After being dazzled by the front cover of Sylvain Neuvel’s second novel, “Waking Gods”, during one of my many trips to Waterstones, I found myself drawn in to what I discovered to be a sci-fi rollercoaster. They often say don’t judge a book by its cover, and this couldn’t be truer of Neuvel’s “Themis Files” series. The covers of these novels offer a picturesque, galactic creature serenely poised. “The Themis Files” itself holds very little serenity throughout its pages, and gives the reader a fast-paced journey through the discovery of the extra-terrestrial creation Themis the robot, and the formation of the Earth Defence League.
“Sleeping Giants” – book one in the series, follows the discovery of a robot hand by a young girl named Rose. The discovery is soon hushed up and squirrelled away for further testing. Many years later, when completing her education and becoming a professor at a prestigious university, Rose is asked to study the hand she discovered as a child. This discovery leads her into piecing together a robot left on planet Earth five thousand years ago, and with her team she begins to work out who, why and what was left behind.
In the second book, “Waking Gods”, once one question is close to resolution a number of other questions begin to surface. The Earth Defence League look to the United Nations for support when another Themis-like creature comes to planet Earth and lands in Regent’s Park – London. Continuing their journey, the EDL discover more secrets about the robot, Themis, whilst learning more secrets that have been held from them by the US Government.
Sylvain Neuvel’s novels illustrate what is often theorised, that there is intelligent life beyond Earth and that it is much more technologically advanced than we are. He proposes the concept that extra-terrestrial life has had an influence in the development of the human race and that we will once again be approached by them when we are advanced in our technologies, drawing on and eluding to theories that the aliens may have built the pyramids, and what many believe were alien sightings at Roswell. This is reflected in the chapter structure of Neuvel’s work, which is written as an FBI classified file conducted as an interview, with various individuals of importance. Many of the interviews within the first two novels of the series are conducted by an unnamed character-the use of this technique creates a detachment from the individual, leaving any information or opinion about him to be built from the views and dialogues he has with other characters. The lack of information around this character suggests the anonymity of a politically elite agency, which is also eluded to when Ryan is told to stop calling the unnamed individual ‘Sir’. He retorts, ‘what should I call you?’ to which he responds, ‘actually Sir is fine’. His anonymity hints that this character is replicable and if eventually lacking in his job role, may be substituted for a more capable recruit.
However, the use of the interview style dialogues leaves very little room for descriptive language, thus leaving location details and character descriptions to be desired. As an avid reader I initially longed for a more descriptive, scene setting text and heartier character detail, but as I continued, Neuvel’s style became quite captivating. Even without long character descriptions, there was a lot of character development through how each individual was described by another, almost replicating a theatrical technique used in plays for relationship building. Sylvain Neuvel is not shy when it comes to deaths in his novels, in-keeping with the structural choice of interviews and classified files. Even the deaths of more noteworthy characters are kept very matter of fact and to the point; this striking method coupled with the use of interviews highlights the importance of the journey rather than the individuals involved, and reiterates the anonymity of the unnamed character and the interchangeable nature of human beings.
The works are heavily scientific and very well researched, Neuvel knows his thing when it comes to physics and science. This adds a deeper element to the novels and draws the reader into the plausibility of his writing, making them consider the “what if?” element. It is rumoured that “The Themis Files” has been picked up by Sony Pictures to become a feature film, and whilst reading the series myself, I could see it coming to life and becoming a very stunning and translatable movie. It would be interesting to watch these dialogues and interactions come to life, and to see how they bring Themis and the other Robotic figures ontoscreen. Alongside this rumour, one website claims to know that Chris Pratt – known for his roles in “Parks and Recreation” and “Guardians of the Galaxy”, would be playing a lead male role. There is one role I could envisage the Star Lord playing… however, this could merely be a fantasy of another fan.
I have ordered a copy of the third book in the series ‘Only Human’ and will follow up on on how this book holds itself amongst the gods and giants that are parts 1 and 2.
Please feel free to suggest any other sci-fi and horror reads that you would like us to review.