Secrets abound in Planetfall. Since establishing a colony on a distant planet, no one has seen the leader of the mission, Suh-Mi, who has gone to live in a strange network of tunnels called God’s City. The protagonist, Renata, believes in the supernatural, but has her doubts about the religion that has formed around the leader’s disappearance into God’s City. A stranger arrives at the colony, but no one knows how he got there. His arrival sets off a chain of events that unravels life in the colony and forces Renata to confront the doubts she has suppressed for too long.
This turned out to be not so much a sci fi novel as a story exploring, in too much detail, Renata’s personal struggles with members of her community and the consequences of her chronic anxiety. If I had been set up to expect that, I wouldn't have been so disappointed. Despite well-wrought character development, I admit I would have enjoyed the book more if the author had spent less time discussing the protagonist's issues and picked up the pacing. While a slow build can contribute tension and lend potency to the climax, it ceases to be worth it if it loses the reader along the way.
There are plenty of the hallmarks of science fiction – technology, alien entities, space travel – but they seem like window dressing for a tale that could have been told on Earth, in the present. The details whet an appetite that is never quite satisfied, which might have happened in the ending, if it hadn’t been so rushed.
The prose is lovely though, and Newman has a gift for psychological insight. I would be willing to read her next novel, After Atlas, which shares the setting of Planetfall, to enjoy her writing style again, and see if she can achieve tighter plotting.