Waking Gods (Themis Files #2) by Sylvain Neuvel

Every single person on Earth—well, 99.95 percent of them—has alien genetics.

I loved the sequel to Sleeping Giants. If you’re going to read this, I thoroughly recommend the audio-books as the voice actors are pretty unbelievable. I tried reading the e-book when I finished listening to the audio but the passages had none of the force that made me listen so attentively for nearly 400 minutes. None of the gut punch, none of the accents and dialects. The British presenters were plain in the book pages. The life was gone.

This book is like a pure gem you find in a pile of crap. I was not expecting the sequel to be almost as good as the first book, nor was I expecting the interview format and the daily files to continue. The characters are the same as the ones in Book 1 and the story takes place a few good years after the first book. 10 years to be more precise

The first book focused mostly on Themis, the robot found on Earth that was dug out and assembled and made to run with the help of two pilots – the Canadian Vincent and the American Kara. They had a mysterious string-puller and general knowledgeable person in charge of the liaisons with the governments and Alyssa – a Serbian/Greek geneticist in charge of the project day-to-day functioning until she fucked up on a massive scale when she used Themis to show off in front of North Korea and caused a diplomatic incident.

This caused everyone to be accused for Treason and nearly imprisoned for life. The second book starts off ten years later, when everyone except Ryan have been released from prison and are part of the Earthcore defense team. Vincent and Kara are doing publicity stunts with Themis, taking her across the Earth in friendly appearances. Earth is at peace.

Everything seems to go wrong when all of a sudden, a massive robot appears in the centre of London. The robot does not move and while it presents a dillema, the great powers gather to discuss what should be done. Themis is sent to deal with it against doctor Rose’s instructions. The UK parliament also decides to send through some armed forces just in case.

The large robot does not do anything for a few days and it was interesting to see how the reactions to it and the political unrest were handled in the book while still keeping with the format. Radio broadcasts, TV crews, journalists approaching it with fear and caution. Before Themis can be delivered close to it, the Robot uses a massive ray to pulverise half of London and kill close to 100,000 people in one swift move.

Through sheer luck, Vincent and Kara manage to defeat the other robot and from the wreckage, they take out two alien pilots with reversed leg joints and some unnatural DNA. What followed was pretty awesome! I’ve never thought of this but in case of an alien invasion, we’ve always looked for humanoid beings with DNA similar to ours. The author put a lot of thought into explaining how the DNA of humans was made up and how an alien DNA might be different.

How close are they to us from a genetic standpoint? I know that we share 98 percent of our DNA with chimpanzees. Can you tell me how much of it we share with the aliens?
Deoxyribonucleic acid. My understanding is that it contains genetic instructions for life as we know it. I realize this is a simplistic answer.
—That’s the gist of it. It’s information storage. It’s a complex molecule that can store an incredible amount of information. And it’s stable. The really cool part is that it can replicate itself. That’s basically all you need to create life. The ability to hold information for a certain amount of time and to pass it on. And you got the name right. I was asking whether you knew what it’s made of.
—Tell me.
—DNA’s a nucleic acid, like the name says. It’s made up of smaller things called nucleotides. To make a nucleotide, you need three things. A phosphate, a base, and a sugar.
—Yep. There’s sugar in life. If the sugar is the one we call deoxyribose, you get deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA. If the sugar is ribose, a simpler sugar, you get RNA, which can also store information, but isn’t as stable as DNA. The aliens have a very similar genetic makeup, but their nucleotides use a different sugar, a form of what we call arabinose.
—And that is the only difference?
—Not quite. Each nucleotide also has a base. In DNA…Are you sure you want to hear this?
—In DNA, there are four possible bases: cytosine, guanine, adenine, and thymine, which we just call C, G, A, and T. That’s the genetic alphabet. The alien genetic code doesn’t use A but something called diaminopurine. It makes their genetic code a little more stable than ours.
—Is it compatible with our DNA?
—Maybe. It’s close enough the two might be able to talk to each other.
—So there is nothing really interesting about the differences.
—Are you kidding? This is probably one of the greatest discoveries we’ve ever made. People thought DNA was pretty much the only way you could get life. We’ve been wondering whether life could evolve from an RNA base. It’s just recently that people have been able to play with the makeup of nucleic acids. We can make ANA in a lab, we’ve done it with a bunch of different sugars. We can make diaminopurine. We can make all this! But to see it occur naturally in the universe in complex life-forms so similar to us…Now we know there’s nothing really special about DNA. We can change the ingredients and still have a recipe for life. Do you understand what I’m saying? We’re this close to understanding how life came about. How you go from a thing to a living thing. It’s—
—It’s not just fascinating. It’s awe-inspiring. It’s…Genesis.
—It touches you.
—Yes. It’s—
—That seems like a completely human reaction to me.

