Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽'s Reviews > Only Human

Only Human by Sylvain Neuvel
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really liked it
bookshelves: arc, netgalley, science-fiction
Read 2 times. Last read April 30, 2018.

4.5 stars. The giant robots are back!! On sale today, May 1, 2018. Review first posted on Fantasy Literature:

Only Human wraps up Sylvain Neuvel’s excellent THEMIS FILES science fiction trilogy with some surprising plot turns. *Expect some spoilers for the first two books, Sleeping Giants and Waking Gods*

At the end of Waking Gods, the robot called Themis was suddenly transported back home to her original planet by remote command of her alien makers, accidentally carrying along four people who happened to be inside of her: Vincent Couture, the only human capable of piloting Themis; his 10 year old daughter Eva; Dr. Rose Franklin, the brilliant and compassionate scientist who first discovered the immense, buried hand of Themis as a child; and General Eugene Govender, commander of the newly formed Earth Defense Corps. After nine years on the planet Esat Ekt, Vincent, Eva and Rose, together with one of the natives of Esat Ekt, commandeer Themis and travel back to Earth.

They land in Estonia, where the Russian government (which controls Estonia again) is delighted to take possession of both the robot and them personally. In Waking Gods, Rose had disabled another of the giant robots that the aliens had sent to Earth, and it turns out that the U.S.A. has been ruthlessly using this other robot, called Lapetus, to take control of many other countries around the globe. (How the U.S. was able to solve the tricky robot piloting issue is disclosed later in the book.) Vincent, a Canadian, is not happy to learn that Canada is now subject to U.S. control. The Russians intend to use Themis, Vincent, Eva and Rose to combat the U.S. and Lapetus. It’s an understandable strategy, though their methodology for convincing their "guests" to go along with the plan ― personified by the veiled threats of Katherine Lebedev, a major in Russia’s intelligence agency who is assigned as the prisoners’ handler ― is decidedly unpleasant.

Meanwhile, in a panicked overreaction to the events that occurred in Waking Gods, most countries around the globe have created internment camps for people whose genetic makeup includes more than a certain percentage of alien DNA … and even executing those with the highest levels. Our world is devolving into chaos and governmental oppression, with rampant mistrust. It’s not a happy or peaceful world to which Rose, Vincent and Eva have returned.

Neuvel includes a good amount of political and social commentary in Only Human. It occasionally gets a little clunky, but there are some incisive if rather pessimistic insights into human nature and our behavior when stressed … and the massive alien-caused deaths in Waking Gods have led to unprecedented levels of worldwide fear and uncertainty.

Only Human is a dual timeline novel: the current timeline describes what occurs after Rose, Vincent and Eva return to Earth, interspersed with flashback chapters that follow their lives during their nine years on Esat Ekt. I was delighted to see Sylvain Neuvel take on the challenge of creating an alien culture but, partly because Neuvel is still following the same file-based narrative structure as the first two books, we only get a limited look at the aliens’ world and its people. It’s mostly seen indirectly, through the discussions and journals of the four humans who are involuntarily being held there. The aliens’ world of Esat Ekt is, in many ways, a familiar one despite their vast technological superiority and unswerving dedication to non-interference with other cultures. But like humans, they also have political conspiring, large portions of the population who are dispossessed because of their race … and even soup kitchens. I would have liked to have sensed more alien-ness in their society, but it was interesting to compare and contrast the flaws in their world with those in ours.

Katherine Lebedev, the military officer in charge of Rose, Vincent and Eva during their time in Russia, is a quirky combination of threats and faux-friendly chirpiness who never quite feels real. As a handler, she was a distinctly unsatisfactory replacement for the nameless handler who was such an impressively dominant force in Sleeping Giants. However, the relationship between Vincent and his now nineteen year old daughter Eva makes up for this with its painful realism. Neuvel delves into the chaotic web of love, misunderstanding, anger and concern that can make up a relationship between parents and children … especially rebellious teenagers.

