Review: Sleeping Giants

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Review: Sleeping Giants

There I was, this tiny little thing at the bottom of a hole, lying on my back in the palm of a giant metal hand.

Rose was only eleven years old when the ground opened underneath her. The rescuers who arrived on the scene found, not a sinkhole, but a fifty-foot square shaft, covered in glowing carvings, surrounding an impossible artifact at least a thousand years older than human civilization.

Seventeen years later, physicist Dr. Rose Franklin finds herself in charge of the team assigned to find out how the gigantic robotic hand works, what it was doing beneath a forest just outside Deadwood South Dakota, and whether there are more pieces buried in other parts of the world.

The hand isn’t just impossibly old; it’s made of elements that couldn’t have been found on Earth, and the technology is far beyond anything humans could have made. Worse, it might be a lot more than humans can control.

Refresh my memory. What was the conclusion of that report?

– We didn’t build this.

So, find the rest of the pieces of the giant robot, put them all together, win the game. Sounds like a pretty simple plot, right?

Wrong. Everything about this project is complicated: finding the pieces, putting them back together, translating alien writing (and alien math), and trying to operate controls that were built for something not quite human-shaped. You have to do this with materials that can’t be cut apart – so you have no way to know what the mechanism looks like – and your only method for figuring out how the controls work is to press random buttons and hope nothing explodes.

And that doesn’t even get into all the complications from just recovering the pieces themselves. You can imagine that sovereign nations don’t react well when another country sends military forces into their territory and basically says “this is mine” before walking out with technology no one knew was there in the first place.

…both sides think that they can do whatever they want because the other guy will never use its nuclear arsenal. It probably won’t be today, but someday…someday one of us is gonna be terribly wrong.

Moving everything forward at a rapid pace is the format of the book, which was one of the reasons it caught my eye in the first place. I know it makes me sound like a literary nerd, but I really love the epistolary format (stories written entirely in things like journal entries, or interviews, or newspaper articles). I’m always drawn into the interesting puzzle that’s created from combining snippets of so many different viewpoints, or the clever way the author has of revealing only what he wants the reader to know.

sleeping giantsFor many of the chapters you’re dropped into the middle of a crisis already in progress, so you get the sense of growing unease as you realize that something happened, but you have to figure out what from the panicked voices of air traffic controllers. Or an argument during an interview. Or when you’re listening in on a military operation but you can only hear one person over the comm so you get half of a conversation and most of that’s being shouted.

The chapters with eavesdropped conversations and interviews worked better for me than the journal entries (written or recorded). The journal entries were more of an information dump, and the emotional ones could feel a tad forced. The sections where the characters were being questioned by a nameless interviewer were a lot more fun. The rapid-fire back and forth meant you could get a real sense of each of the different characters. Dr. Franklin is so enthusiastic about the project that she’ll occasionally forget to stop talking when someone’s trying to ask a question. The linguist on the team, Vincent Couture, is just as enthusiastic, but he hasn’t really learned how to deal with other people. Ryan Mitchell is earnest and well meaning; Kara Resnik by contrast is angry, damaged, and practically wears a sign on her forehead that reads “Looking For A Fight.”

– …now you’ll ask me why someone with authority issues would choose a career in the miltary

– This is an interesting conversation you are having with yourself. Can we move on?

And then there’s the nameless interviewer himself, who was definitely my favorite part about the book. He’s in charge of the entire project in some way that’s never explained, not even to the baffled government officials who keep trying to order him to do things. If he was just another dead-eyed secret operative then he wouldn’t be as interesting. As it is he’s impossible to intimidate, he has a very dry sense of humor (usually with a smart-aleck response ready when he needs it), and he’s always three steps (or more) ahead of everyone because he has a surprisingly firm grasp of human psychology and nobody seems to be able to keep a secret from him.

– Nothing happened

– That is not what I heard.

– What did you…? I don’t understand. How could you…?

– Each of us has a specific function in this project, Mr. Mitchell. Dr. Franklin is in charge of all scientific aspects of this mission. You are a pilot. I know things.

This is a book about discovery, and most of the time what you discover is just how much worse things can get than they already are. The danger (and casualty count) keeps ramping up every time the robot gets closer to working, world governments are edging closer to all-out war, and emotions run very high as everyone starts caring less and less about anything other than finishing the damn project. And as bad as things get, it all pales in comparison to the two big unanswered questions: who left the robot pieces on Earth in the first place, and are they going to be happy that mankind is playing with their toys?

I’m glad I picked up this book on a whim, because it’s a pretty impressive debut novel for author Sylvain Neuvel. Book two of the trilogy came out this year, and Sony Pictures is working on a movie adaptation for the first book (in fact Sleeping Giants was optioned for a movie before Del Ray released the book, which, way to hustle!)