From the Hugo Award-winning author of Between Two Thorns comes the first novel in a captivating science fiction series where a secret withheld to protect humanity’s future may lead to its undoing…
“Cathartic and transcendent.”—The New York Times
“An exceptionally engaging novel that explores the complex relationship between mythology and science.”—The Washington Post
Renata Ghali believed in Lee Suh-Mi’s vision of a world far beyond Earth, calling to humanity. A planet promising to reveal the truth about our place in the cosmos, untainted by overpopulation, pollution, and war. Ren believed in that vision enough to give up everything to follow Suh-Mi into the unknown.
More than twenty-two years have passed since Ren and the rest of the faithful braved the starry abyss and established a colony at the base of an enigmatic alien structure where Suh-Mi has since resided, alone. All that time, Ren has worked hard as the colony's 3-D printer engineer, creating the tools necessary for human survival in an alien environment, and harboring a devastating secret.
Ren continues to perpetuate the lie forming the foundation of the colony for the good of her fellow colonists, despite the personal cost. Then a stranger appears, far too young to have been part of the first planetfall, a man who bears a remarkable resemblance to Suh-Mi.
The truth Ren has concealed since planetfall can no longer be hidden. And its revelation might tear the colony apart...
About the Author
Emma Newman is the author of Planetfall, After Atlas, Before Mars, and Atlas Alone and is also a professional audiobook narrator, narrating short stories and novels in all genres. She also cowrites and hosts a Hugo nominated podcast called “Tea & Jeopardy.” Emma is a keen role-player, gamer, and designer-dressmaker.
Read an Excerpt
EVERY TIME I come down here I think about my mother. I don’t want to; it just happens. My brain has decided it’s a critical subroutine that must be executed when the correct variables are in place: (when time = predawn) + (when physical location = beneath the colony) + (when physical act = opening the door to the Masher) run “unpleasant memory of mother #345.”
My hand is pushing the door open and I’m back at my old lab and she’s following me in, her heels clicking on the tiled floor. I’ve prepped the equipment to run one hour before her arrival so there’s something to show straightaway. She never was a patient woman.
“Is that a printer?” she asked, and I nodded. It started then—I know it now that I’m looking back—that tightening of my gut as I dared to hope I might impress her.
“Yeah.” I smiled.
She didn’t. “Like the one I have at home?”
“What’s it printing?”
“My latest work.”
She went up to the plasglass and peered through, seeing nothing but a few millimeters of tissue. She turned to me with her nose slightly wrinkled. “What is it printing?”
“A new pancreas,” I said. “For Dad.”
“Oh.” She’d hoped I was making something she could hang up in the hallway of her inert home. “I didn’t realize you were involved in this sort of thing. I’ve seen it on the news.”
And that was the moment I knew I’d been stupid to hope for anything. “The gene therapy isn’t working out for him. There’s an unusual base pair sequence in the—”
“Renata—” She holds up her hand. “You know I don’t understand this kind of thing.” The hand lowers to rest over her heart. “I’m an artist.”
I wanted to say that my colleague had called me that when he saw the final model I’d compiled for the print. I wanted to ask her why she wasn’t even the tiniest bit worried about Dad’s cancer. They were married once; surely an echo of something remained. But all I said was, “I’m making him a new pancreas with cells cultured from a cheek swab and it’s actually fucking cool. I’m going to save his life. And thousands of other people who can’t—”
“I don’t think it’s right.”
“How can it be wrong to save a life?”
“Where does it stop? Making a person? Making copies?”
“Actually, they’ve already locked down the ethics on that, after the guy over at Princeton—”
“It’s going too far, all this science. Where’s the beauty? Where is God in all of this?”
“Everywhere,” I whispered. “Especially here.”
She didn’t hear me.
