Game of Thrones became very popular in fantasy circles for not putting the magic, wizards and centaurs in the forefront of the storytelling. While there’s plenty of dragons and magical situations the politics and storytelling is center stage. Planetfall, Emma Newman’s new science fiction novel does something similar.
Planetfall and Game of Thrones are hardly comparable, except that just like the magic and dragons are an important piece of Game of Thrones, they are not the focus or in any way part of the main themes George RR Martin is writing about. Emma Newman uses the science and technology as tools to tell the very personal story of the narrator.
In Plantetfall, Newman writes a science fiction novel in its best form, great story along with skillful writing to address some sort of problem that can best be positioned in a sci-fi setting. Where a lot of science fiction is on a large galaxy, humanity, or at least planet-wide level, Newman gives us something that works and feels very local and many of the writing techniques she uses feel like an old episode of Concentration hosted by Alex Trebk where the picture slowly gets revealed over the course of the novel. It’s a common narrative technique but Emma Newman handles her paintbrush with skill.
Most aficionados of science fiction are used to large scale politics and political intrigue. We have a large selection of material both on the screen and in literature to pull from and even other stories that focus on a character on very personal level, like Ender’s Game, are still set in the context of a large scale war.
Off the top of my head I can’t think of another novel that is as localized as Planetfall at least not that I’ve read recently. Yet here Planetfall is, local politics and minimal back tracking on how the group got to where they are, most of that story is told as we learn about why our narrator is who she is.
The small colony setting compliments the personal nature of the story. Throughout the book it’s difficult to peg who the antagonist is or will be, in fact in a short period you see elements of ‘man vs their environment’, ‘man vs man’ and ‘man vs themselves’ (in many cases but not all, I should say “woman” vs…. but you get he picture). I’ll leave it to you to decide which is the most prominent and which leaves you wanting more.
There are areas that I wish were more developed and a sequel could happen, but it would task Newman with writing a completely different kind of book and so long as she were up for it, a sequel could be very interesting. For now as it stands Planetfall is very much worth a read, for many reasons including her choice of writing styles, science fiction piece written in a non-standard setting and well plotted well written characters, all of which sum to a great read.