Waking Gods. Book Review

Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel
Penguin, h/b, 336pp, £12.99
Reviewed by Joely Black

This is the second in Neuvel’s series about the discovery of a gigantic alien space robot by humans, and the horrendous aftermath of using it. Like a lot of authors lately, Neuvel takes a grim view of our behaviour as a species. Should we discover fabulous technology abandoned on our planet by aliens, what would we do? Probably get ourselves killed by the millions.

Waking Gods is often dark reading. Neuvel has apparently seen what George R R Martin can do with his characters and is determined to wipe out the human race within a trilogy. This has a rather dissonant effect on the overall feel of the book. The “yay! Gigantic space robots” feel doesn’t sit easily with single sentences that decimate whole populations.

It is a gripping read, although the epistolary approach is beginning to grate. This is probably why the book’s high review scores come from the audiobook version. What began as an interesting approach to telling a story has started to feel like reading the script of an action movie, with most of the direction taken out. For this reason, I’d recommend listening to the audio version rather than the book, since Neuvel’s approach translates better to dramatization than it does to the page. Characters frequently have to describe events in ways that become clunky and obvious over time, and the dialogue can venture into the cheesy rather quickly.

My main frustration with the series is the feeling that a lot of events occur because they are convenient to plot, stretching the realms of credibility (although, obviously, we are talking gigantic alien robots here, so the likelihood may not be an issue with some readers). I recall feeling in the first book that the persistent return of the psychopathic Alyssa was unrealistic, since she could hardly be the only geneticist on earth at the time. Given what she had done at the climax of the previous book, it felt that Neuvel was pushing slightly too far in continually bringing her back into the fold.

Otherwise, this is an entertaining story, and given the full dramatization of the audiobook, I would spend your money on that, rather than the book version.