Only Human is an enjoyable, thoughtfully written conclusion to the THEMIS FILES trilogy. It’s one of my favorite recent science fiction series, deftly combining hard science with interesting characters and social commentary, not to mention the excitement of giant robot deathmatches. Overall I give it an enthusiastic recommendation!

I received a free copy of this book for review from the publisher and NetGalley. Thank you!!

Initial post: THERE'S A DESCRIPTION AND A COVER! *flails* How soon can I get my hands on this??

ETA: The answer is: NOW. I have a copy from NetGalley in my hands now! *sweeps other books off the table*
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Reading Progress

January 16, 2018 – Shelved
January 16, 2018 – Shelved as: to-read
February 1, 2018 – Started Reading
February 1, 2018 – Shelved as: arc
February 1, 2018 – Shelved as: netgalley
February 1, 2018 – Shelved as: science-fiction
February 1, 2018 – Shelved as: dnf
February 1, 2018 –
22.0% "On the aliens' planet:

--Ekim—they don’t have body hair.
—We don’t have a lot … 
—We have enough, apparently. People stopped us on the street to look at our arms. Kids wanted to touch our eyebrows. We were like Wookiees to them.
—You’re making this up.
—I swear. It was like Chewbacca landed in New York."
February 1, 2018 –
41.0% "—Why not just turn us over to them?
—You’re funny. I like you. That’s just … not gonna happen. They’ll, my bosses, they’ll retire you before they turn you over.
—You mean they’ll kill us.
—Retire sounds so much better. But yes, you’re not alive anymore afterwards."
February 3, 2018 –
61.0% "What is an ant’s life worth? I see now that the answer is irrelevant. It’s the question that matters. Should the ant let itself die, crushed under the weight of its own insignificance? Or should it live, fight giants, and build magnificent cities underground?

What do I choose?"
February 4, 2018 –
77.0% "[Can you fight Lapetus without him?]
Fight La—You mean kick them? I can kick them. Oh, wait. I can’t even do that. Themis is out of power.
[Can you get out of there?]
What part of “out of power” was unclear? Out, power, or of?
[You know I can kill you at the press of a button, don’t you?]"
February 4, 2018 – Finished Reading
April 30, 2018 – Started Reading
April 30, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-12 of 12 (12 new)

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Philip For real.


Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽ Philip wrote: "For real."

I'll admit to being a little disappointed that apparently Rose and the group are back on Earth when this book starts. I was hoping to see Sylvain Neuvel take on a visit to an alien world.


Philip Oh I didn’t realize, that’s kind of a bummer. Waking Gods ended on such a good cliffhanger too!


Ashley *Hufflepuff Kitten* omgz I STILL haven't read the first one and I've had it for eons. wtf self.


Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽ Ashley *Hufflepuff Kitten* wrote: "omgz I STILL haven't read the first one and I've had it for eons. wtf self."

Gah! Go read it, stat!


message 6: by Tandie (new)

Tandie You’ve got me interested in this series. I’m going to check the liberry bush.


Mel (Epic Reading) So jealous you got a netgalley copy!!
My request is "pending" but I got the 2nd one so I'm cautiously hopeful. Lol!


message 8: by Tan (new) - added it

Tan Markovic I went on to see if it was available in the UK and it wasn't....absolute HEARTBREAK. Hope you love it!


Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽ Mel (Epic Reading) wrote: "So jealous you got a netgalley copy!!
My request is "pending" but I got the 2nd one so I'm cautiously hopeful. Lol!"


I was lucky: I got an email today from the publicist (not sure how I got on her list; it sounded like it was just because I'd gotten the 2nd book through NetGalley) alerting me that the third book was now available on NG. I immediately requested it and then responded to her email, telling her this is one of my favorite SF series. She wrote me right back to tell me she'd approved my request. It was very cool!


Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽ Tanja wrote: "I went on to see if it was available in the UK and it wasn't....absolute HEARTBREAK. Hope you love it!"

Bummer - I hope it's available for you soon!


message 11: by Nick (new)

Nick glad you liked it:)


Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽ Wow, haven't seen you around for a while, Etnik! Welcome back. :)


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