May. 21st, 2017

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As already mentioned, I was in the departure lounge at Heathrow when I suddenly decided to buy a proper, dead tree book in order to save the battery on my iPad for the journey. Looking around the little outlet for something decent, I saw Sylvain Neuvel's Waking Giants and seized it with both hands.

We begins with the events of Rose Franklin's eleventh birthday. Out late, riding her new bike, she heard a noise and woke up hours later in a pit surrounded by walls covered in glowing glyphs and lying in the palm of a giant metal hand. Seventeen years later, after previous attempts to understand the hand and its associated glyphs have come to nothing, Dr Rose Franklin is in charge of the team tasked with cracking the mystery of the hand.

The story unfolds through a series of conversations between an unnamed official and the various different members of the research team. Firstly we have Rose, who claims to have drifted into her position through chance; she had demonstrated a talent for science before the events of her birthday and ascribes her academic success to a desire to impress her father. Nonetheless, Rose is responsible for the breakthrough that allows the team to locate the giant's remaining body parts.

Secondly we have Kara Resnick, brilliant helicopter pilot and dysfunctional human being, who gets seconded by the backer to fly the missions needed to recover the body parts. Thirdly, because every pilot needs a good co-pilot, Kara's colleague Ryan Mitchell, a straight up guy with a terrible crush on his team mate, is recruited to fly with her. Fourthly, because no-one has yet to crack the mystery of the glyphs, we have Vincent Couture, a brilliant young Canadian linguist with a vast ego and unshakable sense of self-belief.

And ultimately, masterminding it all, we have the official, the backer, the person who remains so anonymous that I'm not sure we even get a gender. The most we ever learn about them is that they were an English literature major — a fact they, perhaps jokingly, claim that not even the president knows. Always a full five steps ahead of everyone else, the backer has plans within plans within plans, always seeming to know precisely what stimulus, what promise, what threat, is required to get the answer they need from their current interlocutor.

Sleeping Giants starts as an intriguing first contact story moving through something a bit more like a political thriller — albeit one where the stakes are deeply personal to the people involved — and ends up with something that wouldn't be out of place in Pacific Rim. But what really makes it work, I think, is the inscrutability of the backer: they manage something close to omnipotence through the clever deployment of soft power; and while we have the advantage of seeing the limits to their knowlege at a couple of points, the other characters frequently see them as close to omniscient.

Ultimately, though, Sleeping Giants did everything I asked of it: it greatly eased my time at Heathrow and smoothed me through the first part of my flight, preventing me from having to resource to the horrors of the entertainment system. I'm already looking forward to the sequel...


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