Jan. 3rd, 2017

After Atlas

Jan. 3rd, 2017 07:54 pm
sawyl: (A self portrait)
I read Emma Newman's After Atlas a couple of months ago and I've been meaning to write it up every since. The story, which forms a loose companion to Planetfall, is set on Earth after the departure of the Atlas mission to the stars and follows some of the people left behind. The book combines a distinctly dystopian setting with a noirish tone, employing a plot that centres around a murder in an old-fashioned, isolated Devon hotel.

In a fully connected world, most crimes can be solved with a cursory database trawl; when they can't, the Ministry of Justice calls in Carlos Moreno. Having grown up in a cultish anti-technology commune called the Circle, Moreno is perfectly placed to investigate when its founder, Alejandro Casales, turns up dead in a luxury hotel with little in the way of monitoring. Moreno's personal circumstances also make him ideal, should a cover-up be required: in his teens he was sold to the Ministry of Justice by a group of corporate people traffickers and he remains their property, subject to psychological re-adjustment should he ever step out of line.

The mystery plot unfolds as these things do, with Moreno uncovering inconsistencies which suggest that the case is far from the open-and-shut one it first seemed to be. Then, just when things look like they might be settled, the plot abruptly pivots and Carlos realises that there are things far worse than being a Ministry-owned slave.

The second part of the book sees Moreno travelling to the US to attend Alejandro's funeral. Here he meets his father again for the first time in years, forcing him to confront his anger at the way he was treated while a child. With his investigator's eye, Carlos realises that nothing within the Circle is quite what it seems and what there is may offer him a way to escape his current circumstances.

As befits a noir detective, Carlos Moreno is deeply troubled and angry. Almost as soon as we meet him, he is in the process of pushing his only friend away. Later we realise the source of his anger and his abandonment issues, the extent to which he has been warped by the corporate hot-housing program designed to program him to be perfect for his role, and the degree to which he has internalised his state of slavery.

The world around Carlos is detailed and well imagined with an intriguing cast of minor characters — I particularly like the shrew, motorbike-riding pathologist who knows exactly how to exploit the rules to ensure that Carlos knows things he is not supposed to know without tipping off his implanted artificially intelligent personal assistant. The hotel feels authentic with the attention of the staff to detail reminds me of time I saw an oligarch on his yacht in Greece, where his servants were so carefully prepped to attend to his needs that they were standing ready to take his bike and offer him with a glass of orange juice when he and his bodyguards returned from a ride, so that he seemed to move frictionless through his life. The implant technology, which can be either be the perfect observer, perfect assistant or perfect oppressor at the flip of a bit, seems disturbingly convincing and the data analysis convincingly imagined.

In summary, After Atlas is a enjoyable, disturbing, dystopian story that seems to close off the world of the Pathfinder from Planetfall. And while it isn't necessary to have read the first book to enjoy After Atlas, it may be helpful if only because it explains many of references to external events. Definitely recommended.


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