2019’s Atlas Alone is the fourth installment in Emma Newman’s Planetfall series.
Humanity’s second crewed starship is on its way to the distant star system pioneered by the Pathfinder. The 10,400 people on board Atlas 2 have a twenty-year voyage ahead of them1, which raises the question of how they are to fill their time. Dee knows exactly how she will spend it.
(spoilers for After Atlas)
The American visionaries behind the interstellar mission had no desire to let the undeserving follow in their footsteps. Accordingly, just as Atlas 2 was leaving Earth’s vicinity, the Americans launched a sudden nuclear attack on every facility capable of recapitulating their work. Retaliation immediately followed, dooming the vast majority of people on Earth to quick death in the explosions or slow demise in the aftermath. Earth will not be launching Atlas 3 any time soon, if ever.
Dee believes that the mission planners were willing to destroy civilization on Earth was because they weren’t going to be on Earth when it happened. She is convinced that the genocidaires must be ensconced in Atlas 2’s mysterious upper echelons. Dee sets out to work out who exactly murdered the Earth.
Dee’s best friend Carl would be a valuable asset in this quest — Carl was conditioned by his corporate masters to be the perfect investigator — but Carl has his own problems. High-ranked Crew have begun to die, one by one., Carl is determined to find out if the deaths are natural; if they aren’t, he wants to find the killer.
High on the list of suspects: Dee herself. But only because Dee is actually the guilty party.…
The Planetfall series makes one optimistic assumption: that we’ll have mastered starflight before the end of the 21st century. Otherwise things are bleak: the Earth is poisoned and humanity has become an endangered species.
I would have expected that the author would take Dee’s side. The genocidaires must be punished. Oddly enough, Newman makes it clear that she takes a dim view of vigilante efforts. The plot unspools as Dee, a mysterious ally, and Carl play a three sided game of villain, minion, and copper.
This ties the previous three works, all of which worked as standalones, into a single narrative. I am curious to find out where Newman will take later installments of her story.
1: The distances, accelerations and travel times as given don’t make sense. The Pathfinder set out twenty years earlier. Earth has data about the planet they settled, so it has to be within 10 LY of Earth. The Atlas is accelerating at 1 gee but Dee expects the trip to take twenty years. 1 gee for twenty years in the ship’s frame of reference will send the ship to galaxy core, tens of thousands of light years away. I must assume that Dee has misunderstood something about the estimated trip time or the ship’s acceleration.