This is where I take a deep breath and look at the Masher instead of the lab in my past. I run a hand over the alloy and rub my fingers together. I know from patching into the environmental sensors and the color of the walls that the humidity levels are within satisfactory parameters, but I still do it. The alloy is the same gray-blue as my mother’s eyes. That must be the memory trigger. I used to wish I’d inherited them, but thank the Lord I didn’t. I wouldn’t want to see my mother’s eyes looking back at me in the mirror. I have my father’s dark brown eyes and his tight curly hair and his flat nose. It was genetically inevitable, but it was still a disappointment to her. It’s obvious in the postbirth footage I lifted from the family server. It’s the only time you see her. Days later she was the one doing all the filming. Drawn back. Getting the composition right, one step removed from her own retinal cam.
I walk from one end of the Masher to the other, peering through the plasglass at the sorted discards from the homes above instead of human tissue. I feel just as excited now as I did back then.
“What have you got inside you today, Mash?” I ask. I don’t know why; there’s no voice recognition or synthware or any kind of UI. There’s no point; the sorter is the only part with any AI and it’s not that clever. It doesn’t need to be to sort materials.
In the ceramics section an interesting curve in the collected pile catches my eye. I press the nubbin at the bottom corner of the door and it slides open. It’s a vase, I think, the design riffing off a Möbius strip aesthetic. The bacteria are destroyed by the household chute on the way down, so I know it’s sterile and safe to take out.
I turn it over a few times and rub my thumb over the shiny white surface. It tells me two things right away: the creator is a learner—they always want to play with Möbius strips when they get to a certain phase of the CAD training program—and their printer is going to break down soon. The imperfections in the surface are obvious to me; if it were my printer it’d be stripped down and cleaned right away, but these people don’t notice the signs. They know I’ll turn up and fix it when it breaks and that’s enough for everyone. Except the Ringmaster.
Even though the design is crude and the vase flawed, I rescue it from its fate. Someone with the potential to be a good visengineer tried so hard to make it an interesting shape. I need something to remind me there are still people creating for the love of it. I put it on top of the unit and rummage through the rest of the abandoned ceramics, but nothing takes my fancy, so I slide the door shut and move on to the plastics compartment. I’ve had time only to open its door when a message marked “urgent” arrives for me.
I don’t even question who it is from; only the Ringmaster has manners bad enough to tag any message that way. I decline voice contact—the acoustics would give away my location—and indicate that I’ll accept only text. He’ll think I’m on the toilet or having a shower. The only other times most people accept text-only is if they’re making love with someone boring, and he knows there’s no chance of that.
Ren—come to the west gate. Now.
I close the Masher compartment, actually interested. What’s Mack doing there? He never goes to the western edge of the colony.
With a simple thought command, a virtual keyboard appears in front of me, overlaid across my visual field. What’s going on? I type back.
What’s that supposed to mean? You want to have a meeting at the west gate?
No. Someone’s coming toward the colony. From outside.
The v-keyboard disappears, my implant thinking it’s not needed anymore when the words fly from my brain and I stand there, motionless, too stumped by what he’s sent to respond.
Ren? What are you doing? Come now!
I think of the Masher and call up the menu, starting the machine off as I struggle to process what he’s said. I watch as the contents on the other side of the plasglass are rendered into the base powders they were printed from. By the time the last specks of it all have been sucked back into the communal feeds, the Ringmaster has sent three more messages and is starting to swear. He never swears.
Abusing my privileges, I access the cloud and look up what patterns he’s downloaded in the past twenty-six hours. When I see the one for the automatic pistol delivered to his home printer less than twenty minutes ago, my mouth goes dry.
I call up the v-keyboard again. Sorry. Getting dressed. On my way.
I can’t help but speculate about what it means. The only other people on the planet were never supposed to come here. And as soon as I think that, my heart races and I feel sick and I want to go home and curl up and not go outside for a week.
But I can’t give in to that impulse right now. I focus on walking up the slope toward the exit, forcing my mind to imagine going to the western gate. The thought of crossing the streets, of walking past homes and people looking out at me hurrying past, sweating and shaking, makes me feel worse. Why call me there? What does he want me to do? He’s already printed the solution.
