BookPage Fiction Top Pick, May 2016
An inventive tale inventively told, Sleeping Giants is designed for people who like to take things apart and put them back together. Its jigsaw-puzzle narrative style works as a mirror for the project at the story’s center: the gathering and assembly of the scattered pieces of a huge and mysterious robot. But the real appeal of the book—the debut novel of Sylvain Neuvel, a Canadian linguist and software engineer—is the way in which putting together the robot tears apart the lives of the people involved. The book, like its namesake, is an elegant blend of technology and biology.
Sleeping Giants has been compared to The Martian and World War Z, but the story has more in common with the 2013 robot film Pacific Rim. The novel begins when a little girl riding her bicycle falls into a pit and lands on what turns out to be an enormous metal hand. Years later, that same little girl—Rose Franklin—is a scientist working on a top-secret project involving the study of that hand and the as-yet-theoretical body it belongs to.
We don’t spend much time with Rose, though. The story is told through transcribed interviews and journal entries, memos and the occasional news report. The interviews are conducted by a shadowy figure who seems to be orchestrating multinational backroom deals; he’s powerful enough to throw his weight around with the president’s closest advisors, but we don’t know much else about him, or even whether he’s bluffing.
Most of the interviews are with two pilots responsible for finding the huge robot’s missing body parts, and then later, for figuring out how to drive it. The lead pilot is the feisty, unruly Kara Resnick, who, as seen through snippets, becomes the emotional heart of the book. There are also interviews with high-level government officials, techs and linguists, disillusioned soldiers and rogue scientists, not to mention oblique conversations about the world the robot came from originally. Put together, these puzzle pieces form a story about the way in which individual agendas can drive international decisions, for good or ill.
Sleeping Giants is the first in a series called the Themis Files, which makes the book itself just a piece of a much larger puzzle—one readers will surely enjoy solving.
RELATED CONTENT: Read a Q&A with Sylvain Neuvel.