Alien Secrets, International Intrigue, Rouge Teams

Author: Sylvain Neuvel

It starts in the US, in a little town in South Dakota, but then it goes worldwide. It begins with a cryptic hand – a giant glowing hand, coming out of the earth, covered in words from an ancient language. What powers this hand? What does it mean? Where is it from? How did it suddenly rise above the soil to be found? And where, most importantly, are the other pieces of this giant body? When assembled, will the robotic entity be used for good or evil?

The US is involved, and everything is going on, very hush hush, behind the scenes, shielded by the veneers of the law. Rose Franklin is the physicist leading the top-secret team, which starts with two pilots, one of whom has an attitude and a problem with rules. But this very same pilot is in love with danger, with adventure, with secrecy and high stakes. She’s also starting to love the other pilot . . . and when a third party joins the team, the situation gets a bit volatile.

Meanwhile, an unnamed narrator, a fixer, a deadly man with the power and the prestige to handle situations, play governments off one another, engineers and solves political intrigues, and marionetted the discovery and assembly of this giant robot, dispassionately recording everything that happens. This man, emotionally deadened, pragmatic, deadly, is not interested in a side. He’s interested in something bigger, and he’s playing a very dangerous game.

Sleeping Giants is told in the form of interviews, letters, dispatches, journal entries, and occasional recordings. This format is perfect for the story, taking the fantastical, the human, the greedy, and the adventurous and juxtaposing it with the veneer of formality, of science, of cold schemes. The characters, as many have said, do more telling than showing, but it’s what goes unsaid, what is summarized, what is implied, what is recorded as a blip of history, that is so powerful. We know that behind these cool pages and the dulcet tones of our unflappable fixer, lives are spooling out, people are getting hurt and hurting, that everything is going to hell; every honorable and base emotion is in play. And somehow, the practicality, the written record sans emotion, sans translation, makes the story even more chilling and makes us – the collective humanity – even smaller against the scale of what has been found, of what this ancient, presumably alien technological wonder means. Why did we find it? Why now? What are we meant to do with it? What have we gotten ourselves into?

Image by Simona from Pixabay

Where the narrative breaks down more, however, is towards the conclusion, when the control loosens and this tenuous reality, this expert way of making the fantastical entirely believable (yeah, governments would totally hide such a thing and yeah, coverups like this would be the norm) disintegrates under some knee-jerk reactions, some dumb decisions, and some maneuvers that are more amateur than sinister. I can’t really say what they are, otherwise, I would ruin elements of the plot. In the end, the author pulls it back around, smooths some rough edges, pulls some deus ex machina salvation, an “ah, but there was a plan” attempt that pseudo-works.

What I want more of, what continues to haunt me, is not the marvelous machine with its advanced technology, its alien smoothness, but that chilling narrator, that man above the laws of nations and even humankind. What made him do what he did? Who rules him? How far up does the chain go? Who is this character, this brilliant, cold mind that occasionally shines through with something almost like nascent humanity? It’s his string pulling that brings it all together and something in his tone, his formality and ineffable control, his shrewd godlike oversight, that makes Sleeping Giants entertaining.

If only the novel had stayed true to its origins and had retained that tight control in the ending it could have been great. But, nevertheless, as it was, Sleeping Giants was an enjoyable read, something with a lot of brain and imagination, something with atmosphere and the endless creepiness of that ages old question: are we really alone out here?

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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