Book review: Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel (first published in 2016 by Penguin Random House)
About the book:
A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand.
Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved—its origins, architects, and purpose unknown.
Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the provenance of the relic.
What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unraveling history’s most perplexing discovery—and figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result prove to be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?
I think I had a completely different impression of what this book would be like, so while it popped up on my radar, I didn’t actually take much notice.
But I saw it in the bookstore one day, recalled a couple of good reviews, and thought I’d take a chance. Don’t you love it when a hesitant decision pays off?
I was expecting something really dense, for some reason, but I found it easy to follow the flow of the story. The book follows an epistolary format, consisting of interview transcripts and diary entries.
And while there is certainly a lot of technical information included, it didn’t feel overwhelming. I suppose it’s a difficult balance, between providing the necessary technical info but risk hurting the brains of your readers, or just being hand-wavey with the details and have us questioning ‘but how would that work?’.
But this thing…it’s different. It challenges us. It spits in the face of physics, anthropology and religion. It rewrites history. It dares us to question everything we know about ourselves… about everything.
The premise of the tale really fascinated me. Firstly, finding a random statue of a body part in the field. Where do you possibly go to from there?
And then the real crux of the matter – other species out there, waiting to make contact with us, but only when we’re reached a certain point in evolution and aren’t still living in caves waving sticks at each other. Humanity is really young, in comparison to the planet, and indeed, everything else contained in the universe.
I won’t go into any further detail, but it certainly had me hooked, and there is an ending that will have you anxiously counting down the days until the sequel is released.
I was somewhat less impressed with the characters – the world-building, mystery and plot are the strengths of the novel.
Rose comes across as deified by the other characters, the two males on the project were fairly one dimensional, and Kara, the fiery pilot, has a lot of personal issues that obviously are pushed to the background in favour of the science-ing.
Something that really struck me was the sheer amount of wry humour that the author incorporated. It had me smirking and shaking my head at the audaciousness of the narrator. Indeed, the central figure of the novel, and the one conducting all the documented interviews, is a mysterious one.
Overall, the tone of the novel is slightly menacing. We know exactly what humanity and governments are like in the face of a potential threat and powerful weapon, and there is some astute commentary on the way we tend to doom ourselves, without any help from outside influences.
Bluffing doesn’t mean what it used to. No one wants an all-out war, and everyone knows it. Both sides know the other doesn’t want a fight, so we push each other against the wall, a tiny bit further every time.
It’s all about saving face but, basically, we’re playing chicken, and both sides think 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.