In recent years, I’ve gotten kind of allergic to recommendations based on comparisons. It goes something like this: someone tells me “Oh, you’re going to like This Thing because it’s like This Other Thing that I know you like, so why don’t you give it a try?” And I go: “Hey, this might not be so bad. If This Thing is like This Other Thing That I Like, it’s probably going to be good.” I was even naive enough to take that kind of advice from a random stranger or an Internet algorithm. However, after some really bad reads I now know better than to put my full trust in an Amazon star rating, or what Goodreads recommends for me, or what some stranger on Reddit says I might like.
It’s because of that allergy that I was leery of picking up Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel. The buzz around the bookternet was comparing it to The Martian by Andy Weir, and since I loved Weir’s novel to bits and pieces, I would naturally greet any book being compared to it with more than a grain of salt. In the end, though, I finally caved, and I am now happy to report that Sleeping Giants is not and never will be The Martian, but is its own unique creature with its own definite appeal.
Sleeping Giants is the first book in the Themis Files. It begins when a young girl makes an amazing discovery when she falls through a hole in the ground and lands on top of a gigantic robotic hand. Fast forward to several years later, and that young girl, now the physicist Dr. Rose Franklin, has been called by the US military to work on the hand she accidentally discovered. In a series of audio transcripts and journal entries, Franklin and her newly-assembled team of specialists work together to understand how the robot works, aided by a mysterious benefactor who seems to have a special talent for getting them everything they need. And as that work brings them ever closer to unraveling the answers they are searching for, they must then decide what is to become of their knowledge – a decision that may affect the course of humanity for many generations to come.
Now, to be fair to those comparing Sleeping Giants to The Martian, there is some thematic overlap between the two: both novels deal with the joy of the life scientific. The Martian shows how Watney “sciences the s***” out of everything in order to survive on Mars, thus showing the reader the excitement of using scientific knowledge and the scientific method in order to survive in a hostile environment. Sleeping Giants, on the other hand, portrays the thrill of using science to push the boundaries of what is known by depicting the wonder and curiosity of various characters as they attempt to understand what the hand is, who could have made it, and what the answers to their questions could mean for humanity as a whole.
But where Sleeping Giants differs from The Martian is how it looks at a darker side to science by asking: Who holds the reins? During the first half of the novel it’s easy to feel as excited as the characters whenever they discover something new, but as the story progresses it becomes clear that the knowledge they’re gaining has consequences far beyond the lab in which they’re conducting their research. For example: If the team unravels the technology underlying the hand, who gets to determine how that technology is used, and who has access to it?
It’s easy to forget that all scientific endeavor, like practically every human endeavor, is caught up in a tangled web involving money and power: whoever holding the reins gets to determine how, what, and why a new scientific discovery is used. Sometimes, those people don’t always have the good of humanity first in their thoughts. Sleeping Giants is a great reminder to us that, while we should celebrate science, we should never forget to take a peek behind the curtain from time to time, to see who’s twitching the strings back there – and to make sure that, whoever it is, they’re doing what they’re doing for the good of humanity, and not for the good of a select few shareholders.
Overall, Sleeping Giants is an excellent beginning to what promises to be an equally excellent series. Comparisons to The Martian aside, it stands on its own as a great story of the light and the dark side of science, and as a great reminder in these politically tumultuous times that we always need to be wary of who wields power, and how and why they wield it. A solid five stars from me.
Sleeping Giants is available in multiple formats from Amazon; click on the title to find them all.