This is the fourth of Emma Newman’s Planetfall series, and as far as I’m concerned they just keep getting better. Narratively speaking, it seems to follow on more-or-less directly from the end of After Atlas, and while you don’t necessarily have to have read that or any of the other previous books to enjoy this one, I would strongly recommend reading at least After Atlas and Before Mars before this one.
Atlas Alone focuses its point of view on the character of Dee, a gamer and media analyst who has joined the people fleeing Earth on board Atlas 2. Having witnessed the nuclear devastation on Earth alongside her colleagues Carl and Travis, she becomes determined to identify those responsible for the massacre and find some way to make them pay for their actions. When one of those responsible turns up dead in a similar manner to a character she kills in a mersive (immersive VR game) she finds herself being drawn into a conspiracy that could affect the future of every colonist on board the ship.
As the narrative unfolds we’re given subtle hints of what’s going on in the background, tiny (and some not-so-tiny) glimpses of the bigger picture. Dee finds herself under the patronage of one of the higher-ranking members of the ship’s population, which then gives her access to the all-important data she needs to identify the culprits behind the nuclear assault. This patronage also gives her access to one of the ship’s leet servers, secretive game servers she’s only ever heard rumours about. And that’s when things really start to spiral out of control for her.
As a character Dee is remarkably well realised. She suffers from PTSD stemming from events in her childhood, including the deaths of her parents and her subsequent hot-housing (neural and emotional reprogramming) and indentureship, and as a result has problems processing her own emotions. This leads to her acting on impulse almost as a matter of course, which in turn brings her deeper into the conspiracy she’s become a part of. Yet despite this, the author has presented us with a relatable, sympathetic character we can’t help but root for.
As with every book I’ve read by Emma Newman, the writing here is superlative. She manages to keep the story flowing without much, if any, dead space in the narrative. Every word and sentence counts, and it’s all an absolute pleasure to read. I’d really like to hope there are going to be more books in this series, especially with the way this one ends.
So in conclusion, if you like sci-fi that’s driven by incredibly well-crafted characters and which deals with emotionally challenging topics then this is definitely one I’d recommend. Another seriously well deserved five stars for Emma Newman.