Sleeping Giants, by Sylvain Neuvel

>> Wednesday, October 25, 2017

TITLE: Sleeping Giants
AUTHOR: Sylvain Neuvel

PAGES: 304

SETTING: Contemporary (or possibly near future)
TYPE: Speculative fiction
SERIES: First in the Themis Files series

A page-turning debut in the tradition of Michael Crichton, World War Z, and The Martian, Sleeping Giants is a thriller fueled by an earthshaking mystery—and a fight to control a gargantuan power.

A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand.

Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved—its origins, architects, and purpose unknown. Its carbon dating defies belief; military reports are redacted; theories are floated, then rejected.

But some can never stop searching for answers.

Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the provenance of the relic. What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unraveling history’s most perplexing discovery—and figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result prove to be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?
When Rose Franklin was 11, she accidentally made a huge discovery. While out riding her bike the ground under her collapsed, and she woke up cradled in a huge metal hand. This had a huge impact on Rose, who became a physicist so she could study the mysterious artifact. And by the time that the present-day action begins, seventeen years later, the disembodied hand is still as big a mystery as when it was found. Its composition makes it clear that it couldn't have been built with currently available technology, and the symbols carved on the walls of the cave where it was found are still as cryptic as the first day. Rose is working on the team trying to solve the mystery, but they're getting nowhere.

And then, suddenly, a breakthrough. A pilot in the US Army crashes while on a mission in the Middle East and discovers another body part, of the same material and on the same scale as the hand. There's only one conclusion: there must be other body parts elsewhere, and if found and fitted together, they'll create a giant metal human... a giant robot, of course!

We follow the action as Rose and her team, joined by the pilot, Kara Resnik and a linguist, Vincent Couture, figure out how to find all the pieces, and once they start coming in, how to actually get the robot to operate. But there are soon geopolitical consequences to their actions, and it becomes clear there are shadowy powers involved.

Such a shame! This was a really, really cool setup, but I found the way it was developed and delivered unconvincing. It was fun to figure out what was going on, but the book suffered from characters who felt just unbelievable.

The format didn't help. This book was billed as World War Z meets The Martian, but I thought this was purely because both those books are, as this one, made up of a collection of documents, rather than straight narrative. Here we get mainly transcripts of interviews and logs, plus a handful of newspaper articles. The problem is that in WWZ and The Martian the format felt natural, and all the stuff that was supposed to be in the documents included made sense. It was believable that it would have been there. Here, I didn't believe it for a second. People go into long, discursive descriptions of stuff that their interlocutor already knows. They talk about their deepest feelings in situations that felt inappropriate. Not to mention, every single character speaks in the same way, whether it makes sense or not.

The characters feel shallow and the characterisation is plain bad. There's a really terrible romance, and I was particularly annoyed by the arrogant woman who takes over the project and then makes monumentally stupid decision after monumentally stupid decision. If she was really that stupid, then there should have been no chance she'd convince anyone to put her in charge (and don't talk to me about how some CEOs also make stupid decisions -this was someone with no track record, no connections, no nothing that should have got her appointed).

I don't think I'll be reading any more of this, in spite of the cool robots.



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