I’ve been wanting to read this book for a while now, because I love the science fiction/detective genre, which combines two of my favorite kinds of stories. After Atlas is about a detective, Carlos Moreno, who is actually an indentured servant to the government. In Newman’s future world, everyone is chipped with an AI, privacy is (mostly) a thing of the past, and most food comes from a printer.
Moreno’s history is what makes this story interesting. His mother abandoned him as a baby to take the first flight to Mars, and his destitute father joined a no-technology cult called The Circle. Moreno fled The Circle as a teenager, and as a “nonperson”, has been the property of the government ever since.
Moreno is asked to investigate the gruesome death of The Circle’s leader, Alejandro Casales, a man he knew personally. In reliving the gory details of Casales’ life and death, Moreno is also forced to confront his past.
A lot of things made this book stand out. First, the technology is really integral to the story, and it all felt very realistic. Moreno is able to see the crime scene in a virtual room, for example, and his AI can search millions of records in an instant – IF he knows the right questions to ask and dares to go where he shouldn’t. Technology is ever-present, and it’s both a positive and a negative; it can connect people, feed them, educate and entertain, but it can also enslave.
I really liked the character. Moreno is tough and cynical, as a good noir cop should be. He’s also jaded and angry – being property will do that to a person. But he still tries to do the right thing, and he still cares – too much – about the people in his past who have hurt him.
And, I really liked the story, the way it was woven together and slowly revealed. I was a bit frustrated because Newman keeps parts of Moreno’s past fuzzy. Somewhere between leaving The Circle and becoming a cop, Moreno is caught, tortured, and sold by human traffickers. He hates both Casales and his father but it’s not clear why until late in the book.
This is one of the few mysteries where the reveal felt worth it in the end. A lot of what happened, I didn’t see coming. I’m not sure all of it made sense, but I’m still thinking about it.
Ultimately, I was blown away by how thoughtful this book was. Newman wrestles with a lot of interesting issues related to personal freedom, privacy, and individuality. And when this book takes a dark turn, it is absolutely terrifying.
There’s actually a book that comes before Atlas; it’s called Planetfall and it’s about the flight to Mars that takes Moreno’s mother away. I normally wouldn’t read a second book first, but the description made it sound like these two books are very different, despite their related characters. The first sounds much more like traditional science fiction, not a detective story. There’s a third book that just came out called Before Mars, another “standalone” book in the same world.
So now I think I need to go back and read Book 1, and then I’ll jump into Book 3. I can’t tell you if that’s the wrong way to do it. I can tell you that After Atlas was very worth the leap.
Note: I read this book for the TBR Pile Challenge, the Swords and Stars Challenge, and the Science Fiction vs. Fantasy Bingo Challenge.
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