“If you fall in love with someone, there’s a good chance the person won’t love you back. Hatred, though, is usually mutual. If you despise someone, it’s pretty much a given they’re also not your biggest fan.”
A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square-shaped hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand.
Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved – the object’s origins, architects, and purpose unknown.
But some can never stop searching for answers.
Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top-secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the relic they seek. What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unravelling history’s most perplexing discovery-and finally figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?
I picked up this book as a potential buy every time I went into Waterstones for months until I eventually brought it last month. I can’t really put my finger on why I delayed buying it, but I think the unique way this story is told, the way at first glance it looks so different in format, factored into my wariness. But here we are, and I finished it yesterday in just a few sittings. Were my worries unfounded or instinctive?
The idea that we aren’t alone in the universe, or that ancient aliens may have visited us thousands of years ago, is a science fiction trope that has been recycled throughout the genre for decades. But when used well by an author and injected with their own personal flair and sensitivities, it can still be a powerful story concept that thrills us. What Sylvain does here is similar to what Andy Weir did with the Martian, where the story was told through journal entries. Sylvain uses fictitious interviews, audio recordings, personal journal entries and news snippets to create a global picture about the events of the story. This in itself presents several challenges…well, challenge isn’t quite right; presents several facets to interrogate.
I have come across some readers who just see this as 378 pages of exposition and even though I agree that from a surface-level point of view that is an easy conclusion to draw, I do believe that characterisation and narrative are cleverly weaved throughout. There is a tremendous amount of subtext and ‘filling in the blanks’ that, as a reader, I found incredibly gratifying and fulfilling to eke out from the various interviews and journals. There are plenty of POVs to prevent a one-sided narrative bias and it really adds to the tension and propulsion of the story. This is fast-paced stuff, driven by dialogue and events.
What makes this such an engaging sci-fi book is the ‘mystery onion’ effect. By that I mean, through character, pivotal events and subtext, the central mystery that drives the motivations of everyone, the puzzle box mystery is peeled back layer by layer, propelling the narrative forward and making us read just one more chapter. What begins as a childhood discovery for Dr Rose Franklin, becomes a scientific endeavour with global consequences and beyond. The way the author evolves the story in this way I found incredibly impressive. The shear magnitude of the central mystery lies heavy on Dr Franklin and the other characters who become involved.
Although Dr Franklin can be seen as the main protagonist, the nameless interviewer has an overwhelming presence throughout the book. We learn next to nothing about who he is or his motives behind his interrogation, but he become one of the most compelling characters in the book for me. Even just through his questioning, clues and impressions of his personality clearly came through for me. Again, given the exposition heavy narrative, I found these impressions endlessly stimulating as a reader. I should add that I don’t think every reader will get what I got out of this book. If you struggle in the first 20% of this book to get any characterisation or emotional engagement from Sleeping Giants, I would probably stop there.
If I were asked to describe this book to anyone, I would say it’s a mix of The X Files, the film Arrival, tv series Lost, with a dash of Pacific Rim. Comparing to The Martian doesn’t do either book justice as apart from the similarity in narrative format, they are very different beasts from one another.
I had a great time reading Sleeping Giants and my worries about the narrative format were unfounded. It’s a fantastic speculative sci-fi story brimming with ideas that will stay with you and a central mystery which intrigues and surprises at every turn. The last chapter had my heart racing, ending with something that literally took my breath away.
I give this book an 8/10.