The hatch down to the Masher’s hub is only a couple of meters from my home. At least if he’s looking out for me, I’ll come from the right direction. A few early risers might be mooching around inside their pods, but it’s too early to be outside and social. The hatch drops back into place and locks automatically, the seam between it and the path already fading as the gap is filled by the repair cells already growing.
It’s cool, with a gentle breeze, and if I try hard enough I can imagine it’s the edge of Paris in late April. I keep my head down and look at the crystal beneath my feet. I think about when Pasha grew this path, when we debated the most efficient mechanisms to make it durable but not slippery when wet. I remember printing the lattice underneath that he used as a base to train the crystal and keep it exactly where we wanted it. I remember the arguments over the color it should be and that twat whose name I can never recall asking if we could engineer it to look like it was made of yellow bricks. I had to look that up on the cloud. He was a pop culture historian and that was his contribution to the colony aesthetic? Why did the Ringmaster approve his place on the ship?
And then I see it: the western gate. Nothing more than a couple of symbolic pillars designed by Pasha’s wife, Neela. I like her style; it’s simple and elegant. I helped her to print them, but she thought them up. She liked the freedom given by the fact that no one cared about them on that side of our settlement; it was the side farthest away from God’s city.
Mack is standing there, the only other person out and about at this time, looking away from the colony. I can see the mountains in the distance and the vast plains between. The figure he’s watching is probably half a kilometer away, hunched over and moving slowly. The landscape is still relatively wild beyond the gate, with long grasslike plants.
“Do you know who it is?” I ask as I approach, more to signal that I’m there than anything else.
“A man, in his early twenties or so,” he replies. “The proximity alarm woke me up. I thought it was an animal.”
The man is staggering toward the colony. “Is he sick?”
“No obvious symptoms. Look for yourself.”
I shake my head. “I disabled the zoom in my lens. It gives me migraines and—”
“He must be from the others,” he says, not interested in me and my nervous babbling. “One of their kids. He must have walked for weeks.”
My palms are slick with sweat and I want to go home. “What do you want me to do?”
He turns and looks at me for the first time, a slight twitch around his left eye indicating he’s switching to normal focal range. He’s looking haggard with the stress of it all. Mack hates the unexpected almost as much as I do, but his clothes are smart, his black hair tidy and his beard neat. He has to present himself at his best, even when he thinks there’s just an animal to scare off the boundary.
“Do you think we should shoot him?” he asks, looking down at the gun resting on his palm, like a child he was holding has just crapped in his hand.
“Why are you asking me that? Why not Zara? Or Nabiha or Ben? They—”
“Because you were there.”
I close my eyes and I think about the vase I left on top of the Masher. I think about whose printer is likely to break down next and remind myself not to mention that I knew it was going to happen; otherwise—
“Ren. What if he’s here to ruin everything we’ve done here?”
“We’ve done?” It comes out like a croak.
“Yes, we.” His voice hardens. “Should I shoot him and make sure he—”
“Oh for fuck’s sake, Mack, I’m an engineer! Not your conscience!”
His mouth drops open at my outburst and I regret the words. He just doesn’t want to be the only load-bearing object in this messy structure.
“I haven’t got any binoculars,” I say in the calmest voice I can muster. “Look at him again and tell me what he’s carrying.”
“A pack, not a big one,” he replies after a few moments of scrutiny.
“Any sign of a gun?”
“Any bulges around his midriff?”
“What, like growths or—”
“Like explosives,” I reply and he grimaces before looking back at him. “They wouldn’t have the tech for anything more subtle than something they could make from—”
“Nothing like that,” Mack cuts me off again.
“Does he look . . . I don’t know . . . angry?”
Mack shakes his head. “He looks desperate. Oh, look at him.”
The young man is waving both arms, like one lost at sea when sighting a chance of rescue. Mack looks at me, and when our eyes meet, we both know we can’t kill him.
