After Atlas by Emma Newman
Publisher - Roc
Publication Date - Out Now
Price - £12.99
Gov-Corp detective Carlos Moreno was only a baby when Atlas left Earth to seek truth amongst the stars. But in that moment, the course of Carlos' entire life changed. Atlas is what took his more away, what made his father lose hope, what led Alejandro Casales, leader of the religious cult known as The Circle, to his door. And now, on the eve of the fortieth anniversary of Atlas's departure, it's got something to do with why Casales was found dead in his hotel room - and why Carlos is the man in charge of the investigation.
To figure out who killed one of the most powerful men on Earth, Carlos is supposed to put aside his personal history. But the deeper he delves into the case, the more he realises that escaping the past isn't so easy. there is more to Casale's death than meets the eye, and something much more sinister to the legacy of Atlas than anyone realises....
As I recently blogged I find Emma Newman now one of my favourite authors. Authors who do great work in both SF and Fantasy are rare these days but her books often use the genre as I believe it should be to explore current social issues. Her Split Worlds series merged fae worlds with a look at the patriarchy and in this excellent thriller she explores surveillance, loyalty and where we may be going...
It's a nearish future setting. The world is teetering. Only the rich can buy actual food and the rest of us make do on nutritional paste. Everyone is chipped and that doesn't just record our locations but what we can actually see. Tensions between countries are rising and trust is at an all time low. The UK then is rather disturbed that a US cult leader appears to have been brutally murdered mere days after visiting.
Down these mean streets we meet Carlos who is an indentured slave/detective to the government. His detection skills are excellent. However, at the same time, as a child he and his father actually lived within the cult that Casales led (although Carlos actually decided the life was not for him). Suspecting this gives Carolos an edge in identifying suspects he is allocated the case. Its set within a remote manor like all the best crime novels with a host of suspects who may all have an alibi. However detection is enhanced in this century with virtual reconstructions, AIs that are able to review suspect's histories and chips that can replay back key scenes. Newman gives us a feel for where technology that exists now is going and it feels importantly matter of place. You can feel this world while horrible is plausible.
A key element of this is Carlos as a character. He's fascinating and while both incredibly repressed he is extremely sympathetic to the reader. His vice is real food (a luxury of his job) even if purely the misshapen vegetables. He carries the scars of being left behind by his parents and having to fight constant public scrutiny. As the story progresses more and more becomes apparent and he's a character you worry about if the tale will end badly for him as he gets embroiled into a web of intrigue. Any mistake could see Carlos lose his protection and be cast to the mercies of the crueller corporate world. There is a creeping unease that much bigger forces are swirling around the investigation waiting to pounce on our detective.
My one reservation was pacing, At times for a thriller/mystery it took it's time to find a fifth gear but that's balanced with some nice character moments and the eventual pay-off as you find out where these secrets are headed is one of the most jaw-dropping moments of the story. The plotting here is extremely well done and makes great sense only in retrospect...
Overall if you enjoy a slow burn SF thriller and some interesting and pessimistic thoughts on where the world is going then this is a novel I definitely recommend.