'After Atlas' is book 2 of the 'Planetfall' series, but it can be read as a standalone, and I've started with it.
It's set in a dystopian / cyberpunk world of advanced technology that permeates every aspect of human life, making it easier while depriving people of privacy and independence. The world is ruled by powerful gov-corps and is full of injustice and inequality. Detective Carlos Moreno is tasked with investigating the murder of a well-known cult leader. The more he finds out, the stranger the case seems. It also doesn't help that he has a personal history with the victim.
Detective Carlos Moreno is the protagonist and the only point of view throughout the story. The narrative is in the first person, present tense. He is a complex and flawed character who has been through a lot. Abandoned by his mother as a child, uncared for by his father who couldn't cope with his wife's departure, raised in a cult, abused, and, eventually, enslaved. Indentured to the Ministry of Justice, he isn't allowed to undertake risky activities, form a long-term relationship or speak about his contract. He's waiting for the contract to end in several decades, when he'll finally be able to make his own decisions. He's bitter, cynical and traumatized. He's also a great detective who can't leave a case unsolved. We get an intimate view of the inner workings of his mind that demonstrates the author's brilliant understanding of human psychology and trauma.
There are other characters that play important roles in the story, and they all felt real to me, but you'll get to know them when you read the book.
The world-building mostly happens through Carlos's memories and thoughts, his investigation and interactions with his personal AI assistant provided through his chip. It's an intricate world, and technology permeates every aspect of it, creating an interesting and thought-provoking setting for the story. We don't get much insight into the gov-corps ruling the world (maybe they are expanded on in other books of the series), but it's enough to get a rough idea of what international relationship and some of the politics look like.
The plot is straightforward and clear. Together with Carlos, we oscillate between the present and the past that helps us to fill in the details about the world and his personality as he tries to untangle the case.
The murder mystery is the main focus of the story. Even though I haven't read those in a while and don't have much to compare it too, I feel like it's a good one. The more details are revealed, the more suspicious it gets, and the more questions arise.
The sci-fi elements are entertaining, intriguing and eerie. We get a very imaginative glimpse into what police work might look like in the future when the majority of the population are chipped, virtual meetings are conducted right inside one's head, and a crime scene can be inspected in minute detail virtually after autonomous drones have recorded every aspect of it. The author has clearly given it a lot of thought creating lots of curious elements.
I loved the contrast Emma Newman created to illustrate how the same technology can make one's life easier or make them a prisoner inside their own head. Carlos looks down on unchipped people and appreciates his personal AI assistant's help that gives him fast and easy access to information, can do a lot of processing and mundane work and handles everyday routine tasks. However, when his contract is bought from the Ministry of Justice, he's denied contact with his only friend, access to news feeds, doing his own online research or even listening to music, and his visual field is dominated by a spinning logo of his new owner at all times. I found it a brilliant illustration of how we might unwittingly treat freedom and agency for comfort. It's all good while the power is in the right (or at least neutral) hands, but what happens if someone more sinister seizes it?
I loved the book! It got me hooked from the very first pages and didn't let me go until the end. I loved the world and the protagonist, hated the antagonist and raged at the injustices together with Carlos. The mystery kept me invested and intrigued, and I reached for the book whenever I had a moment. I didn't expect the ending and was a bit heartbroken. I also loved the way it was written - it was so clear and easy to read that I was completely immersed in the narrative with nothing to pull my attention away. I'll definitely read all the other books of the series (I've got a few books to read first, but I'll be back!) and will keep my eyes open for Emma Newman's new releases.
You might enjoy the book if you like crime mysteries (I believe you don't even have to be into sci-fi for it), cyberpunk / dystopian settings, exploration of the impact advanced tech has on society / individuals and shows like Black Mirror.
Emma Newman writes short stories, novels and novellas in multiple speculative fiction genres. Her Planetfall series was nominated for the Best Series Hugo Award 2020 and individual books in that series have been shortlisted for multiple awards. She is a professional audiobook narrator, and won the Alfie and Hugo Best Fancast Awards for her podcast Tea and Jeopardy. Emma is a keen role-player, gamer, painter and designer-dressmaker.