3 stars. Emma Newman’s Planetfall does a lot of things right–interesting world, great characterization, thought-provoking themes–yet wound up only garnering a middling reaction from me, thanks to a muddled ending and too much emphasis on the theme of mental illness.
A group of colonists, bound together by the personal charisma and vision of Lee Suh-Mi, undertook a pilgrimage away from polluted and over-populated Earth, establishing a community at the base of so-called God’s city. The founding of the town was marred by the loss of several colonists. Suh-Mi ascended into the city, where she communes with a higher power, sending yearly messages to the group. Out of the jungle, Suh-Mi’s grandson emerges, threatening the secret that has held the community together.
The greatest problem that I had with this book is that it requires stringing the reader along with a Mysterious Secret Buried in the Past–normally, a pretty effective trope. The first-person narrator, Ren, is one of the two colonists who is privy to this secret, but the author chooses not to reveal it until long after its concealment has crossed the fine line to melodrama. It’s being withheld simply to artificially preserve the suspense. Had this volume been third person, this would have worked much more naturally than the first-person narration allows.
I also never really connected with Ren. I sympathized with her mental illness, but never felt empathy for her–she made her own bed by taking the path of least resistance at virtually every opportunity. The ending further perpetuated my disconnect with Ren. She never grew as a character, just kept doing her best to conceal her mental illness until the deus ex machina (or more accurately, deus ex planta!) ending dissolved all the conflicts to nothingness.
The ending is abstract, non-explanatory, and seemed out of place. I suppose it’s one of those things that the author chose to leave open to the reader’s interpretation, but it didn’t seem to serve a purpose in either storytelling or character development.
Despite all this, Planetfall was still a worthwhile read. Newman’s imaginative colony and the rich cast of personalities worked well, and the science fiction parts of it were realistically created. Perhaps much of my faint praise is due to the unsatisfied feeling I had at the last page; I expected something great and was left with merely good.