Only Human by Sylvain Neuvel

By Ekta R. Garg

April 30, 2018

Genre: Science fiction

Release date: May 1, 2018

Rated: Binge it! / 5 stars

After spending almost a decade on another planet, two scientists and a teenager come back to Earth only to find that the problems they thought they helped solve have gotten worse. Now they must fight time, opposing forces, and even one another to prevent another world war. Author Sylvain Neuvel brings his trilogy, The Themis Files, to an elegant, albeit bittersweet, end in the third book Only Human.

When Dr. Rose Franklin discovered a giant metal hand buried underground nearly 20 years ago, it led her to the discovery and assembly of Themis, a robot sent by an alien race. After some serious miscommunication with the aliens, about 100 million people across the globe died from a biological weapon released into the atmosphere. Soon after Rose found herself inside Themis with linguist Vincent Couture, his daughter, Eva Reyes, and General Eugene Govender, head of the Earth Defense Corps, traveling through space against their will.

The aliens wanted to bring Themis home.

Now, after nine years, Rose has returned to Earth. She and the others spent that entire time on Esat Ekt, a planet in other galaxy and possibly another time, trying to convince the Ekt people to let them leave. Rose is torn at first about this decision. In some ways, the Ekt represent the ideal; what humans should aspire to. As Rose and Vincent learn, however, the Ekt aren’t perfect. They have their own problems with politics and opposing parties.

Rose and the others come back to the planet of their birth, but it’s no longer a place they recognize. The United States government has appropriated one of the robots the Ekt left behind and is using it as a way to force other countries to submit. Internment camps abound across the world where people who don’t quite fit in now have to live. Another world war seems imminent, and Eva just really wants to go back to Ekt. When she arrived there, she was 10 years old. She considers Ekt home.

What’s worse, the Russians hold Vincent in a benign hostage situation. As long as he cooperates with them, they won’t hurt him. Eva unleashes her fury at coming back to Earth by disappearing. Now Rose will have to find a way to resolve the original problem posed by the alien invaders while trying to help Vincent find Eva and make sure father and daughter don’t end up killing each other—literally.

In what has become his trademark style, Sylvain Neuvel rounds out the Themis trilogy with wit and stark truths about our times. The charm of the Themis books certainly hasn’t worn off; Only Human, like its two predecessors, is told through a series of interviews and journal entries. The writing style is at once disarming and informative, and with this book Neuvel really slides into the right groove for the world of Themis and alien robots.

Some authors might feel tempted to rush the ending, but Neuvel takes his time. After the death of a key character in the previous book, Neuvel manages to find another character with just as much pluck and dry wit. He doesn’t tie up all the loose ends, but he does provide a satisfactory ending to the book and the series. He also lets Rose and the others present some basic life truths, a message that many readers will appreciate in today’s world.

Scientists have often speculated about alien races and what they might think of Earth and its inhabitants. Neuvel’s works fall squarely in the arena of science fiction, and they do full justice to the genre while staying away from its tropes all at the same time. Yet there’s also a universality about the Themis books that emphasizes what the best writing can be: intensely personal to the author while universal in its applicability to readers.

I recommend readers Binge Only Human by Sylvain Neuvel.