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After Atlas
by Emma Newman

Reviewed by Galen Strickland

I received a free e-book of this title from the publisher via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. It won't be published for another six weeks, so I may be posting this review too soon. If requested I will take it down and save it for later, but I finished it last night and am very enthusiastic about it.

After Atlas is a follow-up novel to last year's Planetfall, but not what I would call a direct sequel. Except for the last few pages everything takes place on Earth, forty years after the space ship Atlas took Lee Suh-Mi and her followers on their long journey of discovery. The main character, and first-person narrator, is Carlos Moreno, a homicide detective. His mother had been a member of the Atlas expedition, his father not making the final cut. His father had a mental breakdown, and Carlos likely would have been remanded to the state, except for the fact the government of Spain collapsed, plus they were both rescued by Alejandro Canales. He was another reject of the Atlas expedition, who later became the spiritual leader of a religious cult known as The Circle. Carlos was six when they entered the cult, sixteen when he became the first to walk away from them. He had already been a media sensation due to his mother abandoning him, then later when he left the cult. He is once again being bombarded with attention because the 40th anniversary of Atlas' departure is approaching, and everyone is anxious to find out what is in a time capsule Lee Suh-Mi left behind, and what Carlos thinks about it.

As with the previous novel, the world-building and characterizations are solid and believable. Moreno lives in London and works for the Noropean Ministry of Justice. The world is now controlled by GovCorps, corporate controlled governments. Norope is a coalition of England and several North European countries such as Sweden and Norway. The rest of Europe is a separate GovCorp, as is the US. Except for the highest echelons of finance and manufacturing, everyone is essentially an indentured servant. Moreno has a contract for a specified number of years with the MoJ, but extra expenses and/or perceived misconduct can extend that contract for a longer period. He has a good reputation, but still has to be careful of his conduct and attitude, mainly because he is "chipped," as is the majority of the population. His APA (Artificial Personal Assistant) not only aids him in investigations, it also constantly monitors his health and mental condition, able to shut him down completely if his heart rate or blood pressure exceeds acceptable limits. Almost all of his experiences are recorded and available for review by his superiors, and his APA, whom he refers to as Tia, is beholden to them and not him.

Carlos is surprised to learn that Canales is currently visiting England, doubly surprised when he is later assigned to investigate his mysterious death. All of the complex emotions that have plagued his life threaten to overwhelm him; his love/hate relationship with Alejandro, his resentment of his father, who is still a member of The Circle, and the vague and troubled memories of his mother. I won't detail the particulars of the crime, except to say that Carlos has a difficult time accepting what seems to be the most logical conclusion, even when it is later confirmed by the discovery of surreptitious videos of the victim's hotel room. Even though he then has to accept it, it doesn't mean he understands it. There are too many other people peripheral to the crime, whose actions call into question Alejandro's motives for being in Norope, and his bizarre behaviour just prior to his death.

Essentially a neo-noir mystery in SF clothing. It is unpredictable, and a very satisfying read even though it is not a pleasant one. We are privy to all of Carlos' anxieties, the restrictive nature of the society he lives in, and the crime is detailed with very vivid, and bloody, intensity. You'll feel as if you are in the middle of your own mersive (an immersive artificial game [or investigation] simulation). The high tech connectivity described is both weirdly fascinating and frightening. A boon for a detective's job, but otherwise a nightmare for individuals. As in any society, money is power. Power to control others, and to maintain a position outside the surveillance state. The how of the crime might be known, but the why of it maintains the unpredictability right up to the end of the narrative. There was one minor thing toward the end I felt was illogical, and a few events were a bit too rushed, but overall the narrative is tight and suspenseful. To say I was surprised by the conclusion is a big understatement. It's not a positive conclusion, but not the end of the story either. Carlos survives, and he's on a path to an entirely new career. Highly recommended. I hope it's not long before another book in this sequence is available. I'll be first in line to read it.

UPDATE: And now that has happened. I review the third book in the sequence, Before Mars. It is set within the same universe, but only marginally connected to the first two, and can be read independently.

And now the fourth book, Atlas Alone, which is a very close sequel to this one.


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Emma Newman


Finalist for:
Arthur C. Clarke

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