The fascination does not stop here. A year from when the first robot appeared, a second robot shows up in the same spot, followed by 12 others in other major cities of the world. This happens just as Vincent goes missing with Themis as he was trying to work out the teleportation controls and Kara goes AWOL after she finds out she has a ten year-old daughter with Vincent (due to Alyssa using her eggs and Vincent’s sperm to create future pilots for Themis.)

Then as they try to figure out what to do in order to protect themselves, the robots release poisonous gas across the major cities and then teleport themselves to other capitals where they do the same thing. Moscow releases a bomb to try to stop them, Madrid becomes a wasteland from the same attempts. Millions and millions die from the gas but surprisingly a few survive. As they are trying to find out why these people are special, and why the robots are creating such a large body count, more genetic talk pinpoints to an issue that is probably caused by an alien ancestor.

They tried to stay out of history’s way as much as they could. They were instructed to mate only within the group, to avoid…well, to avoid exactly what happened. They were very strict about it. But over the centuries, a few people ran away. And here we are!

—Why did they run away?
—I imagine they fell in love. People will do the craziest things out of love. That includes refusing to marry your cousin. Maybe theirs weren’t attractive enough. Do you find your cousins attractive?

They discover that the alien civilisation that once visited Earth mated with the locals and a few had offspring that in turn, mated with the locals some more. The robots sent to Earth were designed to target the people with alien genes and cleanse the Earth from the gene pollution caused thousands of years ago. It seems that the ones that were spared were actual humans. Pure humans. No gene pollution. Rose Franklin was one of them.

Spoiler: A lot of people die, including some of the main characters. Be prepared for some screams!

It looks like the Aliens are ready to keep on destroying until they can find a human to fight back using technology that was not created in the last three thousand years (pre-alien times). Rose does come up with a really ingenious solution using bacteria. Carra finds Vincent and shows him his new daughter – Eva (named after Evangelion) and all the robots are beamed back with the exception of the one that Rose destroyed with her fungi.

The book ends with a cliffhanger as the celebrating survivors (Vincent, Rose, Eva and the General) are beamed off planet along with Themis to the invader’s world.

What I liked

  • Pretty accurate description of the human protocols regarding contact with alien life
  • Cloning, robots and time travel? Yep!

  • Wonderful discussions about the troubles of teleportation

The planet’s surface is curved, there is terrain to consider. Traveling farther than what you can see would be really complicated. You could end up inside a mountain, miles deep into the Earth’s crust, or a few kilometers up in the air.

  • Amazing talk about genealogy, tracing back your genes and ancestry. Who would have guessed that if you were to trace back through your gene-pool you will find the same few people repeated here and there?

It’s called autosomal DNA. Like you said, you get more or less half of it from your mother, half from your f…father. You have two copies of each gene, but you only pass on half of your genes to your ch…children, and you don’t get to pick which ones. It’s called recombination. Autosomal DNA recombines every generation. That means how much DNA is shared with a specific ancestor gets cut in half every time. The parts that are shared also get shorter and shorter. Over time, there will be almost no…nothing left that is shared by all the descendants of a specific person, certainly not as much as what these p…people have in common.
Take whatever mutation the survivors had, both of their parents must have had it, but probably not in both c…copies of the gene. The parents would have died in London. The little Russian girl saw her father die. The same is true for their children. A lot of the survivors had children and they all died, except for one. Their children didn’t have all the same genetic tr…traits since they got half of their DNA from the other parent. Genetics gets really mixed up over long p…periods of time. If they were trying to save people from a single family, the gas would have wiped out most of their lineage, except for a com…pletely random few.

What I didn’t like so much

  • Eva Reyes – at least in the audiobook format, was really, really annoying sounding. They did replace her in the sequel (*nod*)
  • Dr Franklin dies in book 1 but is resurrected in book 2. I was expecting a lot of people (main characters at least) to be resurrected but no, they stay dead. (I did love the drama though and the gloom of Rose Franklin 2 – knowing that she wasn’t the original person she was born as)
  • Some of the stories don’t make sense (at least now). There’s an alien who has been living on Earth for quite a while (and he sounds like an old Jewish man) and he tells the story of the squirrels with great memory and another one about a pearl to Rose. I didn’t get what he was trying to convey but the stories were quite good even though no meaning could be seen in the context.

Still, 5/5  – Audiobook 

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