Sylvain Neuvel’s Debut Novel, Sleeping Giants, Deftly Avoids Becoming a Sci-fi Cliche
A dissociated birthday party, a new bike, and a 23-foot-long metal hand. And so begins Sylvain’s Neuvel’s debut novel Sleeping Giants. Sleeping Giants follows Doctor Rose Franklin, a gifted physicist working at the University of Chicago, who, after falling down a perfectly square hole onto the metal hand as a child, is now tasked with the responsibility of discovering the origin, composition, and function of the hand.
As more and more giant metal appendages are unearthed, Franklin begins to discover that this would-be statue is less than ceremonial. An unnamed man begins to develop an elite covert research facility comprised of Franklin, Kara Resnik (military pilot), Ryan Mitchell (co-pilot to Resnik), Victor Couture (linguist), and Alyssa Papadatou (geneticist). As Franklin and her team erect the colossal statue, its true function as a war machine becomes abundantly clear, and so does the fact that its origins are undeniably from another species.
I have to just start out this review plain and simple: I loved Sleeping Giants. In my opinion, it is a very entertaining story, and I flew through 300 pages. Granted, the majority of the novel is in an interview format, which certainly makes the book a bit of a quicker read; nonetheless, it was an engaging book that gave you just enough storyline without divulging its complete truth.
Personally, I need a book that doesn’t quite answer everything. That is the magic of the story is in and of itself: mystery. We are all fascinated and awestruck by what we do not understand, and by our own crass human nature we immediately lose any interest in something we completely understand. We always want what we do not have. Sleeping Giants plays perfectly on this communal personality trait that humanity shares by being cryptic, vague, and enigmatic but steadfastly dropping breadcrumbs for us to follow.
If you are a reader who needs definitive answers or explicitly rationalizations as to what is happening with a book, then, in the words of Randy Jackson from American Idol: “It’s a no from me, dog.” On the other hand, if you are intrigued by a fantasy novel delving into morality, mythology, and that unanswerable questions of, “are we alone in this universe,” then this is the book for you.
I also have to admit that, perhaps I lacked the foresight, but I genuinely did not see the twists of this book coming. I did not really ever know what to expect, and if I had to chart my prediction of the story prior to reading this novel, then I would have been way off. Like Christopher Columbus off.
Sleeping Giants also gave me an excuse to visualize Reznik as Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty, and if you didn’t know, she is one of my all-time favorite actors. While it was hard to visualize characters due to the formality of the interviews and documents, I did get to develop what I thought the characters of Sleeping Giants looked like through their actions and personality. Even though Neuvel described Reznik as having black hair, I am just going to conveniently ignore that fact and pretend he said red to better fit my Chastain visualization.
All in all, Sleeping Giants was a refreshing, exciting novel that, for me, got the whole alien thing perfect. Some novels just degrade into a silly story that just feels cheap and far-fetched about aliens. I’m not saying that this novel isn’t far-fetched, but it approaches the subject matter intelligently. The characters perfectly mirror our predictable reaction to alien life (unless you are the guy from The History Channel): ample scoffing and sarcasm that immediately devalues any claim on alien life. Sleeping Giants manages to perfectly nail what I want out of this genre: excitement, intrigue, that unsettling sense of never fully understanding the situation, and a modicum of restraint that separates this book from other novels in the genre that delve into the wow-this-is-cheesy territory. I am just going to sit around staring at my copy of Sleeping Giants until April 2017, when the sequel Waking Gods is released. 7.3/10