I was somewhat hesitant to read Planetfall after all the reviews I read talking about the anxiety issues the main character has, and the effect it had on some readers — it sounded like it might well be something that would make me uncomfortable too, and it’s true it does hit exactly those buttons. There’s one point where Renata is afraid she might have bugs on her, and, ugh, yes, I remember that skin-crawling feeling all too well. Luckily, for me it wasn’t uncomfortable, as such: I certainly recognised the emotions, the way Renata had to grapple with her feelings to get what seems like anything done.
The only thing I didn’t really feel was the motivation behind the big secret which Mack and Renata keep. Their reactions in the present, the way they both grapple with the decision they made, works really well, but I didn’t really believe in their initial decision — or rather, Mack’s: Renata’s choice to keep silent about what Mack has done does ring true. And it’s not that what Mack does makes no sense, but it feels like it’s just… not quite a whole story.
In the end, Planetfall is a colonisation story with a mystery at its heart: it takes a long time to figure out exactly what happened (though the bare bones were apparent early on), and then everything starts coming together with a series of very definite clicks. Motivations make sense, small details come together, everything works… except that one decision which so much of the story hinges on. It’s kind of disappointing, when the rest of it works so well.
I know a few people didn’t like the exploration of God’s city as much, or the way that thread of the plot ended. For me, it reminded me of books like Roadside Picnic, and to me the ending fit beautifully with that kind of story.
There is a companion book for Planetfall, called After Atlas, which I have for review. It doesn’t follow the same characters and threads at all, though, from what I’ve read; I’m definitely interested to see how much it does tie in and illuminate Planetfall.