Mar 5, 2017blog, review

Sleeping Giants - Equal parts alien robots and political intrigue


Ten year old Rose falls down a hole. Rescuers find her in the palm of a half-buried enormous metal hand, which proceeds to baffle all experts until a now-adult Rose is put back on the case by a mysterious financier.

More body parts are eventually discovered, and as they are collected, it becomes clear that they are all pieces of a single machine (a hand or a head might be independent objects of veneration, but a thigh?).

As the extraterrestrial nature of the find becomes clear, a tale of political intrigue and conspiracies emerges as various parties seek to weaponise the robot, eventually pushing the world to the brink of war.

The central gimmick of Sleeping Giants is that is told in an interview format, all conducted by a nameless, near-omniscient interviewer. Though their identity remains shady throughout, we come to realise they are the only one who has any real idea what’s going on.

As the extraterrestrial nature of the find becomes clear, a tale of political intrigue and conspiracies emerges.

Greater plot momentum toward the end of the book means it begins to labour under the weight of this narrative mechanism: the interview format does not lend itself well to fight scenes, for instance. These scenes just about hold together with a healthy dose of suspension of disbelief.

On its face, the story of Sleeping Giants is as genre as genre fiction gets. The premise of an enormous robot, piloted by a psychologically attuned duo, engineered to fight hand-to-hand with a presumably equally large foe, is certainly borrowed from Pacific Rim.

'Artwork: '

The characters too are sci-fi archetypes. Dr Rose Franklin is one more version of the multidisciplinary brainbox scientist descended from Mr Spock and SG-1’s Samantha Carter, somehow equally comfortable with molecular genetics and mechanical engineering. Kara Resnik owes much to the hard-talking, no-nonsense women pilots from Aliens all the way through to Battlestar Galactica.

Despite these trite beginnings, the real achievement of Sleeping Giants is how author Sylvain Neuvel brings these archetypes to life. Their actions and relationships are totally convincing, despite us never seeing them interact with anyone except the interviewer.

The celluloid practically jumps off the page.

Sleeping Giants is the debut novel you wish you’d written, if only you’d had the courage to move beyond all that fanfic.

Though it pays a heavy debt to genre convention, Sleeping Giants mixes in just enough originality to make it a compelling joy to read - giddy with the possibilities of its own universe.

Apparently, a film adaptation is imminent. The celluloid practically jumps off the page.