Waking Gods: The sleeping giants have arisen

Waking Gods by Sylvain NeuvelWaking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel

Waking Gods by Sylvain NeuvelWaking Gods (2017) is the sequel to last year’s breakout debut and Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Science Fiction, Sleeping Giants. In Sleeping Giants, Sylvain Neuvel introduced readers to Dr. Rose Franklin who, as a child, fell into a hole and discovered a giant metal hand. Driven by passion and destiny, she would grow up to identify, discover and put together the remaining pieces of a giant metal goddess, named by the discoverers, Themis.

(Note: this review contains some spoilers for THEMIS FILES #1, Sleeping Giants.)

Relative newcomer Neuvel is a rising star in science fiction, and THE THEMIS FILES is absolutely one of the best science fiction series in publishing. In Waking Gods, he tells a masterfully engaging story in crisp, pithy prose. The entirety of the novel, like the first, is in epistolary style though he doesn’t use “letters,” per se, but “files.” The narrative is told in first person reports, or relayed as a conversation in the form of official reports, diaries, and recorded exchanges. Neuvel delivers on the difficult style very well, forging unique voices and personalities within a given conversation and across files.

Waking Gods takes place nine years after the conclusion of Sleeping Giants. The delightfully acerbic Kara Resnick returns as one-half of the operating crew of Themis, alongside sometimes-boyfriend, French linguist Vincent Couture. Couture sacrificed his anatomy so that his lower legs can unhinge and be placed in reverse, to match the odd lower-leg joints of the giant robot.

Rose disappeared in Sleeping Gods, but has mysteriously returned. She’s changed though, her outlook more dark and grim, pondering the Pandora’s Box she may have opened. Ever the optimist in Sleeping Giants, Rose thought that the pieces of Themis were left behind by benevolent aliens, to be discovered when the human race was “ready.” Rose now wonders whether the pieces, buried in some of the most remote places on earth, were ever intended to be found.

Also returning to Neuvel’s world is the nameless, shadowy ultra-governmental figure that I refer to as Mr. Manipulator, and in Waking Gods we’re given our first glimpse into his back-story. Alyssa Papantoniou, geneticist and foil in Sleeping Giants, returns as well. Alyssa had stolen Kara’s eggs and Vincent’s sperm in the hopes of creating another genetically compatible pilot for Themis. Nine years later, we meet Eva Reyes, their white-skinned, green-eyed progeny living in Puerto Rico; a little girl who’s not exactly like those around her: she has dreams and visions sometimes of Themis, sometimes of other robots, and often of death — entire cities strewn with corpses.

Neuvel extends his mythology of alien first contact in Waking Gods as another robot appears out of a mist in the middle of a park in downtown London. Dubbed Kronos, this robot is similar to Themis, but not exact — it’s a little slicker, glows a different color, and is ten feet taller. After several quiet days of observing, it unleashes a tremendous force that instantly destroys a huge section of London and kills 136,000 people. Themis responds, and though weaker and smaller, Resnik and Couture find a creative way to rend Kronos powerless and slice the attacking robot in half, simultaneously killing its alien pilots.

The celebration is short-lived. Twelve more robots appear in cities across the world. They coordinate their attacks and release a gas that kills 95% of those it touches. International reactions vary from peaceful patience, to one devastating but ultimately unsuccessful nuclear attack on the Spanish capital of Madrid. There’s no way to stop the robots and no way to contain the gas.

What are the beings that sent the robots? Are they, in fact, benign or do they have a larger more violent aim towards Earth and its inhabitants? Why does 5% of the population survive the gas? Can Kara and Vincent find Eva, and will she be able to pilot Themis? And, of course, will Themis and the Earth Defense Corps be able to defeat the alien robots?

Waking Gods is just wonderful. The story is engaging, exciting, and reads all too quickly. The action sequences are built for the silver screen. In combination with the well-developed characters and meme-worthy dialogue, Sony Pictures has got to be licking their chops with a potential Independence Day-like smash in their future.

Neuvel’s voice is unique, though contemporary sci-fi fans won’t help but find a little John Scalzi in his well-delivered snark. He produces a tremendous amount of plot in only 320 pages, with well-rounded characters, and enough substantial emotional development to build a surprisingly emotive connection for the reader.

I was absolutely thrilled by this book and can’t wait for future sequels. Neuvel’s ending conclusively wraps up Waking Gods but creates a clear launching point for a continuation. It’s not entirely perfect, though, as some elements of the conclusion were a little too coincidental in their rationale, which created a bit of a deus ex machina feel to the resolutions. While the story is made for Hollywood, expect no pure Hollywood ending.

~Jason Golomb


Waking Gods by Sylvain NeuvelJana says: There’s so much to enjoy about Waking Gods: first and foremost, the vast number of science fiction pop culture references, which makes the plot and the characters more plausible and relatable. The spectacle of giant robots fighting is always awesome, and I cackled with glee when I saw the Neon Genesis Evangelion reference. But there are so many others, particularly (but not limited to) World of Warcraft, Star Trek, and Star Wars, which reward the reader for recognizing them, and connect the world of THE THEMIS FILES indelibly to our own.

Also, I appreciated the blend of new and returning characters, which expand the scope of the narrative without completely abandoning its foundation. The changes in Dr. Franklin’s demeanor are fascinating because she’s so different from who she was in Sleeping Giants, and yet still very much the same. I liked the insight into our nameless friend’s background, and introducing Eva Reyes was a smart way of providing the perspective of a person for whom the existence of Themis is a normal aspect of life rather than something new and astonishing.

