Wrapping up Neuvel’s (Waking Gods, 2017, etc.) Themis Files trilogy in grand style, the last volume of this science-fiction chronicle of humankind’s war against an army of invading alien robots explores how the aftermath of the conflict has irrevocably changed our world.
Nine years after physicist Rose Franklin essentially saved humankind by finding a way to stop the giant robots from killing more people—millions had already been obliterated—and forcing them to return to their homeworld, the story begins with Franklin stranded on the planet Esat Ekt along with linguist Vincent Couture and his young daughter, Eva. The three are living freely in a community of humanoid beings, and Eva, now a young adult, even has a group of friends she hangs out with. But her father is obsessed with somehow getting her back to Earth and some semblance of normalcy. When they do find a way home, however, the trio finds the world much different. Humankind is on the brink of collective insanity, ruled by rampant fear and hate. Those that are different are forced into work camps or simply killed. “We’re talking about human beings making a conscious effort…to be ignorant. Willfully stupid. They’re proud of it. They take pride in idiocy. There’s not even an attempt to rationalize things anymore….Our entire race is trying to lobotomize itself.” While not flawless—some major characters, such as the Russian intelligence agent Katherine Lebedev, come across as unrealistic, and the worldbuilding on the alien planet could have been much stronger—this is an utterly readable story powered by nonstop action and, more importantly, thought-provoking social commentary.
Packing a surprisingly powerful thematic punch, this novel is an addictive blend of science fiction, apocalyptic thriller, and chillingly timely cautionary tale. Two (giant, robotic) thumbs up!