The second book in Sylvain Neuvel’s Take them to the Stars trilogy Until the Last of Me is, if anything, more baffling than the first. The first book of this series – A History of What Comes Next – introduced readers to a multigenerational pursuit of a female line of aliens, known as the Kibsu, by a male line of hunters. At the same time the Kibsu were following their millennia long purpose to “take humanity to the stars”, by helping kickstart the space race. As a result, that book was a kind of shadow history of the 1940s, 50s and 60s as the main characters nudged and supported both the US and Russia into space (while trying not to be discovered by the ultra-violent hunters).
When Until the Last of Me opens, two of the Kibsu remain (although there can only ever be 3 at any one time) – Mia and her identical eleven year old daughter Lola. They are soon discovered and go on the run again. While on the run they try to influence the science behind the Pioneer and then Voyager space probes. But as the text makes clear, someone else inside the space agency had already worked out the maths so really the two are just bystanders to these events. Mia and Lola’s focus is on deciphering an ancient poem, written by a distant Kibsu ancestor, which may be the key to an artefact that they have been charged with protecting. At the same time, three brothers, hunters of the Kibsu, are on a different trail but one that may bring them closer to their prey.
After the first book it seemed that the series was heading in a certain direction. But following the second book it is really hard to understand what the point of this series is. The most that can be said, based on the detailed historical notes that follow, is that Neuvel is really interested in the history of space exploration and wanted to find a way to talk about it in a fictional setting. But that does not actually make for an engaging or interesting narrative. The shadow power behind the space race that drove the first book is completely jettisoned here, with the exception of short, interesting but fairly irrelevant chapters chronicling the various destinations of the Voyager 2 probe. Instead there is a strange, Indiana Jones-style hunt for an ancient artefact that theoretically these characters had been supposed to be protecting for millennia. And a parallel hunt that yields very little and seems to be just an excuse to send some characters to Egypt for a bit.
Until the Last of Me is still an interesting read but is likely to leave readers, particularly after a kind-of cliffhanger finale, wondering what the point of it all has been. Neuvel showed in The Themis Files an ability to shift direction in each volume of a trilogy so there is still some hope that he has a grand plan for book three of this series that will make the whole of the journey worthwhile.