After Atlas: CSI: Future World

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After Atlas by Emma NewmanAfter Atlas by Emma NewmanAfter Atlas by Emma Newman

Emma Newman’s After Atlas (2016) is the pseudo-sequel to her first sci-fi offering, Planetfall (2015). As Kat explained in her review, Planetfall is about a colony of humans who left Earth to follow Suh, an alleged prophet who received a supernatural message giving her the coordinates of an unknown distant planet where she was supposed to travel to receive instructions about God’s plans for humanity. After Atlas takes place on Earth, almost 40 years after the ship left. No word has come from the colonists, but the world awaits the opening of a time capsule left behind by the crew.

Carmen left her husband and son Carlos on Earth after she qualified to make the trip with Suh. Carlos’ story was of tremendous human interest and much press coverage, but he grew up on the fringes of society and lived a hard childhood having been left by his mother and cared for by a father who couldn’t hold his life together.

Carlos and his father turned to the anti-technology religious sect called The Circle where their leader, Alejandro Casales, took them in. Carlos left The Circle as a teen and was told that he could never return. Abused as a runaway, Carlos made his way to Britain where he and his only friend Dee were taken to the “Hot-House,” a work camp-like training operation that converts non-entities into valued chattel.

Fast forward to After Atlas’ present: Carlos is all grown-up and sold into servitude to the Ministry of Justice as a highly skilled detective in Norope, the hybrid government-corporation that includes Britain and Scandinavia.

Newman’s setting is Blade Runner-lite: crowded, overwhelmingly inundated with advertising … but less Asian, rainy, and absent of fully self-aware automatons. Carlos’ world is one flush with wearable and embedded technological advancements and an almost absolute absence of privacy:

Planetfall by Emma Newman

Book 1: Planetfall

Most of the people I can see in this dingy London backstreet are talking to either projected avatars or, like me, just the voices of their Artificial Personal Assistants, delivered directly into their brains via neural implant.

The Planetfall-connected plot of the 40th anniversary opening of the capsule is the fulcrum for After Atlas, and an agent for future sequels. This story, however, is not about alien worlds, spaceships, and off-world colonies. The bulk of the After Atlas narrative is focused on the murder of Casales, who was hanged, drawn, and quartered (stomach split, innards spilled, and all limbs and head hacked from his body). A conglomerate of sketchy organizations, including the American, European, and Noropean Gov-Corps and The Circle, want Carlos specifically assigned to the case. There were clear signs of suicide in the plethora of evidence … not including, of course, the beheading and dismemberment. Think of it as CSI: Dystopia — a future-Earth version of a crime procedure drama.

The greatest trait of Newman’s Planetfall was her ability to craft detailed and intricate psychological analyses as part of her character’s development. (note: not all of the Fantasy Literature reviewers felt the same, though; read the FanLit review for three different perspectives.) Alejandro had been a father figure and mentor to Carlos when his own father was too mentally detached to care for him. In After Atlas, Carlos’ investigation takes a severe emotional toll, which affords Newman the opportunity to expose those skills at writing inner monologue and psychological angst.

Newman threads her tale with essays on the intrusiveness of technology and societies’ collective ceding of individualized control to governments and corporations. Much of Carlos’ dialogue occurs with Tia, his Artificial Personal Assistant — an ersatz artificial intelligence tied to the chip embedded in his brain. Tia has more intelligence than your Apple Siri, but with the same personality.

Existence on Earth is kind of rough going, and it’s no wonder why the original thousand colonists wanted to get off. Nourishment comes primarily from protein printers, while “real” food is cost-prohibitive to all but the wealthiest of citizens. The everyday use of 3D printing and resource-management were key elements in Newman’s original and play a thematic role in After Atlas as well. Religion is a protected right in the world of After Atlas, however it’s looked at as an unnecessary touch point of a quaint past. Carlos combines “Jesus” and “Mohammed” to create the portmanteau exclamation JeeMuh throughout the story.

The future-tech crime-drama is interesting and entertaining, but doesn’t make for a great murder-mystery. The technological speculations are reasonable within the context of own real-world speed of change. Newman keeps the tech detail well balanced and believable while maintaining overall comprehension and pace of story.

I didn’t predict the precise resolution, but I knew where it was going and how it would tie in with the fictional Planetfall mythology and history. While the ending of After Atlas isn’t exactly deus ex machina, there are some relatively convenient circumstances that help tie up the loose ends and set up further stories in the Planetfall world.

I enjoyed After Atlas, but it didn’t have the power of the original and I don’t expect it to be as memorable. That said, Newman’s created a credible future society with commensurate technological advances, which provides potential in the additional planned stories in her world.

Published November 8, 2016. Acclaimed author Emma Newman returns to the captivating universe she created in Planetfall with a stunning science fiction mystery where one man’s murder is much more than it seems… Gov-corp detective Carlos Moreno was only a baby when Atlas left Earth to seek truth among the stars. But in that moment, the course of Carlos’s entire life changed. Atlas is what took his mother 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 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 realizes that escaping the past is not so easy. There’s more to Casales’s death than meets the eye, and something much more sinister to the legacy of Atlas than anyone realizes…

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JASON GOLOMB, who joined us in September 2015, graduated with a degree in Communications from Boston University in 1992, and an M.B.A. from Marymount University in 2005. His passion for ice hockey led to jobs in minor league hockey in Baltimore and Fort Worth, before he returned to his home in the D.C. metro area where he worked for America Online. His next step was National Geographic, which led to an obsession with all things Inca, Aztec and Ancient Rome. But his first loves remain SciFi and Horror, balanced with a healthy dose of Historical Fiction.

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