Sylvain Neuvel showed in his Themis Files trilogy his ability to deliver a coherent trilogy in which each book takes a different approach to the subject matter. He has done something similar with his Take Them to the Stars trilogy – an overarching narrative, some similar story beats but each book came at the story from a new angle. Given the ending of the second book – Until the Last of Me – a new approach was almost inevitable. But that book itself contained some of the seeds for the narrative in the final book of this series – For the First Time Again. As always, being the final book of a trilogy this review will contain minor spoilers for the first two books.
At the end of Until the Last of Me it seemed that the line of the Kibsu, an alien race hiding on Earth for millennia, had come to and end. That line was passed from mother to daughter but while there was a ten-year-old girl still living she had no one to guide her. That girl, Aster, is the centre of this narrative which focusses on how she comes into her heritage and tries to avert the potential damage done by the hunters who had pursued her ancestors. Aster has to do with while she is herself hunted by not only members of her original race who have come to earth but the US Military who have a scent of potential aliens.
As with the previous two books in this series, Neuvel locates the action very precisely in time – in this case the late 1990s and into the 2000s. His overarching vehicle for this is musical – each chapter heading throughout the series has been a song from the year in which the action is taking place. But he has also followed the development of the space industry from the recruitment of German rocket scientists in World War II in A History of What Comes Next, to the Voyager space probe program in Until the Last of Me. For the First Time Again is interested in the rise of private interests in the space race and the sending of a probe to Pluto (before it was declared not to be a planet). As with the other books, Neuvel has an extensive section at the back of the book exploring the real history of these events. Short interlude chapters in previous volumes looked at the history of Aster’s family line, this book goes back to the beginning and the arrival of both the Kibsu and those who would become their Hunters on Earth.
While the overall story lost a little focus in the second novel, and its connection to the space industry was more tenuous, Neuvel brings these aspects strongly back into focus in this final novel. He does this by allowing the reader to experience the gaining of knowledge through Aster and following her as she creates plans within plans. But also by requiring her to get involved in the development of new space probes in order for those plans to succeed.
For the First Time Again provides an enjoyable and triumphal conclusion to Neuvel’s Take Them to the Stars trilogy. He has now done giant robots and aliens among us so it will be interesting to see what tropes he tackles next. What he does provide, Marvel-movie style, is what can only be described as a post-credits extra epilogue which creates connections for those who have read all of this works, but (unlike Marvel) does not provide any teasers as to what might come next.