Neuvel generally maintains a strong sense of character personalities and behavior even though we only get recorded dialogue, journal entries, and newspaper articles to propel the story. The file-entry format is still a nice change of pace from traditional novels, and I liked that the files don’t always appear in perfect sequence — for example, the jump from File No. 1580 to File No. 1585 — leaving readers guessing what files might be missing and why they’ve been omitted. This structure gets a little wonky near the end, straining credulity that a character would so clearly describe their actions during a time of extreme duress, but it usually works.

On the other hand, other than Dr. Franklin, who undergoes a dramatic shift and provides a fair amount of insight into her thought processes and experiences, it’s hard to get a sense for any inner turmoil experienced by characters I wanted to care more about. Giving us the bigger picture of thirteen huge robots and their destructive capabilities around the world means that we don’t get as many personal interactions between members of the Themis crew, an element from Sleeping Giants that I wanted to see carried forward into Waking Gods. It’s the one aspect of the book that I felt could have used the implementation of additional journal entries, so that their battles and sacrifices could carry greater emotional weight. I don’t know if my reaction was a result of the found-file format, which creates a gulf between characters and the reader, or if it’s because of the constant, overwhelming sense that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Sure, the survival of the many depends on the actions of those few, but that makes it even more imperative that we understand what they’re going through.

Waking Gods has an inescapable popcorn-movie vibe, though it’s more serious than Sleeping Gods. The stakes are higher, and there’s much more to be gained and lost. Overall, it’s a good second installment of a planned trilogy, and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next for Themis and her crew.

~Jana Nyman


Waking Gods by Sylvain NeuvelIt’s nine years after the end of the events in Sleeping Giants. Our anonymous and dry-witted handler is still pulling strings and manipulating events and people behind the scenes. Vincent Couture and Kara Resnick are still in a relationship, and still the only people on earth who can pilot Themis, the two hundred foot tall alien robot that scientists found and assembled. Dr. Rose Franklin ― or the younger copy of her that was found by a road in Ireland, a year after the original Rose died ― is the head of research in the Earth Defense Corps, formed to deal with whatever alien threats might appear. And now, it appear, the EDC will get its chance.

A new robot suddenly materializes in the middle of London, a little taller and more muscular-appearing than Themis, striated with veins of yellow light rather than Themis’s turquoise, and likely six thousand years newer than her. For a week the new robot, called Kronos, stands motionless and silent while humanity in general, and the British Parliament in particular, argues about what to do. Finally the British military calls in tanks and soldiers to confront Kronos with a show of military force, hoping that those who control the robot will choose to leave. Kronos turns its head. And then all hell breaks loose.

More giant robots mysteriously appear around the world, and are wholly uncommunicative about their intentions … but not so much, unfortunately, about their combat abilities. Humanity is in trouble, and at an alarming disadvantage.

As Jason and Jana mention, the characters we know and love (or, in the case of a couple of them, love to hate) all play a role in the events of Waking Gods. There are some truly surprising character arcs during the events of this novel. The handler character is still nameless, but discloses an intriguing background. Kara is as impulsive and smart-mouthed as ever, but shows a new side of her personality when she gets some astounding and highly personal news. Rose is a darker character in her new iteration. Nine years after her mystical reappearance as a younger version of the character who died in Sleeping Giants, Rose is still traumatized by the idea that she’s just a clone or copy; she spends a lot of time, perhaps too much, gloomily navel-gazing. But the answers to the questions about how and why she was brought back may give her a new purpose.

There are also a couple of key new players: Brigadier General Eugene Govender, commander of the EDC, and Eva Reyes, a ten year old girl in Puerto Rico with disturbing visions that often come true. I’m not always convinced about the wisdom of adding a child character to an otherwise adult adventure tale, but I agree with Jana that Sylvain Neuvel uses Eva’s character to good effect here.

While Waking Gods retains the same file-based structure and interview and report-based narrative style as Sleeping Giants, the focus shifts from the wonder of discovery and research about an alien artifact and the political ramifications of that discovery, to more of a science fictional disaster film vibe. While the nature of the story being told in Waking Gods didn’t have the innate appeal to me as Sleeping Giants’ story did, it’s still a gripping tale. It’s slightly marred by just a few plot developments that struck me as either overly convenient or pat, or (I’ll admit it) painfully shocking.

Waking Gods is an epic story, global in its scope. Even it didn’t engage me quite to the extent the first book did, it’s unquestionably a solid follow-up. And with that last sentence in the novel, Neuvel had better be planning on publishing a third book soon!

~Tadiana Jones

Publication date. April 4, 2017. In the gripping sequel to Sleeping Giants, which was hailed by Pierce Brown as “a luminous conspiracy yarn . . . reminiscent of The Martian and World War Z,” Sylvain Neuvel’s innovative series about human-alien contact takes another giant step forward. As a child, Rose Franklin made an astonishing discovery: a giant metallic hand, buried deep within the earth. As an adult, she’s dedicated her brilliant scientific career to solving the mystery that began that fateful day: Why was a titanic robot of unknown origin buried in pieces around the world? Years of investigation have produced intriguing answers—and even more perplexing questions. But the truth is closer than ever before when a second robot, more massive than the first, materializes and lashes out with deadly force. Now humankind faces a nightmare invasion scenario made real, as more colossal machines touch down across the globe. But Rose and her team at the Earth Defense Corps refuse to surrender. They can turn the tide if they can unlock the last secrets of an advanced alien technology. The greatest weapon humanity wields is knowledge in a do-or-die battle to inherit the Earth . . . and maybe even the stars.

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JASON GOLOMB, on our staff from September 2015 to November 2018, 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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JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but now makes her home in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L'Engle, Ann Leckie, N.K. Jemisin, and Seanan McGuire.

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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One comment

  1. These two books both sounds fascinating.

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