Sylvain Neuvel returns to his world of giant robots in the third and final of the Themis Files series Only Human. Like the second book in the series, Waking Gods, this volume jumps forward ten years from the cliffhanger ending at the end of the previous entry. That cliffhanger saw the giant robot Themis and the four people inside whisked away to the planet of the robot builders. This volume starts with their return to a very changed Earth but also, in flashbacks charts their ten year stay on an alien planet.
Following the massive destruction of Waking Gods, the Earth is a changed place. America has managed to restore the last remaining giant robot and uses it as a tool of aggressive expansion. During the events of Waking Gods, the world learned that many people were genetic descendants of aliens who arrived thousands of years ago. Those with high levels of genetic traces of alien DNA are being persecuted and put in camps. Many of those persecuted are Muslim, although the connection between the alien DNA and Muslims feels like a stretch by Neuvel put in to bring his allegory home to readers who do not do allegory well. Similar themes of tolerance, interference and the corruption of democratic ideals are explored in the flashback sections.
The travellers return with giant robot Themis to Russian territory and in doing so create a situation which allows for some robot v robot action. Although, unlike previous books the robots really only feature in one climactic scene. That scene is itself thematic, building on the relationship of Victor and his daughter Eva.
Only Human is told in the same style as its predecessors – as the record of a series of conversations between characters and occasional diary entries and letters. This has always limited Neuvel in the portrayal of action sequences. And in this entry particularly, with its more philosophical approach to current issues, tends to makes the narrative a little preachy at times.
One thing Neuvel cannot be accused of is repeating himself. He has used his giant robot scenario to tell three very different tales and explore three different sets of themes. While Only Human is not the best of the three, it is definitely worth visiting particularly for those who are keen to find out the fates of Rose Franklin, Victor and Eva and Neuvel gives each of them a satisfying narrative arc. And while there may not be much giant robot action, those scenes involving these behemoths are handled with great surety and demonstrate Neuvel’s love for this sub-genre. All in all, Only Human provides a satisfying ending to this series and with the trilogy having been picked up for a potential film, there is hope for some giant robot movies that are more thoughtful and thought provoking than Transformers or Pacific Rim.
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