Sleeping Giants: Massive Robot Diaries

Sleeping Giants, by Sylvain Neuvel

Published: 26 April 2016

(NetGalley provided a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review)

There’s something to be said for an epistolary novel. It’s as if the collection of documents and records—journal entries, interview transcriptions, recordings—add credence to the unfolding events, just by existing, in order.

Sylvain Neuvel’s Sleeping Giants demonstrates this credibility, taking the story of a nameless government agent’s quest to recover an ancient alien robot right out of some forgotten archive and putting it on display for the world to see. What Sleeping Giants does well is what it leaves out, because these records never tell the whole story, as narrow and compartmentalised and ordered as they are. The implied powers at play deliver much of the suspense, moving pieces around the board and funneling cash into the recovery of robot arms and legs from around the world, crossing borders without permission, and then assembling them deep underground, to the fury of their enemies.

The nameless administrator, whose voice is always in thick bold typeface, is both front and centre and quietly working away in the background, like the unseen author. The administrator deals with the US president’s aides, recruits the team of scientists who figure out how to find the disassembled robot and make it work once it’s complete, while attempting to stop external forces from unearthing the project before it can be completed. He or she also prevents global conflicts from arising, all with acid, emotionless wit that belies the robot the administrator is trying to build, but wrapping it in warm logic, as possibly only Spock could do. As the administrator tells one character whose mother he or she could’ve imprisoned as leverage: “I am, after all, all mush inside.”

Sleeping Giants is a welcome addition to the epistolary novel stable, taking a common science fiction theme in the aliens that came before us and dipping it in political intrigue. The nameless administrator is a thrilling creation, not unlike the Cigarette Smoking Man, and is the protagonist and antagonist all at once. Neuvel’s Sleeping Giants is what happens when giant robots meet North Korea—it’s headline material.

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