On a planet far, far away, at the foot of God’s City, the missionaries who followed Pathfinder Lee Suh-Mi’s vision of God have created a settlement, untainted by the difficulties left behind on an overpopulated, devastated Earth. Their colony thrives and every year they follow their prescribed ritual as they await for Suh-Mi’s return. The colonists have everything they need, all the basic skills are accounted for, and with advanced technology that not only connects them all virtually and ensures their survival but also allows them to 3D print anything they want. They have peace. 

Thus: all is well. All has been well for the past 20 years. Until a young man who shouldn’t be alive shows up with a tall tale of survival, wishing to reconnect with the colony his father knew a long time ago.   

The young man is the catalyst. What happens next could be argued to have been inevitable.

For the colony’s very foundation is a lie. The mythos surrounding its Pathfinder, a fabrication. And Renata Ghali is one of two people who know the truth. The truth that has been gnawing at her for the past two decades. The truth is that is slowly revealed to the reader as the story—both present and past—unfold.

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Planetfall is a masterful novel that not only deals with philosophical, sociological and technological questions pertaining to colonization, society, the group vs the individual, religion, myths and alien civilizations but does so from the viewpoint of a taut, fraught narration that is unreliable, questionable, and utterly emotional.

Renata—a queer woman of color, by the way—is a strong narrator that is simultaneously broken and resilient, fragile and spirited in a heady combination of traits that shows the complexity of what it means to be human. Renata who is perhaps suffering from PTSD and who definitely has anxiety and OCD (that expresses itself in a particular way), who is one of the most important people in the colony and who carries a secret that is too heavy for a person to carry. This story might be the story of this colony but it is above all, hers.

Planetfall, a psychological thriller that builds on its tense premise with a skill I was impressed with and which kept me glued to its pages, is also a thoughtful, realistic look at mental illness.  It’s definitely a Notable Read for me and it’s another great sci-fi novel of the year.

In Book Smugglerish: 8 out of 10

If you like it or want more like it, these recent sci-fi novels are complex, fun, thought-provoking explorations of humanity in futuristic, space settings. Check them out:  

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor  

Dark Orbit by Carolyn Ives Gilman

Dream Houses by Genevieve Valentine

Thea James and Ana Grilo are The Book Smugglers, a website for speculative fiction and YA. You can also find them on Twitter.