It’s often said that the only thing that will end political strife on our planet is an alien invasion. Even Bill Clinton repeated that cliché. “Think of how all the difference among people on earth would seem small if we felt threatened by a space invader. Everybody gets together and makes nice.”
That’s not how things work out in Only Human, the third (and final?) book in Sylvain Neuvel’s Themis Files series.
In the first book, Sleeping Giants, physicist Rose Franklin discovers pieces of a giant robot buried all around the planet and gathers them up to see what will happen when she puts them all together. In the sequel, Waking Gods, the original creators of the robot Themis return to Earth to attempt to fix the mistakes they made the last time they were here. But they accidentally take Rose and our other protagonists with them when they go home.
Now Rose, Vincent (linguist and Themis pilot,) and Eva (Vincent’s daughter) have returned home in Themis after living peacefully on the alien home planet for the past ten years. They naively expect to return to living normal, human lives. But things have changed. The fear of a potential alien return has brought humanity’s worst qualities to the surface. The U.S. has managed to reactivate a broken robot and have used its strength to align most of the world’s countries into an uneasy, forced alliance. A test to determine genetic features thought to be dangerous has resulted in massive concentration camps and threats of genocide. The world has degenerated into chaos and fascism. It’s a pretty bad scene. In spite of President Clinton’s predictions, proof of alien life has not brought humanity together. But now that our heroes have returned (and brought their own all-powerful robot with them) maybe they can put things right.
Just like the first two books, Only Human is told through a series of transcripts, interviews, and news reports, rather than a straight narrative. If you read Robopocalypse or World War Z, you get the idea. This time though, it seems like Neuvel want to tell a cautionary tale. The commentary on current political events is very thinly veiled. Only Human isn’t quite as fun as the earlier books, but it’s a pretty good conclusion to the trilogy.