Six months after she left Earth, Dee is struggling to manage her rage toward the people who ordered the nuclear strike that destroyed the world. She's trying to find those responsible, and to understand why the ship is keeping everyone divided into small groups, but she's not getting very far alone.
A dedicated gamer, she throws herself into mersives to escape and is approached by a designer who asks her to play test his new game. It isn't like any game she's played before. Then a character she kills in the climax of the game turns out to bear a striking resemblance to a man who dies suddenly in the real world at exactly the same time. A man she discovers was one of those responsible for the death of millions on Earth.
Disturbed, but thinking it must be a coincidence, Dee pulls back from gaming and continues the hunt for information. But when she finds out the true plans for the future colony, she realises that to save what is left of humanity, she may have to risk losing her own.
Newman builds on the best elements of her interconnected Planetfall series for this superb fourth volume (after Before Mars), which centers on a covert investigation into nuclear genocide. Emotionally cold Dee seethes, wondering who aboard the spaceship Atlas 2 ordered the secret nuclear launch that ravaged Earth. The only people who observed the detonation are Dee; her best friend, Carl; and Carl's "sort-of lover," Travis. Six months into their 20-year journey to a new world, an unexpected offer of a job analyzing entertainment usage allows her access to the ship's computer systems, which lets her seek answers. She is also invited to elite games where players rely on their real-world physical abilities in virtual space, and encounters a cagey virtual guide. After her first foray, she is disturbed that a man she killed in the game died in the real world. Carl, a former detective, investigates the man's death, but the mysterious guide uses impressive data hacking skills to stymie him and protect Dee, while inviting Dee to take revenge on the game's designers for setting her up to be a killer. Despite her fear of being caught, Dee agrees to aid the guide's scheme. Tense moments mount as she learns more about her incognito ally and the ship's leadership, leading to a chilling, ethically complex ending. This winning combination of intriguing mystery and inventive SF richly rewards Newman's longtime readers and will lure others to the series.