Saturday, May 21, 2016

Sleeping Giants: Science Fiction, Mystery, and Not So Thriller

Book Review: Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel (Library Copy)

I haven't read a good science fiction since The Maze Runner series. The back cover sells Sleeping Giants as "Reminiscent of The Martian and World War Z," but believe me, Sleeping Giants isn't anything like The Martian. I can't speak for World War Z, having not read it. It also sells itself as a mystery, but it doesn't get to the mysterious intensity of the The Maze Runner stories.

Clearly, the science fiction is apparent in this book. There is much mystery in the book, too. There is the strange giant hand discovered in the beginning of the story, and the giant forearm a bit later on, plus the rest of the body parts, not to mention the overall purpose of the "sleeping" giant once they put everything together. The entire story surrounds a small team of researchers from academia, the military, and a leader we even unto the end of the book know nothing about, all trying to unwrap the conundrum that is this ancient alien battle bot that as we read on learn has enormous powers. Neuvel handles that story line deftly.

In the sense that it involves an indestructible robot sent by aliens that is meant to ensure peace, that is there for defensive purposes, not offensive, and that we are strung along until near the end of the story to learn of its true purpose and power, Sleeping Giants really is more like The Day the Earth Stood Still. In that it involves no interceding alien being spokesperson, it falls short of that classic film - either version.

This book has lofty goals and meets many of them. It is interesting. It's characters are multidimensional and likable, even the enigmatic leader. The main plot behind the story is even mildly possible. The narrative style is unique, using memos, interviews, lunch discussions, phone conversations, and other inventive techniques to tell the story. Unfortunately, as much as it succeeds it also disappoints. For one thing, he fails to finish the story. It suggests that there may be more than one sleeping giant, yet we are never provided even a glint of that part of the story. We are told that the purpose of the sleeping giant may be to defend against alien invasion, but we are never allowed to witness that prospect. And worst of all, Neuvel doesn't resolve the dilemma of the characters - we leave them in limbo. Perhaps he is going to resolve this in the sequel. But even so, Neuvel should have written an ending, a conclusion from which the sequel might spring.

I guess my conclusion would be that Sleeping Giants was definitely a science fiction and a mystery - an interesting read, even enjoyable for the most part - but with missing elements and no ending, it was also a no thriller. As the first part of the Themis Files series, let's hope it gets better from here.

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