Planetfall (novel)

Planetfall is a 2015 science fiction novel by British writer Emma Newman. It was first published in the United States as a paperback original in November 2015 by Roc Books, and in the United Kingdom by Gollancz in paperback in February 2018. An audio edition of the book, narrated by Newman, was published in the United States by Blackstone Audio in November 2015, and in the United Kingdom by Orion Publishing in December 2017.

EmmaNewman Planetfall.jpg
First edition cover
AuthorEmma Newman
Cover artistAnxo Amarelle
CountryUnited States
GenreScience fiction
PublisherRoc Books
Publication date
November 3, 2015
Media typePaperback original
LC ClassPR6114.E949P58 2015
Followed byAfter Atlas 

Planetfall was Newman's first science fiction novel and is about a 3D printer engineer in a colony on a remote planet and a large bio-mechanical alien structure called "God's City". The novel is the first book in her four-book Planetfall series, which Newman said can be read in any order.[1] The book was generally well received by critics, and was shortlisted for the 2016 Gaylactic Spectrum Award for best novel.[2] The Planetfall series was nominated for the 2020 Hugo Award for Best Series.[3]

Plot summaryEdit

Planetfall is set in the future in a colony on an unnamed planet. It is narrated by Renata Ghali (Ren), the colony's 3D printer engineer. The expedition to the planet on the ship Atlas was led by Lee Suh-Mi (Suh). Ren had met Suh at university in France and they became lovers. When they were hiking in a nature reserve near the Alps, Suh found an uncatalogued plant and ate its seed. She fell into a coma, but awoke soon after and immediately wrote down the coordinates of a planet she said she had to go to. Suh later told Ren that the plant releases a pheromone, compelling its finder to eat its seed. For what became known as the expedition "to find God," Suh recruited a thousand people, including Cillian Mackenzie (Mack), who financed the mission; her son, Lee Hak-Kun; and Ren.[4] Suh was called the Pathfinder and guided them to the planet. Suh, Ren, Mack, and Hak-Kun made planetfall in a pod, finding a large bio-mechanical alien structure they called "God's City". At the top of the city, Suh disappeared into a room. Several minutes later, she returned in tears, claiming that God had died. She removed her helmet and died. The advance party returned to Atlas without Suh. In order to keep the colony together, Mack explained to the colony that Suh had remained behind because she was communing with God. Hak-Kun disagreed with Mack, believing that they should tell the truth. Everyone then left Atlas in pods for the second planetfall. Mack manipulated Hak-Kun's pod so that it went off course and crashed, but the remainder of the colonists established a colony at the foot of God's City.

Two decades later the colonists are still waiting for Suh to return, and every year a ceremony is held at God's City where they receive a seed believed to have been placed by Suh. Ren, who built the colony with her printers, is a loner and keeps to herself. She is also a hoarder of discarded objects that should be recycled. Since the first planetfall, Mack and her have been hiding the truth about what happened to Suh. Ren wants to tell the colony that she died, but Mack insists they perpetuate the lie that she is still in God's City to keep the colony's hopes alive. Every year Mack and Ren sneak into the City and place a seed in the plant for the next ceremony.

One day Suh's grandson Sung-Soo arrives at the colony. He tells Mack and Ren that his parents survived their pod's crash and that he was born in the wilderness. When his family died, he came looking for other survivors. He befriends Ren and discovers that her house is full of "junk". He offers to help her clear it out, but she becomes distressed, saying that she needs it all. Concerned for her welfare, he reports her to the colony, who break into her house and start removing things. Buried deep in the junk they find a box with Suh's body in it. Everyone assumes that Ren killed her. Distraught at having her space invaded and her treasures thrown out, and in an effort to defend herself, Ren uses her implants to broadcast her video of the first planetfall to the entire colony, revealing the truth about Suh's death and Mack's manipulation. Unable to bear parting with Suh, Ren had retrieved her body from God's City and buried her in her house.

Mack and Ren are arrested, but Ren escapes when explosions rip through sections of the colony. The explosions were planted by Sung-Soo and other survivors he did not tell the colony about. Hak-Kun had told them that Suh had died, and they were seeking revenge on the colony for hiding the truth and abandoning them. Ren flees into God's City and works her way to the top where Suh had led them twenty years ago. Ren has no protective gear and touches the slimy walls with her bare hands. A connection is made between her and the alien structure, which never happened with Suh because of her environmental suit. The City leads Ren to a room with evidence that other Pathfinders from other worlds have been here. On a slab rests a body that turns to dust as she approaches. She knows what she has to do and lies on it. She is ready to meet the City's makers.

Narrative chronologyEdit

The novel is narrated two decades after the colonists arrive on the planet. Much of the background is initially unknown to the reader; the events of and prior to planetfall are gradually revealed through Ren's thoughts and memories.


