Waking Gods – Sylvain Neuvel

I loved Sleeping Giants more than words can say. I loved everything about it – the story and how it was told, the characters, the humor, the suspense, the robot. So when someone gave me a heads–up that Waking Gods was also available on Netgalley, I was there before the pixels faded.

And … oh, okay, I gave this five stars as well, and I’m kind of surprised, to be honest. I’m not touching that; Sleeping Giants earned enough stars that it can lend Waking Gods one; I wouldn’t have rated the latter less than four even at my harshest. But … I … didn’t love it nearly as much as I did the former.

The storytelling is still in the same format, through interviews and transcripts and so on. The characters are largely the same; a shocking reveal at the end of SG is fully explored in WG. And the inspiration for one character’s name is revealed, and it made me happy. The humor is still the same –

—Do you like squirrels?
—I ask for your help in preventing a conflict of apocalyptic proportions and your answer is: “Do you like squirrels?”
—Yes. I have a good squirrel story.
—Of course. By all means

– but now the suspense is ramped up, and there is an apocalyptic element introduced which … I don’t know. That’s part of why this wasn’t as huge a success with me. Maybe it’s because the curtain is pulled back and we see the wizard, so to speak… In Sleeping Giants, the setting was basically “twenty minutes into the future”, almost completely familiar; in Waking Gods it felt less so, especially once destruction begins. I’m never going to enjoy seeing cities I’m fond of (in the abstract, at least) being leveled, or – to risk a spoiler – characters I’m fond of being wiped out. If the first book seemed to show that nobody was safe, this second book proved it. And the revelations about who was behind the robot(s) and their motivations were strangely anticlimactic. Like many a promising mystery novel, once the mystery is dispelled, so is a lot of the promise. In short, I wasn’t happy once it all morphed into an almost standard sci-fi plot.

One topical comment (in two parts): where in SG it is noted in passing that the president is a woman (DAMMIT), another throwaway line mentions “His Majesty’s Government”. I just thought that was interesting. And given an imminent threat to America’s participation in the U.N., and maybe to the U.N. as an entity, I wanted to save this quote: “This institution was founded in the wake of the most devastating war in human history, to promote peace by allowing nations to resolve their disputes here, in this room, and not on the battlefield. It was also created so that we could pool our knowledge and resources and achieve great things none of us could dream of achieving on our own.”

It’s relevant.

So – I didn’t enjoy this as much. But the humor and intelligence of the writing was still strong. (—Can you stop interrupting? It’s a story. There’s a fairy in it. No, I don’t know what species of fairy.) The geekery was still strong – as evidenced in the dedication and the revelation of who Vincent was named for, thus ensuring that I will never forget his name. It was, in the end, a satisfying story – and I don’t feel that the losses suffered along the way were gratuitous, however much I hated them – but the place where it all ends up is not somewhere I want to be. I’m sure I’ll read the third book whenever it comes along, out of loyalty and out of a desire to find out what the survivors do with this place.

A couple more things I saved, and will want to save:

However, the French had long likened slow and clumsy work to that of a man wearing wooden shoes, or sabots, and Pouget, in his report, coined the term sabotage.

While I am reasonably confident you are not “the chosen one,” you are without doubt one who has been chosen.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

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4 Responses to Waking Gods – Sylvain Neuvel

  1. kimalexander1 says:

    Oh, that UN quote made me want cry.

  2. Levi says:

    I noticed that “His Majesty” line as well! I agree on some of the downsides here, especially the somewhat bleh reveal of the aliens (are they really just humanoid with backwards knees?–I guess it could make sense if they are distant relatives of us). Either way, still a pretty fun ride.


  3. stewartry says:

    Yes! It was like the reveal of the shark in Jaws – kind of meh.

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