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Only Human by Sylvain Neuvel

BOTTOM LINE: A fitting end to a fantastic series

Genre: Science Fiction
Publication Date: 1 May 2018
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Synopsis from the Publisher:

“Brilliant scientist Rose Franklin has devoted her adult life to solving the mystery she accidentally stumbled upon as a child: a huge metal hand buried beneath the ground outside Deadwood, South Dakota. The discovery set in motion a cataclysmic chain of events with geopolitical ramifications. Rose and the Earth Defense Corps raced to master the enigmatic technology, as giant robots suddenly descended on Earth’s most populous cities, killing one hundred million people in the process. Though Rose and her team were able to fend off the attack, their victory was short-lived. The mysterious invaders retreated, disappearing from the shattered planet . . . but they took the scientist and her crew with them.

Now, after nearly ten years on another world, Rose returns to find a devastating new war—this time between humans. America and Russia are locked in combat, fighting to fill the power vacuum left behind after the invasion. Families are torn apart, friends become bitter enemies, and countries collapse in the wake of the battling superpowers. It appears the aliens left behind their titanic death machines so humankind will obliterate itself. Rose is determined to find a solution, whatever it takes. But will she become a pawn in a doomsday game no one can win?”

My Thoughts: It would be too easy to discount the Themis Files series as nothing more than a fantastic story about alien giant robots and how humankind handles the knowledge of their existence. Yet, you would be wrong. While it is about the alien giant robots and human’s reaction to them, it is so much more than that. (If you need a hint, just look at the final book’s title.) As a finale, Only Human sums up the overarching themes and provides excellent closure to this story that is much more than it seems.

One of the things I continue to love about this series is the format. I am a fan of the epistolary format if only because it is different and more personal. However, Mr. Neuvel continues to take it one step further with his use of transcripts, official reports, journal entries, and other third-party “sources.” I find it a fascinating method of telling a story as well as one I imagine that is quite difficult to write. After all, he has to go beyond telling a story. He has to structure the story in the context of something else. Each reporting method has to read differently with a different target audience while remaining true to the actual story. To me, he is very successful in this endeavor, and it remains one of my favorite aspects of the series.

If the first novel was about human greed and the second novel about human violence, the finale is exactly what it says it is – a study in what it means to be human. We see this from those on Earth struggling for power in the world left after the loss of hundreds of millions of people and the disappearance of the giant robots from outer space. We especially see this in Rose and others’ experiences on the alien planet and their reactions once back on Earth. Being human has always been difficult to define, but when adding the knowledge of and interaction with an alien species, this takes on a whole new meaning.

I realize that all this makes it sound as if Only Human is much more introspective than its predecessors. It is and it is not. Yes, there is plenty of soul searching as Rose and others struggle to figure out what to do, both on the planet and on Earth. However, there is plenty of the same action that makes the previous two novels so enjoyable. After all, Mr. Neuvel means for the series to be fun and action-packed, so there is plenty of robot-on-robot fighting that is still as entertaining as it was the first time we experienced it.

The Themis Files series remains as impressive in this last book as it was in the first book. Moreover, it keeps its originality to the end. Plus, it never pretends to be something it is not. It pokes fun at its genre while proving to be an excellent example of its genre. I am sad to end my time with the giant robots but cannot wait to see what Mr. Neuvel will do in the future.

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