The colony uses 3D printing to produce almost all of its needs, including building materials, equipment, clothing, food and medicines. The minerals used by the printers are mined in the mountains surrounding the colony, and extracted from the colony's discarded material using the Masher, a recycling machine.

The colonists adapt themselves to live on the planet without environmental suits using biotechnology and genetic engineering. This enables them to breathe the planet's atmosphere and defend themselves against harmful microbes and allergens. They enhance themselves with chips that monitor their health, and neural implants that connect them to the colony's network. With the implants they can record and playback what they see, hear and feel, and communicate with others colonists.


Newman said ideas for Planetfall had been with her for several years. She had wanted to write a story about a person with a mental illness, but the character and setting eluded her. Then she started reading about advances in 3D printing, and in particular an article about using 3D printers to create a moon base from moon dust. That gave her what she was looking for, and her character became Renata, a disturbed 3D printer engineer who constructs a colony on a remote planet.[5][6]

Planetfall was to be Newman's first science fiction novel. Previously she had written three urban fantasy books in her Split Worlds series. She said that despite science fiction being her "first love", she had never attempted to write it.[5] She explained that she felt "intimidated" by science fiction, and was worried she would "get the science wrong" and "screw it up".[1] But once she realized that so long as she does not break any of the fundamental rules of science, she is free to create whatever future she pleases.[1]

Planetfall was originally intended to be a stand-alone novel, but when Newman's publishers bought it, they asked her for a second book, and over the next four years she wrote three more in the Planetfall universe.[6] Newman said the books in the series are largely self-contained, and can be read in any order.[1]


In a review of Planetfall in The New York Times, American science fiction and fantasy author N. K. Jemisin described Ren as "a rare science fiction protagonist", and complimented Newman on her handling of this "mentally ill" and "unlikable yet poignantly human" character.[7] She noted that while the author's antagonists "doesn't do nearly as well" and "teeter on the line of caricature", Ren's "inner demons are the stars of the show".[7] Jemisin was fascinated how Newman made revealing the lies about Suh more interesting than the lies themselves, and concluded that the book's climax is "cathartic and transcendent enough to smooth over any flaws along the way."[7]

Writing at, Robert H. Bedford described Planetfall as "a fascinating character study" that shows just how destructive secrets can be.[8] He said Ren's first-person narrative gives the reader "a very limited perspective" of her world, which makes her voice "haunting" and suggestive of "dread lurking beneath the surface". He added that because Ren is a troubled person, she is an unreliable narrator, and although such narrators are not uncommon in literature, Bedford said Newman "gives new depth to the meaning 'unreliable'".[8] He compared Planetfall to Mary Doria Russell’s novel The Sparrow which also deals with an uneasy truce between science and religion. He was, however, critical of Planetfall's ending, saying that while it is thought-provoking, he felt it a little too "abrupt".[8] But overall Bedford described Newman's book as "[b]eautifully and heartbreakingly wrought" and called it "a distressing, harrowing novel that left a deep mark on me".[8]

American writer Charlie Jane Anders said Planetfall is not your average novel about space colonization. Writing at Gizmodo she described the book as "much weirder", "a fair bit darker", and with as much psychological drama as science fiction.[9] She complimented Newman on her "well-realized world-building" with its realistic portrayal of the inner working of the colony and its advanced technology. But she added that this setting is not what it seems, and it is not too long before the book starts to "mess with your head".[9] The settlement turns out to be "some weird fusion of utopian community and religious pilgrimage", and Ren becomes someone totally unexpected. Anders remarked that Newman's use of a first-person narrator who does not reveal all she knows is "risky", but felt that here, with all its "repressed truths and terrible secrets, it absolutely works and feels natural and honest".[9]


  1. ^ a b c d Thornton, Jonathan (April 24, 2018). "Interview with Emma Newman". The Fantasy Hive. Retrieved July 31, 2019.
  2. ^ "Gaylactic Spectrum Awards – 2016 Information". Gaylactic Spectrum Awards. Retrieved July 27, 2019.
  3. ^ "2020 Hugo Awards". World Science Fiction Society. Retrieved April 12, 2020.
  4. ^ Newman 2015, p. 58.
  5. ^ a b Sullivan, Tricia (January 24, 2016). "Science fiction is like a Swiss army knife". Features. The Independent. London. p. 16. ISSN 0951-9467. OCLC 185201487.
  6. ^ a b "Emma Newman Author Interview". May 2019. Retrieved July 31, 2019.
  7. ^ a b c Jemisin, N. K. (December 28, 2015). "The Latest in Science Fiction and Fantasy". The New York Times. Retrieved July 31, 2019.
  8. ^ a b c d Bedford, Robert H. (November 6, 2015). "Getting There Was Easy: Planetfall by Emma Newman". Retrieved July 31, 2019.
  9. ^ a b c Anders, Charlie Jane (November 13, 2015). "This New Space Colonization Novel Will Mess With Your Head In The Best Possible Way". Gizmodo. Retrieved August 1, 2019.

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