Only Human has landed! This book concludes the Themis Files, a trilogy about mecha sent by aliens to Earth. In this volume, Vincent, Rose, and Eva travel to the planet Esat Ekt to meet the Ekt, the aliens at the center of the empire that built Themis in the first place. This concluding novel delivers more awesome robot battle scenes alongside questions about the ethics of political intervention.
At the close of Waking Gods, Rose, Vincent, Eva, and General Govender landed on an alien planet. Ten years later, in Only Human, Rose, Vincent, and Eva return to Earth, which has become completely polarized in their absence. Only Human calls to mind a Cold War spy thriller. Sleeping Giants and Waking Gods each addressed the international political ramifications of supersized robot warriors in their own way. Sleeping Giants took an approach that recalled Close Encounters of the Third Kind or Men in Black, where the government played an active, but clandestine role. In Waking Gods, the world governments banded together by necessity to fight the global disasters caused by the invasion of the Ekt. The world to which Rose, Vincent, and Eva return has regressed to two spheres of influences, one dominated by Russia, which has reabsorbed the former Soviet republics and renewed alliances with China in reaction to an America which uses a salvaged robot as a foreign policy.
Riding on the courage gained in the last book, Rose manages to overcome her own awe of the Ekt and forces two planets bent on war each to make their own peace. We also see and learn more about Mr. Burns, the enigmatic foodie and small animal lover descended from the original Ekt settlers of Earth. Rose also manages to outwit deceptively perky Russian spymistress Katherine Lebedev. Katherine Lebedev brings a refreshing splash of humor and cunning to the cadre of bureaucrats who constantly harass the Themis team. Perhaps most exciting of all: the Themis team goes to space. Without breaking the narrative format of the first two volumes, the world of Esat Ekt comes across vividly and clearly with the smallest descriptions of creatures like the rat analogue to depict the society.
Though a series of found journal entries, Only Human never addresses why this section of the Themis Files haven’t been arranged in chronological order. The story unfolds partly in flashback, intermixing with oral interviews with the journal entries in an excellent framing device that sometimes feels a little too artificial. Furthermore, a long tradition of travel writing from Marco Polo onward argues that anyone visiting a completely different planet would record nearly everything, but Only Human chooses to leave out many details. Instead, the story gives more a character oriented focus, but this means it consists nearly entirely of dialogue. The dialogue heavy nature of the prose limits the development of characters like Eva and the general, by giving a finite amount time in each of their thoughts.
However, Only Human, while it resolves the problems begun in Sleeping Giants, leaves room to grow a larger series. In the acknowledgements section, Neuvel recognizes the potential with a hint toward the further adventures of Mr. Burns. I certainly hope we get more books set in the Themisverse and I really wish we could learn more about the Narrator from Sleeping Giants and Waking Gods. For now, I’ll just have to wait for the films.
While it’s possible to enjoy Only Human out of context, it best contrasts with the other two books. A marathon reading of these three books could easily happen over a weekend. After you’re done, check out TGON’s review of Waking Gods here. Waking Gods brought Rose Franklin back to life, but Only Human saw her patch together a kind of armistice in time to save two planets.
Three out of five stars
Favorite Quote: “We’re going to start a thermonuclear war, and we’ll be the only two idiots to survive. We’ll have plenty of time to eat our sandwich then.”