“Shit,” I say and he nods. “Come on, then—let’s go bring him in. If we’re quick, we’ll get him to your house before anyone notices.”
Excerpted from "Planetfall"
Copyright © 2015 Emma Newman.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Praise for Emma Newman and her novels
“Emma Newman has built a modern fantasy world with such élan and authority her ideas of why and how the seemingly irrational world of Fairy works should be stolen by every other writer in the field. Her characters are complex and troubled, courageous at times and foolhardy. This book of wonders is first rate.”—Bill Willingham, Eisner Award winner, and creator of Fables
“With a feather-light touch, Emma Newman has crafted a very English fantasy, one brilliantly realized and quite delightful, weaving magic, mystery and parallel worlds together with ease. Newman may well be one of our brightest stars.”—Adam Christopher, author of The Age Atomic
“J.K. Rowling meets Georgette Heyer.”—The Guardian
“The plot is pure candy. I went right out and got the second book.”—Locus
“Enchanting.”—Paul Weimer, SF Signal
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Human colony on a fascinating alien planet with organic mysterious structure that the colonists call God's City. Shades of 2001 but much more emphasis on human society's virtues and flaws. Interesting main characters. Themes of secrecy, deception, technology and religion. Beginning is very good, middle is slow but contains revealing flashbacks that lead to a suspenseful and immersive conclusion.
The premise is interesting but it is hard to empathize with any of the characters for long. Main character is a literally a hoarder and there is some exploration as to what made her this way. Yet her personality is decidely downbeat and self centered. Some interesting and novel ideas here and some that I've read elsewhere.
Cop out ending
I couldn't put it down, great read.
[NOTE: I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.] Science fiction that is more of the social kind than hard, as in, while it was easy to imagine how the colony ran, the story focuses on the main character and her relationships with other people, rather than on a lot of technology. In a way, I liked this aspect, but on the other hand, with Ren being pretty much a recluse, her interactions weren’t always so developed; in the end, I’m not exactly sure what to think of it. The storuy revolves around Ren, and in a certain measure Mack and Sung-Soo. More than 20 years ago, Ren and Mack embarked on an expedition throughout the stars to find another planet, guided by Lee Suh-Mi, who determined that planet’s location after waking up from a coma. After landfall, they found a strange structure they quickly nicknamed God’s city, into which Suh-Mi walked in, never to come out. Since that time, every year sees a ritual, almost religious ceremony take place, which will last until the day Suh comes out again. Only it quickly becomes apparent that this is all based on lies crafted by Mack and upheld by Ren, for fear that without it, the community’s union and focus will collapse, and the colony will be destroyed. I spent most of my reading torn when it came to Ren as a character and narrator. It’s obvious that while she’s competent in her job, she’s also broken in quite a few ways (her reclusiveness, the reason why she never lets anyone into her home, the mental disorder she’s been developing due to all the stress and lies piling up), and this made her touching; you can tell from the early chapters on that she’d endured trauma and has been coping and suffering all by herself, ashamed of her choices, then refusing to look at them, then not even realising anymore that she had a problem (one that is all the more important that all the things she hoards are materials that can’t get recycled to fuel the colony). Yet at the same time, it was difficult to relate to her and to really care about her, probably she keeps people at a distance. Also, due to the latter, the other characters never really came into focus: Nick remains ‘the guy who’s in because he had money’, Carmen is ‘that annoying religion-obsessed woman’, and so on. The foundations of the colony, too, were of a kind that made me cringe. Let’s be honest, I’m not a religious person, and basing such a whole expedition on ‘finding God’ (with the potential consequence that, if the religious aspect is destroyed, everything else is, too) seemed, I don’t know, flimsy. Deeply, I believe that what a society needs is ethics, and not religion: the latter can too quickly devolve. Which makes Mack’s lies and fears sort of understandable, if not justified, considering all everything goes to the dogs when the lies are revealed (because they will be, that’s half the plot, after all). In the end, I found myself not caring whether the colony collapsed or not. [ Read full review at http://ylogs.com/archives/review-planetfall ]
Too many times we are pinned to the wants and needs that are so temporary in the journey of our lives. The faith we are going to need is the most valuable possession we can be put to the test of. A life time to learn the importance of and a moment to put into practice and realized how absent it was.
