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Only Human


Author
Sylvain Neuvel
ISBN
978-0-399-18011-8
Type
Fiction
Status
In Print
Publisher
Del Rey (2018)

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This entry created 15 February 2021. Last revised on 15 February 2021.

573 hits since 15 Feb 2021
©1994-2021 Bill Armintrout
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Only Human

Book Three of the Themis Files

338 pages. Acknowledgments, author's biography, and typeface note.

This is the concluding book in a trilogy that started with humans discovering giant robot components buried around the globe. They've assembled the robot, learned its basic operations, and placed the United Nations into the role of global defender (first volume); and responded to earthly conspiracies and an alien invasion (second volume), resulting in the characters being kidnapped when Earth's giant robot (Themis) is recalled to the alien homeworld.

The novel's format remains the same: a series of journal entries and interview notes.

The story this time is told in present-time (the escape of the kidnapped humans) and in flashbacks (what happened in the years they spent on the alien homeworld).

Among the aliens, scientist Rose Franklin studies the aliens, and is impressed with their culture and advanced science. Mecha pilot Vincent is determined to return his daughter Eva to a normal life on Earth, and sees the many flaws in the alien civilization. Eva, a rebellious teenager, becomes involved with social causes and doesn't want to leave. General Eugene Govender is dying – the aliens could cure him, but cannot due to their commitment to non-interference.

Back on Earth, the United States has salvaged the abandoned alien robot (from volume two), and is using it to reorder the world. Meanwhile, paranoia after the alien invasion has led to the global imprisonment of anyone with unusual levels of alien DNA (along with other 'undesirables').

And the the protagonists return to Earth! (Which doesn't get fully explained until the end of the novel, since it is told in flashbacks.) Unfortunately, their return places giant robot Themis in the hands of the Russians. This eventually sets up a showdown for global control between two factions and two giant robots.

The author is trying hard to show both human and alien civilization as flawed, which is a weak point in the novel: the first two-thirds of the novel is pretty much a downer, with nations doing bad things, aliens being stubborn, and teenage Eva hating her father.

Then comes the final third of the novel, there's some action, some twists, and then it's over. That's the fun part, though the ending of the trilogy is not as conclusive as you might expect.

One major problem is that several interesting characters were killed off in previous novels, so that the story now hangs on Rose, Vincent and Eva. At least Rose isn't suicidal any more. Eva is supposed to be like her mother Kara, strong and impulsive, but I didn't find the character likeable or believable.

Also returning briefly are crazed geneticist Alyssa and mysterious, story-telling Mr. Burns.

The author perhaps tries too hard to keep this novel from providing simple answers to complex problems. The novel poses questions, such as: it is OK to kidnap an alien friend in order to rescue your daughter? what about betraying friends to a fascist power to escape? would you serve a totalitarian government to bring balance to the world? would you risk the lives of the innocent to get revenge on your father? Thus the novel wanders between being light escapist fiction and very dark indeed.

One odd omission is that on the way to the happy ending, the fate of two minor characters is left unresolved. Did they die for the sake of Eva's revenge?

Can you game it? Once again, this is the novel about giant mechas who don't fight much – there is one mecha-on-mecha battle, but it would be difficult to stage on the tabletop.

I'm disappointed, as I expected more from the conclusion of this series. I was bored with much of the novel. "Humans bad, aliens misguided" is a hard theme to work with.

Reviewed by Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian.