Sleeping Giants review

I’ll get my greatest quibble against Sylvain Neuvel’s science fiction novel Sleeping Giants out of the way first. The style of narration is mostly after-the-action interviews and dialogues. The material could be a stage play, with only a pair of the characters involved in each chapter at any one time. If this were a movie, it could be made into another poorly-shot shaky cam found footage pic that makes you rethink your decision to eat before entering the cinema. Hopefully, if it is developed into a film, it will fall into capable hands.

But this stylistic choice falls into the background as the compelling story takes over. Sleeping Giants presents a mystery about giant robot parts buried around the Earth by an advanced civilization thousands of years in the past. The modern-day discovery of these parts and the attempt to gather them and understand their purpose make up the core of the story, centering on a mysterious agent shepherding the project through the challenges involved in understanding the cryptic alien technology. The main characters also face tests of their moral sensibilities, ranging from their ability to tolerate questionable medical ethics and their willingness to ignore extra-national legalities involved in unearthing the robot parts from various parts of the globe. To what degree can these people stomach the loss of innocent lives in pursuit of an epoch-making discovery?

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As to avoid spoiling anything, I’ll leave out my thoughts on any reveals as to the aliens that put the robot parts where they are found, except for the fact that what is hinted at and/or discovered felt frustratingly plausible in the context of the story. The characters have to piece together what they know through a slim window of facts and suppositions, and we as the readers don’t get to peek past what the characters experience. This restricted perspective is well executed.

This is a quick read with enough twists and good pacing. If anything, the world presented is our own except for the buried robot parts and their technological implications. No time is wasted on superfluous elements beyond what the characters themselves express. We’re not able to indulge in their thoughts, and the book is better for it. Some parts remind me of Peter Weir’s The Martian where Mark Watney’s story is told through his video journal, except here all of the narrations involve two characters instead of one.

If this style of writing becomes a new trend it could become tedious. As it is, Sleeping Giants is a fun read and leaves me interested as to what comes next as way of a necessary sequel.

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