It's all about one crazy person and there's no real payoff at the end.
This was an interesting, but ultimately unsatisfying book. To be perfectly honest, there’s a bit of a reveal partway through the book the floored me. It was completely unexpected, and it’s this reveal, and what Planetfall is attempting to tackle, that makes me glad I read this book, even though I’m rather disappointed by it. In Planetfall you’re presented with a small group of humans who have established a small Star Trek like community on a new planet. This starts out interestingly enough, but quickly gets weird. But it’s not sci fi weird, well, it is, but even with this, the sci fi elements of this story felt mostly like window dressing. At heart, this is a story about loss and coping with that loss, which is a theme well established across all genres, but in Planetfall it doesn’t quite work The best stories, whether sci fi or otherwise, use the genre to tell a story you can relate to, but with Planetfall, the genre and the story just aren’t meshed very well. As a result, what is actually a good story gets lost in what feels like an author trying too hard to make an arty sci fi book.
Twenty years ago, Suh-Mi and Ren we lovers when Suh-Mi starting having visions about leaving a failing Earth to start a colony in space at a location that only she knew. With the help of Mack, they put together a colony of people that shared their idea and left the Earth. There were some troubles they had upon Plantfall, like a group of the colonists not making it to the planet, and other difficulties. Present day, Mack and Ren have lots of secrets, but no one knows about them. Until a young man, Sung-Soo arrives at the colony. Where he come from is a mystery and more troubling is he shares DNA with Suh-Mi, who went into a structure they call God’s City. This is troubling for Mack and Ren since they know that truth of what really happened on Planetfall and know that the truth will be coming out with the arrival of Sung-Soo. The question is if the colonists will be able to live with the truth. It is obvious Ren and Mack have a lot of secrets but you don’t find out about them until closer to the end of the story, which I admit does get a little annoying. Beyond that I can’t say that I really liked Ren. She clearly had issues relating to Planetfall and mental illness. I did like how this is part of the story. You don’t really have issues like this in most books. Sung-Soo is a great character. You don’t know if he is completely innocent or if there is more going on. I admit that I didn’t like the end of the story. It works to end everything but I’m not a fan of endings like this. I have not read other books by Emma Newman and I do feel that I will check out her other books. As for Planetfall, it is not a bad book. There are good parts in it. But I don’t know if I would read it again knowing what I know now. I received Planetfall for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Newman pens a riveting tale of humanity, imagination, and science fiction with “Planetfall.” Earth is becoming unmanageable. Lee Suh-Mi has a vision of finding God. She strikes out with a group to find God’s planet in a spaceship called Atlas. When Suh-Mi and her party arrive at the planet, it’s not what they expect. Mack and Renata are left to deal with the repercussions of “Planetfall.” Now, 22 years later, a stranger, Sung-Soo, interrupts the tranquil life of the colony which Mack and Renata have built. Will his presence finally reveal God’s message or destroy the community Suh-Mi built? Newman’s writing is easy to read. The story is told from Renata’s perspective and as the reader dives deeper into the story, they dive deepter into Renata’s character. Initially heroic and sympathetic, Renata reveals cracks that hint at the mental illness Planetfall has done to her. The supporting cast is interesting and each has a part to play. The actual science of the science fiction is easy to understand and doesn’t weigh down the storytelling. The suspense builds slowly at first then snowballs towards the end. The book earns a solid 4 due to the ending which is a bit disappointing, given the totality of the story. “Planetfall” has a good blend of science fiction and characterization that will keep the reader intrigued and turning the pages to find out what happens next.