Sleeping Giants

Author: Sylvain Neuvel

Type: Fiction, novel

Part of series: Themis Files (#1)

Published: 2016

I read it: January 2017


Do judge this book by its cover and its premise. See how pretty that turquoise is? It’s the color emitted by a giant hand that mysteriously unearths itself and sets in motion a chain of events that quickly encompasses international concerns. The story is smart, original science fiction packed to the brim with ideas. It’s great.

I think I’ll skip the rest of the plot summary. I read this one right on the heels of Dark Matter, and both books were ranked highly on the year’s-best sci-fi lists. And wouldn’t you know it, there’s Blake Crouch giving the largest and glowingest blurb on the back cover of Neuvel’s (very slickly designed) hardcover.

Well, I didn’t think Dark Matter was great. Instead, it seems that Sleeping Giants was exactly what I was looking for. There aren’t really many similarities between the two. They both live on the edges of speculative sci-fi, but that’s about it. The technology (and requisite science to explain it to the reader) in Sleeping Giants is more tangible, tantalizing, and clearly displayed. The story is intriguing in its details, yet huge in the scopes of space, time, and distance. I don’t fault it at all for just being part one of a presumed trilogy.

I don’t do this often, but I skimmed through some Goodreads reviews right after finishing the book but before drafting the review. (I blame this on the lack of Wikipedia entry for the book, and I just wanted to read something about it.) Several people mentioned a general notion that this book was being compared to The Martian. But again, there’s hardly anything similar about them. It seems that all these modern, somewhat “realistic” sci-fi books are all just individual success stories in the current wave of support for these books. They simply share a genre and an increasingly large readership. I’m not sure that the plots themselves overlap much.

One specific thing people discussed was the format. Sleeping Giants is told entirely through records. Mostly interviews, but some personal voice recordings and other miscellaneous media or government transcripts. So one comparison is Mark Watney’s blog entry, while a counterpoint could be Jason Dessen’s totally inexplicable first-person narration. The choice that Neuvel made left some readers feeling distant. I thought it was incredibly effective. Not just for the feeling of immediacy, but for the flair with which he pulls off the actual conversations (by far the most interesting character is the shadowy interviewer). But even more than that, the format parallels the story itself. The giant blue hand is a found item, an artifact. We get to ride along as a cast of characters tries to figure it out. In the same way, the transcripts themselves are found, unearthed. They are incomplete, frustrating, moving, and impossible to ignore. Like the hand. We are piecing together a buried project from a past time.

Finally, as I was giving the briefest summary of this book to my wife, she said (in an of-course-you’d-like-this-book kind of way) “It sounds like Annihilation.” Not in the details or even the writers’ styles, perhaps. But in the mystery and discovery and wealth of ideas, yes. And because it’s just a hell of a lot of fun.

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