Imagine, if you will, a table with three different puzzles sitting upon it. Now, imagine somebody taking a handful of pieces from each of those puzzles, carefully placing them together, and creating an entirely new fourth puzzle. The pieces almost fit, and the picture they form is clear to the eye, but there are gaps between some pieces, and places where others overlap.
That's the best way I can think of to describe what Tony Evans has done with Code Name: Atlas. At different times and in different places, we're presented with a heart-wrenching tale of a post-apocalyptic journey, a fascinating science-fiction tale of big ideas, and a coldly efficient military/techno-thriller of a society at war. The three individual story elements do come together, linked by the character of Atlas, but it sometimes feels like there is something lost between the pieces. That's not to say it's a bad novel - I quite enjoyed it - but the gaps certainly preyed on my mind.
As the story opens, our world has been destroyed by unknown forces. Entire cities are in ruins, electronics are useless, and packs of scavengers are the closest thing remaining to organized leadership. Evans weaves in some really interesting ideas as to how our end came about, and who was behind it. In a series of flashbacks we're introduced to an escalating battle between science and religion, one that is compounded by the paranoid fears of governments across the globe. The ways in which the line between the reason and faith is blurred are fascinating, but it's a theme that is largely dropped for the rest of the novel.
As they pick up other survivors along the way, Atlas quickly takes on the leadership role to which he is naturally suited. Before long, he finds himself at the head of a newly emerging civilization - one of two significant societies that have risen from the ashes. What we're eventually faced with is an interesting conflict between a warlord and a dictator, neither of whom would be necessarily attractive in a democratic society, but both of whom are uniquely suited to the realities of a post-apocalyptic society. Atlas isn't perfect, and he regularly allows practicality to overrule sentiment, but he's a man with a difficult job. There are a few instances where he crosses a line, taking an action that is logical yet entirely distasteful to the reader, but I have to give Evans credit for maintaining that militaristic edge.
Hovering over everything (literally and symbolically) is the threat of alien invasion. We're teased and tantalized throughout the book with facts and theories about the forces behind our fall, but most of the reports we're presented with are tainted or unreliable. It's an interesting layer to have added to the overall story, but the alien paranoia is never quite played out to the extent I would have expected, and its rather sudden resolution significantly alters the course of the novel yet again.
At its heart, plotlines and themes aside, this is a story about the powers and the burdens of heroism. Atlas is not just the protagonist of the tale, he really is the tale. Remove him from the story, and it all falls apart without his motivations to tie everything together. Some of the secondary characters are better developed than others, and a few manage to endear themselves to the reader, but their primary purpose is to either support or illuminate the character of Atlas. Even the villains only seem to exist in contrast to his heroism, which allows for some interesting parallels to develop, especially in terms of loyalty and betrayal.
The concluding chapters suggest there is more of the story to come, so perhaps those gaps and overlaps I mentioned will be smoothed out in future volumes. Regardless, the novel works as a self-contained piece of storytelling, intriguing and exciting, with an ending that largely satisfies, even as it tantalizes the bigger picture.Originally reviewed at Beauty in Ruins