It’s like Sylvain Neuvel heard the old maxim “show, don’t tell” and got a bit confused. His debut novel is 300 pages of excrucitating exposition and explanation – he shows us nothing, tells us everything.
The premise is promising enough: a young girl is riding her bike when the ground gives way and she finds herself in the palm of a giant metal hand buried deep beneath the earth. It is, we soon learn, just one part of a monstrous machine – a 20 storey humanoid robot – left behind by what we assume to be an advanced alien race.
Why is it here? What does it do? How can – and will – humanity use it? Are its creators still out there? And if so, are they ever going to return?
Sadly, the premise is wasted on a poorly-written and at times stupendously stupid book. His grasp of science seems strong; of character not so much.
Neuvel eschews a traditional narrative, choosing to tell the story as a series of interview transcripts, diary entries and newspaper reports. A better writer could pull this off but in Neuvel’s hands it results in endless slabs of dismal dialogue and hamfisted info dumps.
Part of the problem is this is just the first part of an intended series – and feels very much like an extended prologue. But mostly it’s just bad writing, exemplified by the cardboard cutout cast: the gifted scientist, the top gun pilots, the mysterious g-man.
I haven’t read either of the books to which Sleeping Giants is being compared – World War Z and The Martian – but this too seems destined for a big budget Hollywood adaptation. In fact, the film rights have already been sold. Liberated from Neuvel’s prose, a film version might work – but the screenwriters have their work cut out for them.
Next: something very local.