Sleeping Giants and Waking Gods are two of my favorite sci-fi books from recent years. Now the Themis Files trilogy concludes with author Sylvain Neuvel’s Only Human and I have mixed feelings.
Nearly ten years after Waking Gods stranded them on an alien planet, physicist Rose Franklin, linguist Vincent Couture, and his daughter Eva return to Earth to find humans locked in what seems like a battle to decimate themselves. Once again the novel’s text is only dialogue and internal monologues in the form of journal entries, letters, and transcripts of interviews and other recorded conversations. The story itself flashes back and forth between the years on the other planet and what happens after the trio returns to Earth.
Of course there are parallels between the two places and for me it sometimes got to be too much. Often personal reactions and experiences are informed by various elements coming together to inform it instead of any one particular thing. And for this book between our real-world news cycle, the separation it seems so many seek to enforce in society, and how all that makes me feel personally – this story was a little too real, a little too disheartening.
We often read stories in sci-fi and superhero worlds hoping to see characters that represent the best of us, but this story stares down a darker place built out of fear and helplessness. It takes on otherness, isolation, and non-interference. And then it throws on top the angst of a teenager desperately seeking out belonging while in seemingly constant conflict with her parent.
That’s not to say that this particular story is without hope. The previous two installments though were a mystery filled with excitement – even if sometimes that excitement was scary. Only Human has its share of excitement and adventure, but it often sits between a rock and a hard place. There never seem to be good options.
And when you’re not swept away by a story, you can start to question it. Does it make sense that this conversation would be recorded? Is it possible to fill the void left by the absence of two of the series’ strongest characters? Can we find ways to connect with a main cast who flails about only seeming rooted to their obsessions?
In the end I wanted to like Only Human much more than I did. I still highly recommend the first two books. While the conclusive one is by no means a bad book, it might be better to know what you’re in for if you decide to keep going and read this one too.
Only Human (Book 3 of The Themis Files) by Sylvain Neuvel is out now. You can read my review of Sleeping Giants (Book 1) here and of Waking Gods (Book 2) here.
The publisher provided FANgirl with a copy of the book for review.
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