Having a point of view character with mental health issues in science fiction is a difficult thing to write. There are so many characters in science fiction that are depicted as a villain due to mental health problems. That type of writing in science fiction is a bit outdated as the views on mental health has changed. Emma Newman creates a character that has deep anxiety and a few other issues in Planetfall but the reader finds her very sympathetic. If you are looking for a science fiction book that does mental health in an interesting way, making it a part of the story, check this book out.
Ren is a part of a new colony on a new planet. Ren is the main engineer for the colony and helps build everything for the citizens. She was in love with the main explorer that created this new colony and believes the ideas that her girlfriend had were revolutionary. Ren also knows a devastating secret that might destroy the harmony of the entire colony and because of that secret Ren has a few mental health problems. When the first new person to the colony in 20 years shows up at the entrance, things for Ren get very difficult.
Planetfall is a mystery science fiction book that interweaves scenes from the past and present together. The past holds all the answers for the reader and throughout the book the reader gets bits of information about what really happened. At times Newman writes in a stream of consciousness type of way that jumps into Ren’s memory without warning. This can be a little off-putting at first but the reader quickly realizes that focus at all times is required while reading this book.
The overall narrative isn’t necessarily a detailed one, but the characterization is. This is without a doubt a character based book. A new variable is introduced in Ren’s life, the new colony visitor, which speeds along a lot of the issues Ren has been struggling with for the past 20 years. This book has a great final act that really hits home because of Newman’s careful character building in the first 3/4 of the book. The way that Planetfall is written reminds me of a short story. Your enjoyment out of this book will be if the questions about what really happened will cause you to read on.
I enjoyed this book, around a 3.5 score for me. I had a little bit of an issue visualizing this colony because it was all organic, which means everyone lives in plant houses. I had a hard time really caring about the organic structures because I just have never liked stories where characters live in an organic house. I think that the setting and world building was the weakest area in this book but the characterization was the strongest. Newman’s writing was good but I feel that this could have been told as a novella and caused more of an emotional impact for me. I think that individuals that can read a 320-page book in one sitting are more likely to like this book than those that will only read small 30 page chunks. When I sat down and only read about 20-30 pages, I wasn’t that into it, but when I took a lot of time to read 100+ pages in a sitting, I connected to it stronger.
So my recommendation is to grab this book when you want to read something with some mental health issues in it, have a good portion of time to read, and are in the mood for a “reveal the past” mystery, but want to stay in the sci-fi genre.
16/25 Possible Score
3 – Plot
4 – Characters
2 – World Building/Setting
3 – Writing Style
4 – Heart & Mind Aspect