Review By Ty Black
When the U.S. government discovers a giant robot hand and forearm, buried halfway across the world from each other for thousands of years, it responds by sending in a shadowy figure who doesn’t like to give out his name. He assembles a team of soldiers and scientists to investigate what might be the greatest discovery in the history of the human race. The team members all come with their own baggage. What’s more, the robot could be more dangerous than they realize, and so could their leader.
Sleeping Giants is French-Canadian author Sylvain Neuvel’s debut. It’s written in epistolary format, and (despite my praise of The Martian last August) I’m not normally a fan of epistolary novels. That might have colored my reading of this: I found it took a few chapters for the action to find its legs, a fact which wasn’t helped by the way the anonymous main character refuses to use contractions. (I think that was supposed to signal that he enunciates all his words carefully.)
Once the action picks up, however, Neuvel uses interviews, transcripts, and news clippings to tell this story in a way that might make me re-evaluate my feelings about epistolary format. The action is mostly at an arm’s length distance, told through characters in debriefings. As the story approaches its climax there are a few sequences with more immediacy, but the distance from the action gives the story a cerebral feel that’s almost literary, a rare accomplishment for a novel about spies, helicopter pilots, experimental titanium legs, and a giant blue-glowing robot left by ancient aliens. Despite the fact that Sleeping Giants felt like a sci-fi political thriller, the thrills were never jarring.
The publisher compares Sleeping Giants to The Martian, and World War Z, but I think that’s based on the format alone. I found it far more reminiscent of Contact, by Carl Sagan. Neuvel hard sci-fi credentials-he’s got a Ph.D. in linguistics and a day job in software engineering. It was a fun, easy read for my summer afternoon.
Also, technically the robot’s not a robot, it’s a mech. (I still give Sleeping Giants four out of five stars.)