Hardcover, First Edition, 320 pages
Published April 26th 2016 by Del Rey
In August 2015, I was in Spokane, WA at the World Fantasy and Sci-Fi Convention (Worldcon). This was a tumultuous time in SFF, with the Sad Puppies crapping all over decency and putting a huge grey cloud over the entire event – moreso than the literal grey clouds clogging the city due to the massive wildfires in the area (it was colloquially called “Smocon” by many) . It was also a bit of a depressing preview of what would happen in late 2016, when the mentality of the Sad Puppies bled over to the mainstream, and pushed towards a certain presidential candidate who, in turn, ended up winning.
During this time, I was handed an ARC for an upcoming book, from a first-time author I was unfamiliar with. This was one of a handful of ARCs I picked up during this conference, many of which from smaller authors who I had never heard of. However, Sylvain Neuvel caught my attention, as this was an ARC being pushed for an upcoming big-publisher release, and I’d heard through some scuttlebutt at the time that it was expected to be a big deal. Over 2 years later, I finally was given a glowing endorsement of this novel from my most trusted fantasy critic, and I chose to finally dive in to a book I had in my possession, but had arbitrarily put off.
I was glad I did.
Sleeping Giants is told in an interesting fashion, largely surrounding and interview format, between an unnamed host who plays a large part in the stories, and the subjects and protagonists of said story, telling their bits via these information-centric interviews. It’s a format I’ve seen before, but not one I’ve seen handled so skillfully and interestingly. It was reminiscent, to me, of Questions for a Soldier by John Scalzi, albeit in a longer and much more interesting format.
A little girl falls on her bike, awaking to find she’d stumbled across what appeared to be a massive statue of a hand. Over time, that child becomes a leading physicist, only to find herself selected into a clandestine group tasked with researching the source of the giant hand she discovered nearly 2 decades earlier, soon finding it belonged to a full set of relics that formed a giant, for the lack of better term, automaton. The rest of the band of scientists and military-types find themselves tasked by a mysterious government-associated man to discover the rest of the pieces of the automaton, and research into it’s function and history.
It’s soon figured out that this is clearly a piece of alien technology, and one that they quickly discover how to use. It becomes apparent that this discovery is as dangerous as it is shocking, giving whoever controls it a significant military advantage. And therein lies one of the very strengths of this novel – the realism when it comes to handling politics, public perception, and image. Ultimately, this is the driving force behind the story, and more specifically, the resolution of this first novel of the series. As would be realistic if such a discovery were made, quite a few nations showed interest in the discovered unit, and once other countries became aware of the USA discovering and trying to keep quiet the existence of this significant advance, there was considerable political concern to be addressed.
Sleeping Giants is, in a word, enjoyable. It’s a great read, with accessible but eloquent prose, a storyline that was unique but just relataeable enough to other similar stories to feel comfortable. Neuvel handles the format of the story, as well as the relatively unidentified ‘narrator’, very well, keeping it feeling fairly realistic, despite some periods of “there’s no way anyone would say this in an interview, but it makes for good story description”. Any complaints I had were relatively minor, and generally regarded moments where I went “dude there’s no way a normal person would have included that particular description/detail”, though that’s a relatively minor complaint.
I found myself hooked from start to finish of the relatively-short Sleeping Giants, and felt it did exactly what it needed to do in the length it was. Never bland, never drawn out, but also not feeling short on details or progress. This book really blew me away with how interesting it was, both as a concept and as an execution. The aspects of the story and the reaction to them are enjoyable in itself, but the actual execution was very satisfying and thorough, and really held together the whole arc.
Sleeping Giants lived up to the hype it was getting as a year-ahead-of-release ARC at Worldcon in 2015, and lived up to the hype I’d gotten from trusted friends. A quick, dirty, deceptively-deep jaunt in a “what if” scene, this is a novel I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to any friends of this genre.