Six months after she left Earth, Dee is struggling to manage her rage toward the people who ordered the nuclear strike that destroyed the world. She’s trying to find those responsible, and to understand why the ship is keeping everyone divided into small groups, but she’s not getting very far alone.
A dedicated gamer, she throws herself into mersives to escape and is approached by a designer who asks her to play test his new game. It isn’t like any game she’s played before. Then a character she kills in the climax of the game turns out to bear a striking resemblance to a man who dies suddenly in the real world at exactly the same time. A man she discovers was one of those responsible for the death of millions on Earth.
Disturbed, but thinking it must be a coincidence, Dee pulls back from gaming and continues the hunt for information. But when she finds out the true plans for the future colony, she realizes that to save what is left of humanity, she may have to do something that risks losing her own.
This was an excellent book and different again from the earlier books in the series. The new protagonist, Dee, did show up in After Atlas and the events of that book are why she is now on an American-built starship following the Pathfinder on a twenty-year journey to another planet. What does one do to kill time on a space ship? Play lots of full-immersion games and try to get an idea of who else is on the ship. Then get an invite to a leet gaming server, get suspicious of the people on board and strike up a conversation with a game designer who does not respect personal boundaries.
At first I was surprised at how much of this story took place in immersive games, especially when I also realised how far I had gotten in terms of pages read. But then the true story became clear and turned out to not be quite what I had expected. (Trying not to spoil here.) Although I very much guessed something that wasn't revealed to the main character for some time, the story took a lot of unexpected turns, right up to the dramatic and powerful ending (which only caused me to loose a little sleep, thanks to the timing of when I got up to it). Overall, Atlas Alone was a remarkable book in what has been a remarkable series.
As I said in my preamble, Atlas Alone does follow most directly from After Atlas, and the other books in the series aren't required reading. But they are all excellent and I don't think reading them in publication order is a bad thing either. Also, I think After Atlas is the most depressing book (for all that I don't remember it too clearly) while I found the others more enjoyable reading. Don't get me wrong, this isn't exactly a "fun" series. It deals with some heavy issues, most notably death and mental illness. I laughed aloud a few times reading Atlas Alone, but that was more at sarcasm or outrageous developments than actual humour. None of which stops me from loving this series.
To reiterate, this continues to be an excellent series and I hope it gets some more recognition, preferably in the form of a Hugo nomination for Best Series (hint to Worldcon members who are eligible to nominate). I look forward to more Planetfall novels in the future. They have all had very different but deeply psychological takes on their protagonists and I would love to read more.
5 / 5 stars
First published: April 2019, Gollancz
Series: Planetfall, book 4 of 4 so far but sort of a direct sequel to After Atlas
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley