyed without the others, but in reading all of them, one can see how the they are slowly being drawn together. Atlas Alone is not the final chapter in this larger story – but it is compelling both on its own and part of the larger scheme. Just like Dee herself, layers upon layers. Fascinating and heartbreaking. I can’t wait to see where Ms. Newman takes us next, and through whose eyes we will witness it.

—Sharon Browning