The jacket copy for Sleeping Giants hat tips both The Martian and World War Z. I can dig the comparison—Sylvain Neuvel’s accomplished debut is likewise told through a series of diary excerpts and interviews that follow the action as events unfold—but that’s an altogether bloodless way of looking at it. The comparison is apt in another very important way: like those films, Sleeping Giants is nothing less than a future summer blockbuster in book form. (And what do you know, Spider-Man screenwriter David Koepp is already attached.) Here are eight exclamatory reasons this is the blockbuster you need to read now, before you see it onscreen.
At age 11, Rose Franklin fell into a square-shaped hole in the earth. When the firefighters found her, she was unconscious, lying in the palm of a giant metal hand. Fast forward a couple decades, and Dr. Rose Franklin is in charge of studying the hand and the strange panels that enclosed it. When other metal body parts are unearthed all over the world, Rose and her team begin assembling them into a truly epic giant robot. Seriously I shouldn’t have to say more than “giant robot,” but I will.
Carbon dating indicates the parts were buried about 3,000 years in the past, but are even older—another couple thousand years at least. Iridium, the metal the pieces are made of, is exceptionally rare, but then, it also doesn’t seem to behave like iridium should. The writing on the panels is in no human language on record. No human civilization, now or millennia ago, could have fabricated them, let alone seeded the planet with them. These and other anomalies lead Dr. Franklin and her team to the inescapable conclusion that the giant robot is not of this world. This kinda makes Rose look like a crackpot, as people tend to balk at the idea of ancient aliens, but you know she’s totally right.
Cocksure Army Pilots!
Kara Resnik and co-pilot Ryan Mitchell uncover the second artifact, a forearm, purely by accident during a reconnaissance flight in Syria, while searching for evidence of underground nuclear testing. Their aircraft falls out the sky, but they manage not to crash (because they’re awesome). When Kara’s flight status looks questionable, she jumps at the chance to fly for our ragtag group of robot archeologists. Ryan comes along, because he’s a hunk of grade-A American military flyboy, filled to the brim with loyalty and charisma. Kara is abrasive and blunt; Ryan is eager and cheerful. They don’t interact well, but it sure is fun to watch.
Shadowy Government Spooks!
The identity of the unnamed interviewer who teases out all of the events through chats with the main characters is a big mystery. He won’t give a name, growling that if he did, he’d have to kill anyone who heard it. (He alludes to having no sense of humor, but obviously that’s a funny thing to actually say out loud.) He’s also pulling serious strings to bring the project together: he requisitions US military personnel and property left and right; he overrides presidential cabinet members like they’re hall monitors; he is altogether the sort of shadowy cigarette-smoking man whose deviousness actions make for delicious entertainment.
Passion! Fighting! Danger!
Dr. Franklin’s team isn’t all that big, and the cloak of secrecy means they’re stuck together constantly. Emotions are bound to run hot. As the scientists work toward understanding the robot, its purpose seems more and more sinister. Should we just let sleeping giants lie? How many lives should be thrown away on a project with dubious goals? There’s definitely potential for serious interpersonal conflict. No matter how alien the artifact, the characters are only human. The contrast is stark between the enormous stakes and the everyday loves, lives, and lessons for Rose and her team.
One of the more memorable lines from the cinematic version of The Martian comes when astronaut Mark Watney, abandoned on Mars alone, realizes that in order to survive, he’s “going to have to science the s*** out of this.” (Neil deGrasse Tyson liked it, anyway.) There’s less hard science in Sleeping Giants—having more would admittedly be difficult, given how The Martian specializes in hardcore tech nerdery– but it has its share of logic puzzles and scientific inquiry. Argon-37! Neutrinos! Base-8 mathematical systems! There’s plenty here for readers who like to learn a little something while grooving on the giant robots and a globe-spanning conspiracy. Speaking of which…
Having searched the entirety of the U.S., the team tasked with locating the robot parts must soon begin flying through hostile airspace, mostly using super cool spy planes, which is an enormous deal if your shadowy, mostly-American team of alien artifact-finders locates a humongous metal torso in, say, Russia. Getting said torso out of there isn’t as easy as hiding it in carry-on luggage and trying to look innocent at customs. A Russian president might take off his shirt and climb up on a horse for an infraction like that. The people of planet Earth are not altogether unified, a fact that might discourage the project to unearth and construct what looks like a giant battle robot.
Billions and Billions of Stars!
I’m not going to spoil everything, but I will make one more observation: whatever alien society made this robot and delivered it to Earth, it is almost certainly not unique in the universe. By the time the characters start pulling the logical threads—how the robot works, how it was placed here, how it was found—they come to some very interesting-slash-terrifying conclusions. It’s totally worth the read just to arrive at the end of that logical chain, then turn your thoughts to the massive, punctuated emptiness of space. Whoa.