Atlas Alone is a sci-fi novel about virtual reality.

If you enjoy computer games, you may love this novel. I don’t, and I didn’t. Somehow, Emma Newman managed to write a story about space travel that takes place almost exclusively in virtual reality. I’m not even convinced that those scenes purporting to be set in physical reality weren’t imaginary as well.

In this sci-fi novel about virtual reality, nothing is what it seems

In this fourth entry in Emma Newman‘s Planetfall series about humanity’s venture to the stars, we enter the lives of a handful of the more than 10,000 passengers on the starship Atlas 2. They’re six months into a 20-year journey to a distant planet where they hope to find God. Yes, God. Somehow, a brilliant religious fanatic had invented a light-speed drive in hopes of pioneering a new life in the heavens. She had left Earth with a ship full of 10,000 followers. And the people in charge of Atlas 2 are determined to follow in her footsteps. Or are they?

Atlas Alone (Planetfall #4) by Emma Newman (2019) 317 pages @@@½ (3½ out of 5)

Welcome to Atlas 2. Someone on the ship has engineered a nuclear war on Earth that has murdered billions and condemned the rest of humanity to die. Dee is determined to find out who gave that order, and why. But even her closest friends, Carl and Travis, refuse to help her. And as a former nonperson, she is barred from access to the records on the ship that might reveal who’s in charge. (Not so incidentally, Dee and her friends had all been indentured workers, or slaves, back on Earth.) Then, suddenly, she gets a big break: an invitation from someone close to the inner circle to take on a job that will give her that access.

Religious fanatics govern the ship

Then a strange new voice surfaces in Dee’s consciousness. She may be asleep, or engaged in a “mersive” game. The voice prods her into a strange, dream-like odyssey in which she is forced to stumble across the dead bodies of everyone she was closed to on Earth. And the dream, if in fact it is a dream, culminates when Dee kills a man who is about to commit mass murder. Although Dee experiences the event as an expression of virtual reality, it turns out that she actually did kill the man in “meatspace.” And that’s only the beginning of her troubles, as she finds herself in conflict with the religious fanatics in charge of the ship. Yet Atlas Alone, after all, is a sci-fi novel about virtual reality. So, who can tell what is real, and what isn’t?

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